Published: April 4, 2023
Review by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy Bertoia
VINELAND, N.J. – Living up to Bertoia’s presale expectations, a rare Ives Uncle Sam perambulator, selling for $72,000, topped the sale with several phone bidders competing with a buyer in the room and the internet. Prior to the sale, Jeanne Bertoia had said, “There’s been a lot of interest in Uncle Sam – we’re expecting there’ll be strong competition for it. It has a great story, and it will do well.” She was right. More than 20 other toys sold for more than $10,000 each, with particular strength in the selection of mechanical banks. The two-day Annual Spring sale, March 24 and 25, included Phil and Joan Steel’s collection of Fernand Martin, Lehman and other tin windups with some in the original boxes. There were mechanical luxury autos and race cars from the Bill Gelles and other collections, and exceptional mechanical banks and bell toys from the Rudd Trowbridge collection. Each collection included some extremely rare examples in very fine, nearly mint condition. The sale also included a large selection of cast iron doorstops, trains, Ives mechanical toys, cast iron automobiles, penny toys and much more. Bertoia’s catalog descriptions are thorough, condition is included and multiple photos are featured.
The tale that goes along with the $72,000 Ives clockwork Uncle Sam perambulator is a quintessential auction story. The toy was recently discovered in a wooden crate, part of an upstate New York real estate tax sale. Jeanne’s son, Michael Bertoia said, “The crate of early toys had evidently been left untouched for decades, and to our knowledge, the perambulator we will be auctioning is one of only two known to exist, the other being pictured in Blair Whitton’s book, American Clockwork Toys 1862-1900 (1981)” The toy had a high estimate of $40,000. Uncle Sam wore a goatee, his tall hat covered most of his hair, his painted face was in good condition, and he was dressed in a red, white and blue cloth outfit. A spread-winged eagle was mounted on the front of the toy. The catalog referred to it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and condition was stated as all-original, with the exception of some hair having been added to his goatee. It was bought by a determined collector in the room, competing with phone bidders. In general, it was a good day for Uncle Sam as a Shepard Hardware Company Uncle Sam mechanical bank earned $25,200 and a trade card for the bank earned $1,680. An Ives, Blakeslee and Williams Company Uncle Sam bust mechanical bank brought $4,200.
The selection of mechanical banks was large and their mechanisms produced a wide range of activities. Of the toys exceeding $10,000, more than half – 13 of them – were mechanical banks. The most sought-after, and selling for $34,800, was a Chimpanzee bank made by the Kyser & Rex Company. It had a simple mechanism: when a coin was deposited, a bell chimed and the monkey cashier’s head and arms moved forward as if jotting down a note in his ledger. Two other banks each sold for $32,400. Both were made by the J&E Stevens Company. One was the ever-popular “Girl Skipping Rope” bank. This was a colorful example and was cataloged as in excellent to pristine condition. The catalog also stated that, when tested, the girl skipped rope 24 times.
Bringing the same price – $32,400 – was the “Professor Pug Frog Great Bicycle Feat” bank, an ingenious mechanism that included a high-wheeled bicycle, a clown and Mother Goose. Other mechanical banks each earning more than $10,000 included the “Giant In The Tower,” “The Calamity Football” bank with its original box, the “Panorama Bank,” the “Dentist” and others.
Mechanical banks were also made of tin. A lithographed tin figure of a Chinese Mandarin, whose eyes rolled and ponytail lifted when a coin was deposited, realized $7,800.
Not all the banks offered – more 150 in all – were mechanical; some were still banks made of tin or iron. An Arcade cast iron Ford touring car bank sold for $1,320, while an Arcade green cab bank sold for $1,020. An English tin still bank, “The Wizard,” earned $2,400.
The windup toys offered don’t just sit on a shelf but do many things. Depending on the toy and the makers, some had complicated actions. One mimics the actions of a shell game, one was a gymnast moving along parallel bars, one was a figure dressed as a butcher whose arms go up and down as though he were chopping meat, one was a bisque-headed organ grinder: as the music plays dancers perform. One figure was dressed as a field hand swinging a scythe, one was a skier with a propeller on his back. The possibilities are (almost) endless and they’re painted in bright colors, originally designed to fascinate a child and still do that, although the child may be older now. To add to the enjoyment, these are not the most expensive toys, as toys go.
More than 70 windup toys were sold on the first day. A humorous Fernand Martin “L’Intrepide Jockey,” a circa 1912 “Voleur de la Joconde” (Mona Lisa thief) version, was the most popular with collectors and it sold for $11,400. It was in its original box, which had only minor imperfections. A figure of a young boy in a cloth costume rode a wheeled, painted tin horse. The boy holds the “Mona Lisa” under one arm. The mechanism within the horse caused the boy to push the horse along, supposedly giving a humorous perspective on the 1911 theft of the painting from the Louvre Museum. Earning $9,600 was a near-mint example of “Masuyma,” the popular toy of a well-dressed Asian lady being pulled in a rickshaw. It had been purchased at Marshall Fields in Chicago and was still in its original box. A musical organ grinder automaton with a bisque headed gentleman in an Eighteenth Century-style costume sold for $9,600. When the toy was activated, music played and two small bisque dolls atop the street organ danced to the music. The Fernand Martin butcher, mentioned above, reached $7,800. By the same maker, circa 1908, “Au Parfait Pecheur, (The Perfect Fisherman),” with a cloth outfit, reached $3,900. The complicated mechanism included forward and backward fishing motions as well as side-to-side motions that simulated an angler catching a fish by yanking his rod back to pull the fish out of the water. Also by Martin, “Le Menuisier” mimicked the actions of a carpenter at a workbench with a large plane in is hands; it sold for $3,600.
There were about 50 bell toys, both tin and cast iron. An early Fallows tin circus rider with horse, mounted on rockers, sold for $7,200. It had some condition issues which were clearly spelled out in the catalog. Another tin bell toy, selling for $3,000, an Althof Bergmann “Goat” had two painted goats pulling a small cart with a well-dressed child seated in it. The toy was more than 18 inches long. “The Drummer Boy” by the W.H. Chapman Company, with a mounted spread-winged eagle at the front, brought $3,900. Bell toys can be an inexpensive thing to collect as some sold for less than $1,000. An early German see-saw toy with two well-dressed composition children on a wooden frame sold for $840; others brought similarly modest prices.
Planes, trains and automobiles, mechanical or not, tin or iron, have numerous fans. A large Carette gauge 2 Vauclain locomotive with tender brought the top price among the trains. The clockwork toy was 16 inches long and the catalog stated that it was the only example known of that size; the hand-painted toy earned $34,800. An early Voltamp 2-inch gauge electric interurban trolley rode to $24,000. There were numerous MÃ¤rklin trains and accessories including a set of three O-gauge New York Central Railroad passenger cars which sold for $5,400. A Märklin O-gauge poultry wagon earned $1,440.
Hubley and Arcade cast iron automotive toys were led by a rare 12-inch-long circa 1932 red Arcade Brinks express truck. In spite of condition issues, it sold for $14,400. The Arcade selection offered more than 30 examples. In addition to the express truck, there were race cars, wreckers, delivery trucks lettered for specific companies, taxi cabs, milk tucks, dump trucks, buses, ambulances and still more. The most sought-after of the selection of Hubley automotive toys was an 11-inch-long straight eight Packard sedan, which realized $10,800.
Horse-drawn toys included an oversized Ives fire hose reel. It was more than 25 inches long and retained its original hose and rubber tires; it sold for $14,400, well in excess of the $5,000 high estimate. A three-seat brake made by Hubley and pulled by two white horses brought $9,600 although the six seated figures had been replaced.
There were more than 60 doorstops in the sale, with something for nearly every taste: dogs, flowers, chickens, penguins, turtles, squirrels, people and more. Bringing the highest price was a large tom turkey made by Bradley and Hubbard. In naturalistic colors, it flew to $3,900. A standing rabbit made by the same company brought $2,700 and the figure of a golfer about to take a swing, made by Hubley, brought $780.
After the sale, Jeanne Bertoia said, “It was a perfect combination for us. When you have great quality toys in great condition, it’s a win/win situation for everyone. We had a good crowd in the room, the phone lines were very active and we had a lot of absentee bids. The buyer of the Ives Uncle Sam came determined to take that home with him. We grossed about $1.8 million so everyone is happy. We especially like seeing toys that we sold years ago coming back for us to sell again.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.bertoiaauctions.com or 856-692-1881.
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