Old Salem Museum to benefit from sale of toy collection

NEW HOPE, Pa. – A significant chapter in antique-toy history drew to a close Nov. 19-20 as Noel Barrett auctioned the spectacular collection of dollhouses, toys, miniatures and holiday items formerly displayed in the Old Salem Toy Museum of Old Salem, N.C. The 902-lot sale consisted of a premier collection intensively assembled over the last decade by businessman Thomas A. Gray and his mother, the late Anne P. Gray, members of a prominent North Carolina tobacco family. The collection had been housed at the toy museum from 2002 till its closure in May 2010.

Proceeds from the $1,437,050 auction (all prices quoted include 15 percent buyer’s premium) will be used to acquire and conserve Moravian and Southern decorative art objects for the Old Salem Museum & Gardens, a restored 18th/19th-century North Carolina Moravian community that is part of a National Historic Landmark district.

The auction’s top lot, a superb circa-1740-1750 dollhouse styled as a Georgian quoined “stone” mansion, was a runaway favorite with the crowd. Its provenance included ownership by the Baroness Ann van Haeften – hence giving it the name by which it has been known to collectors for many years: The van Haeften House. Its rich history also included tenure in the Vivien Greene collection of antique doll’s houses in the Rotunda Museum, Oxford, England. At some point later in its life, the 52 1/2-inch wide by 49 1/4-inch tall structure was discovered to have the signature “Schuster,” possibly that of German artist Johann Martin Schuster (1667-1738), inscribed on the reverse of its facade. Estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, the celebrated dollhouse was aggressively bid to $132,250.

Collectors of dollhouses, miniatures, and outfitted shops and room boxes were spoiled for choice at the auction, with many hundreds of articles from which to choose. A remarkable 19th-century English butcher shop equipped with two buildings, outdoor stands, three stout butchers and nearly 200 carved and painted replicas of cuts of meat and poultry, had formerly been on view at the Mary Merritt Doll Museum in Pennsylvania. It sold within estimate for $33,350.

A magnificently detailed, possibly unique cigar shop/tobacconist room box attributed to Christian Hacker featured every possible inclusion required to replicate faithfully its grand, real-life counterpart of the Victorian era. “No fine detail was overlooked,” said Noel Barrett. “It even contained faux-marble columns, a glass-topped cigar display box stocked with miniature faux cigars, and a Schweitzer chandelier.” With expectations of making $8,000 to $12,000, it breezed to a $21,850 conclusion.

Also selling above its estimate was a Spanish Second Empire dollhouse whose interior was signed and dated by the maker: “1888 Pintor Rafael.” Pictured in the book Dollhouses Past and Present (Donald E. Mitchell, 1980), the handsome faux-brick townhouse achieved $16,100.

As anticipated, the top lot among American tin toys entered in the sale was a circa-1870 clockwork boat replicating the Monitor. Of painted and stenciled tin with cast-iron wheels, the patriotically themed craft was offered together with an original hand-painted page depicting the toy from an example of the famed George Brown Toy Sketchbook. The boat made its estimate, gliding off to a new owner for $26,450.

Other American toys finishing in the top 10 included a charming Fallows horse-drawn painted-tin fire pumper, $18,400; and a Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus bandwagon with musician figures, $21,850. Also exhibiting a circus motif, a Merriam tinplate “Barnum’s Menagerie” circus wagon once owned by pioneer toy collector Barney Barenholtz (1914-1989) realized $16,100.

One of the surprise lots of the sale was a trio of Simon & Halbig bisque dolls in traditional travel attire, accompanied by suitcases, satchels and even a small metal bicycle attributed to Carette. The smartly dressed travel companions were offered with hopes of reaching $1,500 to $2,500, but obviously had loftier ambitions. They arrived at their final destination with a winning bid of $9,775.

Other highlights included a Muller & Kadeder (Germany) airplane carrousel, which landed at $14,950 against an estimate of $4,000 to $5,000; and a Wilkins painted cast-iron floor train that chugged to $12,650, more than double its low estimate. An Erzgebirge painted-wood ship with Turkish soldier figures sold within its estimate range for $8,500.

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