Published: November 24, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Jeanna Bertoia
VINELAND, N.J.- “We called it Midnight Madness,” Jeanne Bertoia said of the second day (read: night) of her November 12-13 Fall Sale that extended through the evening until 1:30 in the morning.
“And even then,” she said, “we still had hundreds of people on both internet platforms watching. We had people waiting by the phone and keeping up with the sale all day. They just couldn’t break away.”
Bertoia Auctions’ two-day sale of 1,452 lots offered European and Japanese automobiles, motorcycles, boats and airplanes; penny toys; German tin toys including examples from Lehmann & Martin; European and American trains; music boxes; pressed steel; cast iron and horse-drawn toys; Schoenhut; mechanical and still banks; doorstops and figural iron; comic character toys and Christmas material. Last but not least was an offering of Halloween material from the collection of Bob Merck that Bertoia called, “the finest Halloween collection of its type to come to the market in ages.”
The sale went on to go 97.6 percent sold and produced a total gross of just over $2.3 million.
There were no bidders in the auction gallery for Bertoia’s Fall Sale, though collectors were able to make private appointments for viewing. One motivated couple drove across from Iowa, previewed the day before, stayed up that night bidding on the phone from a hotel, picked up before the auction house closed in the early morning, and drove back home when they woke up.
It was in the holiday material that the auction found aggressive bidding. Bertoia said she had eight to 13 phone bidders in action throughout the section, which began at 9 pm on Friday.
“Holiday collectors are probably one of the largest, most enthusiastic groups out there,” Bertoia said. “As it was getting late, I would ask some of my phone bidders if they’d like to leave an absentee bid on any of their future lots so we wouldn’t call them late.” They declined.
Bob Merck, a well-known collector of holiday material, offered up his entire Halloween collection that he began amassing in the 1970s. “He always bought the finest quality and rarest pieces,” Bertoia said, “I talked to him in the middle of the sale and he couldn’t believe the numbers. It was such a tribute to his eye.”
Bertoia said many of the pieces in Merck’s collection went two to six times the estimates, something he was no doubt thrilled with as he continues to collect Christmas material.
Among the lot leaders from Merck was a German composition frowning tree trunk lantern, only 3½ inches high, that sold for $16,800. Bertoia said the firm had every phone line in use on it and she was on with the underbidder who called it “the holy grail.” It had its original wire and wood lift-out candleholder.
At the same price was Merck’s favorite piece in his collection, a candy container of a witch disguised as a devil, complete with a removable devil’s head mask that reveals the witch beneath. She holds a pitchfork in one hand and a skull in the other. The auction house had never seen another example.
Selling for $14,400 above a $2,500 estimate was a Veggie Man lantern and candy container. The figure featured stick legs, potato feet and leaf arms carrying two jack-o-lantern pails. A German composition head of lettuce Halloween lantern measured only 3½ inches wide and brought $11,400. At the same price but on the opposite end of the size spectrum was a 17-inch-wide jack-o-lantern marked Schraffts with “crepe paper collar that sets him apart from all others,” the auction house wrote. An alien jack-o-lantern candy container, 5 inches high, of composition with four mini jack-o-lanterns on springs protruding from his head, sold for $9,600. That was the same price paid for a lantern in the form of a grinning Cheshire cat with a lace collar that featured a sticker for G.A. Schwartz Phila, PA on the base.
Rising above a $1,500 estimate was a German composition Santa on sleigh behind six reindeer, all on a wheeled platform measuring 35 inches long, that sold for $72,000. It was the top lot in the sale.
“We have had it before with four reindeer, but we’ve never seen it with six,” Bertoia said. “On many toys where Santa’s reindeer are featured, the reindeer are typically all the same, looking straight ahead and they’re uniform. On this one, every reindeer was different and the antlers were all in perfect condition, their heads were all facing different directions, it really was a well-made toy.” The piece sold to an American buyer.
Also surpassing expectations was a Santa on nodding polar bear, 29 inches high with composition feet, hands and head with a mohair beard, the bear covered in rabbit fur, that sold for $36,000. Bertoia said the consignor was a member of the Golden Glow and they had been selling her collection piecemeal over a number of sales.
Coming in at $15,600 was a Santa riding a clockwork nodding donkey that the firm said was one of the finest examples they had seen. Santa had a feather tree in one hand and the donkey was outfitted in a vibrant harness. Rising 17 inches high was a Santa in red robe riding a white fur nodding reindeer with orange decorative harness that brought $13,200. Flying to $7,800 was a red-robed Santa sitting in the gondola under a wicker dirigible with propellers on the side and holding his bag of toys.
There were only seven Steiff lots in the sale, five of them bears, but two of those bears were exceptional. A $24,000 result was found in a circa 1905 center-seam bear, 24 inches high, with apricot mohair fur and shoebutton eyes. Just behind at $18,000 was a circa 1905 “cone-nosed” bear measuring 28 inches high in a golden mohair and shoebutton eyes. Bertoia said the California consignor had purchased them in the 1990s.
Bertoia said the large size was important on these. “We estimated them strong, too, knowing they were superior bears, but they both surpassed our expectations,” she said.
Among horse-drawn wagons was an example by Dent, a police patrol wagon that featured bright and near mint paint. Collectors enjoyed it as it sold for $13,200 on 29 bids. Another notable was a Pratt & Letchworth combination fire wagon with two opening tool compartments, removable ladders and a fire hose reel that sold for $10,800. It had provenance to Larry Brethauer, a Michigan collector who had a number of other pieces in the sale, including an American National Packard fire chief pedal car in mint condition, 28 inches long, that brought $19,200. Brethauer bought it from the Donald Kaufman sale at Bertoia. With the same chain of ownership was an American National Packard coupe, circa 1926, in a hard top, that sold for $14,400.
Bertoia sold the collection of Jay Schoedinger, an Ohio collector of antique toys, a few years back. He kept his favorites at the time but offered some of them up in this sale, including a prototype Buddy L passenger bus that brought $9,600. Also from his collection were a series of Sturditoy trucks, including a red painted oil company tractor trailer tanker that sold for $12,000, a 32-inch ivory painted tandem dairy truck that brought $6,600 and an ambulance truck, 26 inches long and in the same color, that took the same price.
The auction house was pleasantly surprised with a boxed example of Tonka Toy’s Builders Supply Fleet, which included two trucks, a load of lumber and an interchangeable truck bed, that wound up at $15,600 on a $1,000 estimate.
It might seem like we’re repeating ourselves, but Bertoia sold yet another Lionel 2-7/8-inch powered gondola and trailer from the collection of the late show promoter Norman Schaut for $40,800. We wrote up a nearly identical note in a review on the firm’s May sale when they offered the same model from the same consignor that sold for the same price.
“As rare as these are,” Bertoia said, “he had duplicates.”
Other notable trains included an eight-wheel tin litho coach and parlor car by American Miniature Railroad, a competitor to Ives, that sold for $10,800. An original 1909 catalog from the company took $1,440. From Marklin was a gauge 1 Pennsylvania Railroad passenger set with locomotive, tender and two passenger cars that brought $10,200.
Four Schoenhut horse-drawn wagons found good competition as a Freihofer’s Fine Bread wagon took $7,200, a Fairmount Farms “A” milk wagon sold for $5,700, a Bond Bread wagon brought $4,500 and a Fairfield Western Maryland Dairy wagon attracted interest to $3,300.
Comic toys with Felix the Cat were desirable as a merry-go-round by Gunthermann that the firm called “one of the rarest comic character toys made” with only a few examples known, took $20,400. In wood was a boxed and jointed Felix figure by Schoenhut, 9 inches high, that sold for $5,700.
An uncommon category in Bertoia’s sale was an offering of music boxes that all hailed from a single collection. “The quality was incredible,” Bertoia remarked, and bidders agreed as they pushed a Swiss mandoline box in a Black Forest carved case to $31,200. A buyer drove eight hours to pick it up the same day they won the bidding. Selling for $15,600 was a B.A. Bremand music box with mandoline, organ and tremolo with 18 bells and ten interchangeable fat cylinders, all on a matching Queen Anne table.
Followers of Bertoia’s sales might have noted that Michael Bertoia almost never left the podium, calling about 85 percent of the sale while administering the online bids.
For those bidding online, they were able to watch Michael call bids in a live stream.
“We liked having that,” Jeanne said. “It may have slowed us down a little bit, but we like bidders to see the auction action. Since we couldn’t have a live audience, we tried to bring the auction into their home.”
For additional information, www.bertoiaauctions.com or 856-692-1881.
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