Published: December 21, 2004
Take the estimates and toss them out the window. That was the attitude of most going into Noel Barrett’s auction of the Ward Kimball collection and it proved to be a truism from virtually the first lot to the bitter end more than eight hours later.
All the commotion was caused by locomotion; toy trains and related material from the collection of Ward Kimball, one of the most renown of a stable of animators under the wing of Walt Disney and train collector extraordinaire. Kimball created magic on the silver screen and fittingly his collecting efforts created magic in the auction hall.
Collectors and dealers battled throughout the day, often times leaving the estimates smoldering behind as piece after piece burned up the tracks establishing record prices. The 850 lots offered grossed just under $2.5 million against a high presale estimate of $1.75 million.
“We set records all over the place,” stated Barrett after the auction. “The prices were staggering. We certainly got the highest price ever for a Lionel trolley and for a crane car, and I believe the Mickey Mouse train set a record also,” he said.
The auction, originally scheduled for two sessions on November 19 and 20, ran into a small snag as the large banquet room where the auction was to take place had been double booked and Barrett came up on the short end of the stick. Notices were sent out announcing that the auction would be conducted in a single session, beginning Saturday morning at 10 am and lasting well into the evening.
For collectors of Disneyania, the name Ward Kimball is iconic. One of the inner circle of Disney animators known as the “nine old men,” Kimball spent 39 years as an animator and directing animator. He worked on such Disney classics as Fantasia, Snow White, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Mary Poppins and The Three Caballeros. Kimball remained active at Disney from his humble beginnings in 1934 right up until his death in 2002.
He was best known as the inventor of Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s “conscience.” He was also the artist whose pen changed Mickey Mouse from a ratty, pointy-nosed rodent to a friendlier-looking, more plump-faced character.
Outside of his normal scope as a Disney celeb, Kimball was also regarded as an iconic toy and train collector, long known as such among his fellow collectors and peers. Kimball began his collection more than 60 years ago when “rdf_Descriptions were cheap and plentiful,” according to Barrett. The collector, although having achieved star status, was always a phone call away for collectors with a question and was always, according to Barrett, a willing host ready to share his home and collection with anyone who asked to view it.
Many had earmarked rdf_Descriptions from Kimball’s collection long before the auction catalog ever hit the streets, having seen them firsthand over the years. One collector related to Barrett while ordering his catalog that he “had been waiting more than 25 years for a chance to buy some of these trains.”
Others would get their first glimpse of the impressive collection on the pages of the lavishly illustrated catalog, then in person at the preview. Dealers and collectors were out in force with close to 500 people in the gallery, hosts more on the telephones, even more executing absentee bids, and a surprisingly huge number of people bidding via the Internet. Absentee bidders got beat up on throughout the day with by far the fewest lots going in their direction. The gallery claimed the most with the phones claiming their fair share as well. For certain types of lots, especially those that were Disney related, the Internet dominated.
Bidders were in attendance from all over the country and there was a large contingent of European dealers on hand taking full advantage of the strength of the Euro against a slumped dollar. Dealers from France bid actively throughout the sale, although they claimed few lots. The Germans on hand, however, bought willingly and frequently claiming many of the top lots of the day.
It was not long, however, before the determination and the attitude of the crowd would surface as estimates were routinely cast by the wayside. The first lot take off was a George Brown clockwork tin train in wonderful yellow and red paint with “Red Bird” stenciled on it. The train, estimated at $1,5/2,000, opened at $2,750, with several in the room bidding against an absentee bidder with the later claiming the lot at $5,225. The next lot was a James Fallows “Flash” passenger set in red paint with a red, green and black locomotive that also more than doubled estimates, bringing $6,050, as did a George Brown locomotive and cars with the original box.
Paper litho trains were also hotly competed for with a Milton Bradley “The Flyer Railroad Train” opening at $1,000 and bouncing back and forth between the room and the telephones with it selling at $5,500.
The first of the electric trains to be sold was a sweetheart Carlisle and Finch passenger set that was in wonderful paint. The train consisted of a steam profile locomotive marked “P.R.R.,” a tender, one painted orange freight car and two brass cars. The $10/12,000 presale estimate was quickly surpassed with the lot selling to a phone bidder for $19,800.
Prices continued to escalate as the day wore on with a Howard passenger freight set with painted tin and brass 4-4-0 locomotive, a #10 tender with brass tool compartment and a freight car and two painted tin passenger cars, one of which was fitted with reversible seats, also doing well The rare set, “pulled by one of the fanciest locomotives ever made by Howard,” sold to a phone bidder for $23,100.
Another Howard to attract attention was a passenger and freight set with original wooden box. The “NYC & HRRRR” locomotive, tender and two tin and wood cars was cataloged as “a beautiful set in amazing condition from one of the earliest makers of American electric track trains.” A determined phone bidder battled with several in the gallery before he was able to claim the lot at $36,300.
A record price was established when a Lionel “City Hall Park” trolley was offered. The second electric powered toy ever made by the fledgling Lionel firm, it was originally offered in the company’s first catalog published in 1902. The construction of the light steel superstructure was farmed out by Lionel to the Morton E. Converse company. “Put a converse motor in it and you’ve got the grail,” commented Barrett during preview. Carrying an $10/12,000 estimate, the lot opened for bidding at $5,500 and bounced back and forth between the room and the telephones with it ultimately setting a record at $31,900.
A selection of Voltamp pieces attracted a great deal of interest with the top lot of the group selling as a #2115 Interurban trolley was offered. The rare piece opened for bidding at the high estimate of $10,000 with several bids coming from buyers around the room. A bidder in front row started hammering the lot as he just held his bid card up in the air. Another bidder on the opposite side of the room and also in the front row did pretty much the same thing. Bids moved rapidly between two in the front with the first buyer dropping from the action at $28,000. A phone bidder who had tried unsuccessfully to get in on the action jumped in and battled with the buyer in the front row finally claiming the lot at $35,200. It was later revealed by the auction house that the successful phone bidder was a collector from Austria.
The first of the lots to create some really serious excrdf_Descriptionent was the Lionel “Dummy” crane car, which according to the catalog was one of the first pieces that Lionel ever made. A simple single car with cast frame and tin platform with hand cranked crane and ratcheting brake, the car was painted in a drab green. Considered a very scarce Lionel working car, the lot opened for bidding at $10,000 and moved back and forth in the room until the phone jumped in at $17,000.
Bids progressed rapidly for a while longer till the lot stalled at $36,000. The phone appeared to be out until the caller countered at $37,000. Bids once again moved back and forth with the determined buyer in the rear of the room advancing bids authoritatively till claiming the lot at a record price of $46,200.
The top train set of the auction came as a rare Marklin Circus train sold for a cumulative price of $100,100, with a couple of the more expensive pieces selling to German dealers. The Circus train, sold in four separate lots, included a brass gauge I American Outline live steam brass locomotive and tender selling at $11,000, a Moving Van car and wagon $12,100, a Hagenbeck’s Menagerie car and wagon $36,300, and a Circus Oriental car and wagon at $40,700.
Bidding was also brisk on the Marklin “Presidential” gauge I hand enameled train set, consisting of 4-4-0 clockwork locomotive, tender and two hinged roof cars decorated with American “stars and stripes” shields. In overall excellent condition, this train set was pulled by the first clockwork locomotive made specifically for the American market. Estimated at $20/25,000, the lot soared to a final bid of $71,500.
A Marklin “American Eagle” passenger set in gauge II also did well as the hand enameled locomotive, tender and two passenger cars easily surpassed the $20/25,000 estimates. The set, decorated with eagle and flag transfers on the cars, had hinged roofs and were fitted with 16-seat interiors. Regarded as the earliest train set made by Marklin for the US market, the rare pieces attracted quite a bit of interest with the lot ultimately selling at $71,500.
A rare oversized Marklin live steam battleship, Boston, measuring more than 40 inches in length, attracted quite a bit of interest. Estimated at $50/60,000, auctioneer Andy Ourant asked for an opening bid of $20,000, and was pleasantly surprised when a call of “$60,000” came from the crowd. Bidding was brief with only one counter bid coming from New York City dealer Stephen Weiss at $65,000, who purchased the lot at $71,500, including premium, for a client.
Several of the painted tin railway stations brought serious prices with a Rock and Graner Nachfolgar station with separate “downside” platform selling at $71,500.
Several hand painted Marklin rail cars decorated with beer company logos did extremely well with a Schlitz car selling at $12,100, a Pabst car bringing $9,350, and a Budweiser car realizing $8,800.
From the Disneyania selection cane a Lionel Mickey Mouse Circus Train that retained the original box and cardboard circus tent. Estimated at $6/8,000, the rare set was bid by Eric Alberta, a buyer for FAO Schwarz’s newly formed antique toy department, to more than double the estimates at $16,000, yet an Internet bidder ultimately claimed the lot at a record price of $19,200. Among the lots that Alberta was able to claim for the renown toy store was a Linemar Proffesor Von Drake in the original box at $825, and a Linemar Mickey with Xylophone in the box for $770.
Early tin toys were led by a Stevens and Brown New York omnibus at $52,800. Also sold was a Carette limousine in red paint at $13,200.
The second session of the Ward Kimball collection auction will be held over Memorial Day weekend in 2005. Barrett promises that sale will be equally as impressive. Prices include the ten percent buyer’s premium.
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