By Noel Barrett
Prior to this sale, I couldn’t remember being entrusted with an important collection whose owner I did not know personally.
In this auction, however, there are two. Each unique, as all collections are, Stephen Sachs’ iron toys and Eberhard Luethke’s steam engines are collections that differ in ways well beyond their contents. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing either Stephen or Eberhard while they were alive, but I came to know each of them in handling their treasures. I realized I was vicariously meeting two collectors whose approaches to collecting were as different as the items that intrigued them.
Adventures in Iron and Steam Toy Collecting
When I saw pictures of Stephen’s toys, I was astounded by the number of items in his collection. When Pook & Pook Vice President Jamie Shearer and I got to St. Louis and saw what was on the second floor of Stephen’s house, we were bowled over. The pictures did not come close to depicting what we found. Both the quantity and condition of the toys had to be seen to be believed.
Everywhere you looked, there were toys – over a thousand of them on shelves, on the floor under tables, behind doors, and in closed drawers. The clothes in Stephen’s walk-in dressing room closet vied with toys for space on open shelves. There I found some of his favorites – such Hubley rarities as a Say it with Flowers motorcycle, a Penn Yan speedboat, and an Old Dutch Cleanser pull toy. When I remarked on this, Steve’s sister said he loved to look at his toys while he was dressing. This was a man after my own heart! I love people who truly live with their collections.
Behind-the-Scenes of a Cast-Iron Toy Collection
Almost every category and every maker of automotive cast-iron toys found welcome refuge in his home, and many had siblings. One or two Arcade “White” moving vans apparently weren’t enough. I could imagine Stephen saying, “Who are you kidding? There’s never enough!” After searching through room after room, we found eight vans in all. I think that is enough for the average collector, but Stephen was far from average.
It seemed like he never saw a cast-iron toy he didn’t want, no matter how many he already had: over 60 buses, more than 40 motorcycles, at least 40 airplanes, easily 20 taxicabs, as well as all manner of industrial toys: farm, road-building, etc. Added to these was an overwhelming assemblage of Arcade miniature furniture for kitchens, bedrooms, etc. While toys by Hubley and Arcade dominate the Sachs collection, other manufacturers – such as Dent, Kenton, Kilgore, and Vindex – are also very well represented.
Among the surprises we found in Stephen’s collection was an impressive assortment of mechanical and still banks – a surprise, since, in my experience, it is a bit uncommon for collectors of automotive toys to have an interest in mechanical banks from earlier days. Stephen was an exception that proves the rule. All in all, we found at least 50 mechanicals and 100 stills. The stills include several examples by Arcade plus others made in the 1920s and ‘30s. Perhaps those opened his eyes to banks in general, explaining his foray into mechanical bank collecting. One of the few categories of cast-iron toys Stephen passed over were horse-drawn toys from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Apparently even he had some limits.
Fortunately, for our presentation of American cast-iron toys a third consignment (from a private collector) has helped fill the gap. His offering includes a variety of horse-drawn pieces: fire toys, carriages, and commercial vehicles by such makers as Ives, Kenton, Hubley, and Pratt & Letchworth. Within this selection there are more than a few quite scarce pieces.
A Process of Picking and Packing
It took Jamie and me, along with Stephen’s most helpful and accommodating sister Susan, two long days to pack up the Sachs’ collection for our trip back to Pook & Pook’s gallery in Downingtown. The full and heavy load of cast-iron was almost more than the Mercedes Sprint van could handle, and like the truck driver anthem Six Days on the Road says, we had to “dodge every scale in sight.”
Later, back at home in Carversville, I received some enticing pictures via email. Following several phone calls, Renate Luethke had sent me a few pictures of her late husband’s steam engines and toys – so here was another exciting collection. Based on a handful of images and the reputation of the Luethke collection as conveyed to me by other steam collectors, I knew that Jamie and I would be in for a treat when we got to Renate’s Waldoboro, Maine home. Eberhard Luethke had been a very successful commercial illustrator in New York for many years before retiring with Renate to the picturesque coastal reaches of upper New England.
On arrival, we enjoyed a tour of the Luethkes’ lovely home. First we were introduced to some of Eberhard’s artwork on view throughout the house – drawings and paintings; and intricate and precise renderings – some being industrial images and one of a train. In the study, there were a few toys, and in the living room, Renate showed us his favorite toy, the one Eberhard considered the star of his collection. It was certainly a star, one of the finest live-steam locomotives I have ever seen. Sporting the nameplate “Magnet,” this sparkling brass confection rested on a section of track in a custom glass showcase. I could easily understand its being a favorite – but favorite among what? I felt we had seen the whole house, but where was his collection?
Exploring the Mind of a Long-Time Collector
Retracing our steps, Renate pointed to a door just off the dining room that we had bypassed earlier. It opened into an immaculate artist’s studio, the Maine winter sun streaming through the windows. It looked like Eberhard had just put his pencils down and gone off to lunch. On the bright white walls, Eberhard’s steam engines and toys were carefully arranged on white cubbyhole shelving so he could enjoy them as he worked at his drawing table.
The same precision evidenced in Eberhard’s art was seen in both the choices and quality of his collection, and in the manner of display. This well selected group included engines by various makers: Bing, Carette, Radiguet, Falk, and Plank. But far outnumbering those were the numerous engines and steam plants made by Marklin, more than 35 in all. A gem among them was the elusive 1908 # 4124/14 engine generally referred to as the “hammer engine.” Along with the steam there were many hot air-engines by Plank and Krauss & Mohr. Rounding out the collection was an impressive group of steam-powered toys – fire pumpers, traction engines, and trains.
Eberhard was also intrigued by, and acquired, a number of what appeared to be one-off steam engine models. Some were very sturdy and robust; others were crafted with an amazing delicacy and level of detail that is astounding. I could only imagine how much we might have learned, had we been able to enjoy this collection with Eberhard himself explaining the intricacies of his wonderful machines, both the manufactured masterpieces by the German toy makers and the craftsman-made engines and models.
Key Auction Details
This auction pays tribute to three collectors – two whom I wish I had known but now feel that I have gotten to know through their collections. With this sale and catalog, I think buyers will come to know both Stephen and Eberhard, too.
In total, three great and disparate collections will cross the auction block on Friday, March 31st and Saturday, April 1st, 2017 at 10AM at Pook & Pook’s gallery in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. The exhibition for this auction will be held Monday, March 27th through Thursday, March 30th from 10AM to 4PM. The exhibition will also run from 8AM to 10AM on both auction days. Online bidding for this sale will be available on both Bidsquare at www.bidsquare.com and LiveAuctioneers at www.liveauctioneers.com.
For additional information, visit www.pookandpook.com, call 610-269-4040, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.