VINELAND, N.J. – As a former international fashion model who knows the importance of aesthetics, Monique Knowlton also applied her well-cultivated eye for quality and perfection to her antique toy collection.
Knowlton, also a former art gallery owner, never compromised on condition, always buying the best and preferably boxed examples of toys.
In a two-day sale on March 11 and 12 at Bertoia Auctions, collectors will benefit from Knowlton's appreciation of the beauty of antique toys when more than 600 lots of her spectacular assemblage of comic characters, German automotive and American toys, and out-of-this-world Japanese robots and space toys will be offered. Among the most coveted classics to be auctioned is a 1926-27 J. Chein Felix Frolic.
While she was never a regular at toy shows or auctions and is probably unknown to most other collectors, Bertoia said Knowlton came to appreciate antique toys after seeing similar objects compatibly incorporated into art installations.
“Even if toys were very rare, if their condition wasn’t 100 percent, I wouldn’t buy them. I wanted things that were perfect, original and working, and if I had a choice, I would always buy a toy that had its original box,” said Knowlton.
“Monique was always a great customer of ours. She’s very detail-oriented and has a curator’s eye, which is to be expected of someone who operated a successful Manhattan art gallery," said Michael Bertoia, president and principal auctioneer at Bertoia Auctions. "She heeded our advice and went after only the best examples. Whenever she was presented with the opportunity to bid in premier sales like the Donald Kaufman series, she didn’t hold back, and that’s very clearly reflected in the collection she put together over the years.”
Day 1 on Friday starts at 10 a.m. Eastern and features 328 lots of superb German tin autos and cycles, Lehmann's and tinplate toys, vast Disney and comic character pieces from around the world, top tier cast iron novelties and more. Day 2 on Saturday will also start at 10 a.m. Eastern and features 300 lots of world-renowned Japanese robots and superhero toys, early Japanese automotive toys, Disney with more comic character and tinplate toys, Fisher Price, German stuffed animals, character and Lenci dolls.
One of the highlights coveted by collectors is a 1926-27 J. Chein Felix Frolic estimated at $12,000-$18,000. The largest lithographed comic character toy ever made, standing 11 inches tall on a 13- by 4-inch platform, the Felix Frolic was also the first tin windup comic strip character toy to be licensed for manufacture in the United States. Fewer than a handful are known to exist. “Like every other toy in the collection, Monique’s Felix Frolic is very strong on condition,” Bertoia noted.
Many other wonderful comic character toys will join the Felix Frolic, including a Gunthermann Felix the Cat Merry-Go-Round, $15,000-$25,000; a Tippco Mickey and Minnie Motorcycle (ex Donald Kaufman collection), $25,000-$45,000; and three other Mickey Mouse favorites: a Slate Dancer, $4,000-$6,000; Distler Hurdy Gurdy, $4,000-$7,000; and a Mickey Pushing a Pram (England), $3,000-$5,000.
Santa Claus will make a grand entrance behind the wheel of two jaunty automotive rarities: a 10-1/2-inch-long Fischer (Germany) Father Christmas Car, and a rare C.K. pre-war Japanese Santa Car. Each is estimated at $15,000-$25,000. The Knowlton automotive fleet also includes a near-mint 20-inch-long Distler race car, $12,000-$18,000; a sleek circa-1935 Tippco Mercedes-Benz Autobahn Kurier, $6,000-$9,000; and a Karl Bub saloon-style sedan formerly owned by the fabled Zurich toy dealer Peter Ottenheimer, who pictured it in his 1985 reference book Toy Autos, 1890-1939. It is estimated at $4,000-$7,000.
Fans of cast-iron toys will be pleased to see not one but two Hubley Surfer pull toys – both a girl and boy version – estimated at $10,000-$15,000 each; and a similarly estimated Hubley Popeye On Motorcycle. A Hubley “Static” speedboat comes with illustrious provenance, having once been part of the Bill and Lillian Gottschalk collection and, later, the Bob Brady collection. Its pre-sale estimate is $5,000-$7,500. A Hubley cast-iron Popeye doorstop, once part of Jeanne Bertoia’s landmark collection of doorstops, is expected to make $2,000-$3,000. Among the earliest cast-iron pieces in the sale is a delightful Gong Bell “Ding Dong Bell” toy, $4,000-$6,000.
Cast-iron mechanical banks are part of the Knowlton collection, as well. Within the grouping to be auctioned are a J & E Stevens Boy Scout bank, $2,500-$4,500; a Mammy with Child, $2,500-$4,500; and a 13-1/2-inch standing “Jolly” bank, $2,000-$4,000.
The Knowlton collection also includes many sought-after robots and space toys, led by a complete lineup of Masudaya’s legendary Gang of Five – the big, boxy mid-century battery-ops that Bertoia said might be described as the “boy band” of the toy hobby, since each member of the androidal quintet has its own distinct look, action and personality.
The earliest of the Gang of Five series in the collection, is a 15-inch Radicon Robot, which has a pebbly gray industrial-metal finish and separate remote-control box. Made in 1957, Radicon was the first radio-controlled toy robot. Manufactured two years later, the Non-Stop Robot is also known to collectors as the “Lavender” Robot, owing to its attractive pinkish-mauve color. Based on the same form as the Non-Stop Robot, the bright red Giant Machine Man Robot followed as a specially commissioned order and is, by far, the rarest of the Gang of Five. Next came the 1962 addition to the lineup, the Giant Sonic, or “Train” Robot, given its name because of the “roaring” train sound it makes as it advances and retreats. Last to join the group was the 1964 Target Robot, which came with a toy dart-firing pistol and suction-tipped darts. Knowlton’s Target Robot is accompanied by its colorful original box.
The robot and space toy offering continues with a boxed Bandai Flying Spaceman “Superman” rocket ‘cycle that is widely considered to be the nicest of the few that are known to exist. It was last offered for public sale in 2014 and will cross the auction block at Bertoia’s with a $12,000-$18,000 estimate. A boxed Nomura Radar Robot carries a $6,000-$10,000 estimate, while a boxed Aoshin Chime Trooper is entered with a $5,000-$7,500 estimate. An extremely rare Bandai Walking Batman with its original box is also expected to reach the $5,000-$7,500 range.
All forms of bidding will be available for the sale, including live via the Internet through Bertoia Live or Liveauctioneers. Live attendance is limited and by reservation only, with masks and social distancing mandatory. In-gallery previews are by appointment only. For additional information, to reserve a seat at the gallery, or to make an appointment to preview the collection, call 856-692-1881, email email@example.com or visit bertoiaauctions.com.