Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring
VINELAND, N.J. – Top quality lots, tantalizing estimates and a hungry buyer appetite are the requisite recipe ingredients for a successful sale, but that – without lots of hard work by a selling auction house with a long history of expertise in the category – often falls short. All of the stars aligned on Friday, October 11, when Bertoia Auctions sold the lifetime toy, Märklin train and Christmas collection of Tony Annese, former president of Antique Toy Collectors of America (ATCA) and former chairman of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past. The sale was one of two Signature Auctions held annually, each spotlighting a single collection worthy of VIP status.
If anyone’s collection deserved such a designation, it was Annese’s; the sale stats reflected that. The no-reserve sale impressively totaled nearly $1.8 million, with more than 97 percent of the lots selling. Not only did the firm register a record number of online and phone bidders but more than 125 bidders attended the often standing-room-only, daylong sale. Buyers from numerous states made the trek to Bertoia’s, gallery as did a number of international buyers who flew in from around the world to attend the sale; institutional interest in Annese’s collection was also best characterized as global. Those who attended the sale in person may have had an advantage bidding, with 46 percent of the sale going to bidders in the room compared to 38 percent to those bidding by phone and 16 percent bidding online on either of two internet platforms.
The results were not without the careful strategy and hard work of Bertoia’s dedicated team, led by company co-founder Jeanne Bertoia, her son and principal auctioneer Michael Bertoia, her daughter Lauren Bertoia Costanza and their large office and cataloging staff. Bertoia’s extensive client roster was plumbed, months were spent creating the sale catalog, and the sale was promoted around the world, with the timing of the sale carefully calibrated to attract the most attendees as possible. The sale took place in between the ATCA convention in Wilmington, Del., and the Eastern Division Train Collectors Association York (Penn.) Train Show. Bertoia’s hosted a preview brunch for attendees of the Toy Collectors club on Sunday, October 6, which was attended by more than 100 ATCA members.
Annese, a commercial real estate developer, collected passionately but selectively. Always buying the best, he sought out pieces in the best and most original condition possible. Many lots featured scarce items and offered bidders a rare buying opportunity. As Jeanne Bertoia said before the sale, “No upgrades will ever be required, because they are already at the top of the condition ladder.”
“We were thrilled,” Jeanne Bertoia said by phone after the sale. “Tony had assembled a beautiful collection of great quality and with great condition, which were the most stellar parts of his collection, and what collectors today are looking for. People are willing to pay a premium for condition and Tony’s collection surely proved that.”
Annese was already thinking about the post-Thanksgiving Christmas markets in Germany he makes an annual pilgrimage to when Antiques and The Arts Weekly caught up with him for his thoughts on the auction, which he revealed was his first as a seller. “I am very happy with it. Bertoia’s did a great job with the publicity and we had amazing turnout. Everyone who came was very pleased with what they saw; they loved the display and the collection. I liked it when lots went to my friends.” It may be reassuring for Annese to hear that Jeanne Bertoia confirmed that the majority of his collection was sold to private collectors.
Bertoia divided the 650-lot sale into six primary categories: Christmas antiques; Märklin trains; early Märklin accessories, railway and civilian figures; cast iron transportation toys; and lithographed paper-on-wood toys and games.
The design, colors, quality and depth of paint on Märklin trains appealed to Annese when he first saw a Märklin train with its original box at an auction in the mid 1970s. Märklin trains made up one of the largest sections in the sale and attracted to the saleroom not just American collectors but international ones as well. Their interest backed the top lot of the sale, a two-car Märklin Third Avenue electric hand-painted trolley set made for the American market. The lot was one of a few to grace the cover of the October issue of Antique Toy World, which featured an extensive article on Annese’s collection. Bertoia had cataloged the lot as “extraordinarily rare” and in excellent condition and it was estimated at $25/45,000. Michael Bertoia, commanding the podium for most of the sale, said it was a “magnificent” set and had sufficient presale interest that he could “save time” by opening the bidding at $25,000. Bidding in the room and on the phone came fast and furious and the lot sold for $72,000 to an international client bidding at the back of the room.
Märklin train lots also secured the second and third highest prices in the sale. Following in second place was a boxed Märklin American Eagle passenger set, which Michael Bertoia said was “Tony’s favorite set.” The circa 1900 “scarce and early” set was assessed to be in “pristine condition” and bore one of the highest estimates in the sale: $30/50,000. Bidding on the lot opened at $22,000 and – once again – generated competition from the room, online and the phones. The same international collector that acquired the top lot purchased this lot as well, for $52,800.
The buyer of the top two lots was denied a sweep of the leader board. Introduced by Michael Bertoia as “a nice piece,” with “lots of interest,” the five-piece circa 1906 Märklin limited vestibule express set, which was cataloged as “a very tough set to find” was hand painted for the American market. In pristine condition and priced at $15/20,000, it opened at $10,000 and ultimately went to a phone bidder for $45,600.
Annese had also selectively collected Märklin accessories, which he saw as highly attentive to detail. Bridges, train stations, lamp posts, signals, signs and various figures populated the sale, providing a glimpse into the detailed miniature world MÃ¤rklin created. Of the more than a dozen station lots that were in the sale, two brought sizeable sums. The Märklin Versailles Café Station, featured not only on the cover of Antique Toy World but also in Count Giansanti Coluzzi’s Trains of Avenue de Rumine, bore an estimate of $15/25,000 which was exceeded when it sold to an international buyer at the back of the room for $31,200. Märklin’s interpretation of the Paterson, N.J., train station nearly reached its high estimate ($20/30,000) when it went out for $28,800.
The same price of $28,800 was achieved for a carousel elephant platform pull toy that had been heavily featured in presale advertising. Attributed to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and circa early 1900s, it had provenance to the Mary Merritt Museum and Bertoia had cataloged it as a “most unusual and rare find” and had estimated it at $20/30,000.
The elephant was one of several animal-form toys in the sale. Others of note included a complete skittles set in the form of a camel with Arab nine pins ($4,500); a Jonah and the Whale candy container ($3,600); and a carousel-quality carved rocking horse with glass eyes and horsehair tail ($3,900).
The superlative condition of the lithographed paper on wood toys in Annese’s collection was such that one had the sense that one had stepped back in time to when these were new. Vibrant colors and minimal if any wear to lithographed details were present across the board and collectors pursued them aggressively. Those lots bringing the most were wagons, trains and coaches, topped by Reeds Band Chariot Wagon, which Bertoia cataloged as “one of the most detailed and elaborate of paper wooden toys” in pristine condition. Priced at $2,5/3,500, it made $6,000
Where Annese had collected primarily German trains and train set accessories, his collection of painted cast iron toys instead focused on those made in the United States, with names such as Hubley, Kenton, Secor, J&E Stevens, Pratt & Letchworth among the makers represented. Toys that demonstrated a feeling of movement captivated Annese, who was particularly drawn to the fire toys from the 1880s-90s and the construction toys of the 1920s-30s. Once again, Annese’s high standard for only acquiring examples in the most pristine original condition was evident, and paint colors were strong with relatively few losses.
The first lot in the section – a Secor clockwork locomotive – got the section off to a strong start, bringing $6,000, well ahead of its $2/3,000 estimate. An Arcade Andy Gump deluxe auto made $4,800 and a Hubley Indian Civilian cycle finished at $6,000. The momentum for the section carried through to the end, with prices for later lots also finishing well ahead of expectations, specifically $9,000 for a Carpenter Ladder Wagon with its original box; $9,600 for the Althof Bergmann Julian Carriage and $9,000 for a boxed George Brown clockwork locomotive.
Easter pieces were few but choice nonetheless and provided a seamless transition between games and Christmas pieces. The first lot of the group – a large nodding Miss Duck with chick – was also the highest selling one, more than doubling expectations to sell for $5,700 to a phone bidder. It was followed by a 13-inch-tall rare well-dressed Steiff jack rabbit, which a phone bidder won for $4,800. Bunnies on vehicles proved popular with buyers, with a Peter Rabbit in an automobile made from lichen bringing $4,200 and an Easter Bunny on a tricycle selling for $4,500.
As the year concludes with Christmas, so did the sale, with the last 235 or so lots bringing the auction to a close. Annese’s Christmas collection was well documented and known to friends and collectors he frequently opened his home to, and he had made certain to include his best pieces in the sale. While his Christmas collection began in the 1980s with Department 56 collectibles, in the 1990s he discovered antique Christmas pieces on which he ultimately focused his collecting. Among Annese’s favorites were the clockwork Santa nodders, Christmas store displays, lighting and ornaments.
The competition to acquire one of Annese’s Christmas pieces might draw comparisons to the rush seen on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically marks the start of holiday shopping. The highest selling was a nodding and clockwork Santa on a nodding key-wind donkey with pivoting ears. Interest in the lot easily surpassed expectations and it closed at $26,400 against an estimate of $7/10,000 to a phone bidder. It was followed closely by a nodding key-wind polar bear covered in white fur bearing Santa. Estimated at $5/7,500, it sold for $24,000 to a phone bidder.
The silver- and tin-mining villages in the Erzgebirge region along the German/Czech border turned to producing toys and Christmas ornaments when the mines ran dry. A relatively small but choice group of angels, soldiers, miners, nutcrackers and even chandeliers and train sets from the region contributed a sense of nostalgia to the sale. Topping the subcategory was a Turk smoking a pipe that made $6,000, and making a heavenly price of $4,890 was an angel with two wind chimes.
A large Nativity-like scene had been created along the wall dividing the exhibition space from the office with Annese’s collection of Italian presepio figures, which were each more than a foot tall and sold individually. A Neapolitan angel estimated at $400/500 attained the lofty price of $3,300, while two creche musicians, sold in a group, more than tripled expectations to bring $2,280. If miniature Christmas displays and figures were more to your taste, you could bid on a Grulich Christmas mountain display or a set of Grulich Bohemian figures; the former realized $11,400, while the latter brought $120.
Disappointments in the sale were few and mostly far between and did not dampen the enthusiasm or momentum of the day. After the sale, Annese said he was happy to reintegrate those few pieces back into his remaining collection. As for what he will do next, his foreword to the catalog says it best. “Collectors collect. It is what we do. There are a few areas I will still be pursuing. So, I will see you all at the next great event, with elbows sharpened, jostling for position.”
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the house but do not include any applicable internet premiums.
Bertoia Auctions is at 2141 DeMarco Drive. For information, www.bertoiaauctions.com or 856-692-1881.