Mechanical banks, Disneyana, eBay charity records fall

As the political world and the U.S. dollar continue to inspire uncertainty, pop culture collectibles continue to offer solid performance, historical insights and simple enjoyment. Whether one is a player in the marketplace, an casual observer or simply a history buff, these are interesting times.

Mechanical banks at Morphy sale hit $7.7 Million

The 489-lot Stephen and Marilyn Steckbeck collection of antique mechanical banks and related ephemera was offered at Morphy Auctions on Oct. 27, and the event blazed into unknown territory as its $7.7 million total established a new record for the highest-grossing toy auction ever.
Among the top prizes at the auction was a remarkable near-mint-plus example of J. & E. Stevens cast-iron “Jonah and the Whale/Jonah Emerges” bank. The top performer in the event, it sold for $414,000 including the 15 percent buyer’s premium. Created in the late-1880s, this bank depicts the Biblical character Jonah being expelled from the mouth of a whale. It was estimated at $150,000-$200,000, but instead ended up the second-most-expensive mechanical bank ever sold at public auction.

The Steckbeck collection was built over more than five decades and attracted bank collectors in person and online from around the world to Morphy Auctions’ Adamstown, Pa., location. Clearly this is one that collectors will be talking about for a long time.

Disneyana hot, records obliterated

Records were smashed and even seasoned Disneyana enthusiasts were startled when a pair of rare, giant display dolls of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse shattered existing records and sold for $151,534 (including the buyer’s premium) in the Hake’s Americana & Collectibles auction that concluded Sept. 27. Even the long-term, continuing support in the marketplace for high-grade, rare Disneyana did not prepare most auction watchers for this level of interest, but the bidding was spirited.

The 44-inch-tall Mickey and 48-inch-tall Minnie were promotional items for the highly acclaimed Charlotte Clark line of dolls from the early 1930s and were purchased by a private collector and longtime Hake’s customer. These promotional dolls were larger versions of their standard-issue counterparts, which were produced in three sizes.

Following Mickey’s successful introduction as a Clark doll in 1930, Minnie arrived in toyshops the following year.minnie-mickey-dolls-2.jpg Together the popular toys were produced in 8.5-inch, 13.5-inch and 18-inch versions. The giant display dolls were only offered in a significantly limited quantity for display purposes for prominent movie theaters, retail stores and the occasional photo shoot with Walt himself.

Made of stuffed velveteen, Clark’s trademark material, Mickey is detailed with four 2-inch-diameter natural pearl buttons, and Minnie wears a silk-like skirt with pantaloons that have lace accents. Each doll has a long, 32-inch tail.

The consignment was arranged by Hake’s production manager Deak Stagemyer, himself a longtime Disneyana enthusiast.

When one considers the frequency with which character collectibles are breaking the six-figure level – just a decade ago the first one did it – it suggests a strong, underlying faith in the market.

Charity eBay record broken

First the Tonight Show’s Jay Leno did it with his star-studded, celebrity-autographed Harvey Davidson Road King, which raised $800,000 for tsunami victims and in the process set the eBay charity fundraising benchmark. Then radio host Rush Limbaugh got into the action with a letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and the fireworks really began.

The letter, sent to Clear Channel, the company that syndicates Limbaugh’s daily radio show, was co-signed by forty other Democratic Senators (including contenders for the party’s presidential nomination) and is a legitimate political collectible on least two fronts.

First, as is obvious, it’s a letter to a noted or notorious (depending on your own politics) public figure signed by a collection of noted or notorious politic figures (again, depending on your own politics), including presidential hopefuls. The political market has been rock steady in recent years and even inexperienced collectors would be able to spot the potential in this one.

Second, it is a letter from United States senators who some believe are trying to suppress either free speech or freedom of the press. Some have indicated that this is the first time members of either party have gone on record with such an attempt, but that remains to be seen.

What is clear, though, is that by turning it into a fundraiser for the Maine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation (which pays for the education of fallen Marines and Federal law enforcement officials), a lot of money was raised. The auction closed on Oct. 19 just north of $2.1 million. Limbaugh then matched the winning bid for the charity.

Political collectors of all stripes should be able to appreciate the interest this could bring to an already solid field.

J.C. Vaughn is the Executive Editor and Associate Publisher of Gemstone Publishing and is the author of Antiques: The Comic Strip – Volume 1, among other projects.