Published: April 12, 2011
Condition, condition, condition. Three words that when used in conjunction by those in the antiques business have a singular meaning †top prices realized. And nowhere was that more evident than at the Donal Markey Collection auction conducted at Bertoia Auctions over the weekend of March 25 and 26. The sale grossed more than $2 million, more than doubling the high estimate.
Markey, who passed away almost exactly a year prior to this landmark auction liquidating his collection, had been long known for his exceptional taste and demanding criteria when buying and selling folk art, toys and banks. For Markey, it was all about owning the best; the best form, the best condition, the best paint.
It was a scene that has been played out many times in the past. Collectors come out of the woodwork for the sale of a coveted collection; even those that deem themselves “retired” return to the playing field. And they are all ready to swing a bat big enough to hit the home runs needed to be competitive in this major league game.
Markey was a close personal friend of highly regarded toy and bank guru, the late Bill Bertoia, and his wife Jeanne, now the principal at the auction house that she and her husband founded, Bertoia Auctions. Around the antiques circuit, Markey was a competitor and sometimes business partner of the Bertoias.
Markey and Bill Bertoia had been two of the partners involved with the sale of the contents of the Perleman Toy Museum. The two were partners for the legendary Hegarty Bank Collection auction that surprised the world and established a new price structure for mechanical banks. Markey also worked as a sometime consultant with Bill Bertoia at the auction gallery, taking on a much larger role after Bill’s passing in 2003.
Markey was also a mentor for the Bertoia children, Michael and Lauren, both of whom now work at the auction gallery. Interestingly, a picture of Bill and Donal appeared, among many, in the catalog, the two side-by-side holding Michael at six months of age.
“Every field of interest or career has its own superstar,” penned Jeanne Bertoia in the auction catalog’s tribute to Markey. “It’s always the person who is at the center of anything interesting; it’s usually the person that creates the enthusiasm&†Our superstar was Don Markey&†his ability to energize antiques collectors goes without saying, legendary.”
Legendary was a catchphrase that would be used time and again to describe Markey, his collection, his auction and the prices realized there. And it truly was a legendary event.
Preview for the sale was active, and the gallery was attractively set up, with the exterior walls of the viewing area devoted to Markey’s signs and folk art, while banks and toys were displayed in showcases that lined the center of the room. Jeanne Bertoia stated that the items had been on view for several weeks leading up to the auction and that the reaction to the sale had been tremendous.
People who only knew of “Donal’s reputation,” some who knew little-to-nothing about the items they were bidding on, threw their hats into the ring and slugged it out for prized lots. One woman at the auction who never purchased antique toys previously bought a rare-colored variant of an Eagle and Eaglets mechanical bank based on an article that she had read about Markey’s expertise and exceptional collection. The bank, which one seasoned collector explained to her after she had purchased the lot, was one of only a couple known examples with yellow painted eaglets. It carried an estimate of $5/6,000 and sold to the determined woman for $14,950.
Jeanne Bertoia commented that “the enthusiasm level for the auction was strong, from the beginning right through until the end. In some cases,” she said, “prices were higher at the end of the auction as people who had missed out on similar items earlier in the sale were determined to get things from Donal’s collection.” Telephone bidding was intense, and a large number of absentee bids had been registered.
“There were no lulls in the action, from start to finish,” commented Rich Bertoia after the sale. “I was shocked at the high intensity of interest; it didn’t stop for two full days.”
It was obvious right from the start that the presale estimates needed to be used as an indication as to where a lot might open †certainly not the range in which it would sell. “Throw the estimates out and triple what you thought you were going to have to bid,” commented mechanical bank expert Bob Brady shortly after the first session began. Brady, who practiced what he preached, bought many lots at the auction, although it seemed that just as many got away from him.
The first lot offered during the Friday afternoon session of the auction was a Captain Kidd still bank that would set the pace for the day. Estimated at $200/300, the bank opened at the high estimate and sold moments later to an Internet bidder for $690.
Other stills from the first dozen lots included a Golliwog estimated at $600/800 selling at $3,162; a Santa estimated at $800․1,000 that realized $2,070; a Doughboy, $600/800, sold at $1,955; a Mulligan, $600/800, brought $1,495; and an Indian with Tomahawk, $500/600, finished at $1,380.
An AC Williams horse on wheels in vibrant original blue paint opened well above the $500/600 estimate at $1,000 and sold to a buyer in the room for $2,587.
Ironically, the top lot of “Mr Bank’s” sale, as Markey was affectionately known among friends, was an early cast iron toy, an Ives Cutter Sleigh with Walking Horse. Cataloged as “one of the most pristine examples known,” the articulated toy attracted the attention of all of the serious collectors. Estimated at $30/40,000, the lot opened for bidding at $25,000 and bounced back and forth around the room, with several in the crowd getting in on the action. In the end, it boiled down to two major collectors going head to head. As the action progressed, a bid of $50,000 came from the front right side of the gallery where Washington, D.C., collector Max Berry was seated; a quick counter bid of $55,000 came from the left side of the gallery where Houston collector Steve Scott was seated. The two sparred for a while, with Scott claiming the lot at $86,250.
Bertoia’s had yet to do its “record prices paid” homework in the days immediately following the auction, although the Ives pair was believed to have established a new high-water mark. “If I had to guess,” stated Rich Bertoia, “there were at least 50 records broken, just in the banks alone.”
The top mechanical bank in the auction was a Kyser and Rex Mammy and Child bank in pristine condition. In wonderful paint, the figure was in a bright yellow dress with a white and blue apron and a red kerchief on her head. Estimated at $20/30,000, the lot was actively bid, selling at $51,750.
Other mechanicals to bring impressive prices included an Indian Shooting Bear mechanical bank that retained the original box. The J&E Stevens bank was in superb paint and sold for $31,625. Another near-mint condition mechanical bank to retain the original box was the Artillery bank that doubled estimates, hammering down at $23,000.
A Jolly “N” mechanical bank by J&E Stevens with superb original paint and the original box was the top lot among several similar examples. The near-mint and highly detailed paint pushed the price to $25,875. Another, with good worn paint and not as detailed, sold at $3,162. Two similar versions of the bank made by John Harper & Co., Uncle Joe and Dinah, were both in pristine condition and sold for $2,070 and $6,900, respectively.
Another pristine condition mechanical bank to do well was a Kyser and Rex Lion and Monkey that brought $21,850.
Three house-form mechanical banks sold for $25,875 each, including a Novelty bank by J&E Stevens, a rare green version Magic bank in near-mint condition and a mint condition Globe bank.
Known for his still banks, Markey’s collection was deep. A record price of $23,000 was paid for the Ives Palace still bank, one of a couple known in red paint.
A mint condition Home bank by J&E Stevens with a yellow exterior, green trim and a red door carried a presale estimate of $1,5/2,000, yet was bid to $10,350. The mint condition Rabbit bank, also estimated at $1,5/2,000, was a record setter at $8,625. The Kyser and Rex Red Roofed Villa still bank with rare green exterior and a yellow door, $1,2/1,500, sold at $4,025. The House with Bay Window still bank brought a believed record price of $6,900, more than doubling the high estimate.
Several early hand painted tin banks were also sold, with a Cottage bank in bright yellow paint with a vibrant red roof being yet another lot among Scott’s purchases at $7,475.
Collectors hammered away at the selection of toys with equal enthusiasm. A rare Pratt and Letchworth four-seat, horse-drawn brake attracted lots of attention from the crowd. Listing a provenance of the Hegarty Collection, with all of its original figures and in near-mint condition, the rare toy sold for $48,875.
“Leave it to Don to come up with that toy in that condition,” stated one previewer as he gazed lustily after a cast iron Woman at Sewing Machine toy attributed to Sandt. A highly detailed casting with near-mint paint, the toy is one of a few examples known. Estimated at $8/10,000, bidding opened above the high estimate and ended at $23,000.
A J&E Stevens Swan Chariot, considered to be one of the most intricately designed cast iron toys, retained the original box and had only minor paint losses. Estimated at $8/9,000, it went to a buyer in the room for $21,850.
A Kyser and Rex cast iron Santa in Sleigh in superb condition did extremely well. Opening at the low estimate of $7,000, bidding action came from the room against two telephone, with one of the phone bidders winning the lot at $20,700.
An early horse-drawn Police Patrol by Shimer, circa 1890, exhibited minor wear to the figures, but was in overall pristine condition. Bidding on the lot was brisk with it selling at $10,925 against a $3/4,000 estimate. A cast iron Hubley Coal truck, considered to be the “finest known example,” easily surpassed the $2/3,000 estimate as it was knocked down at $11,500.
Other toys of interest included a Hull and Stafford Horse in Hoop toy that brought $4,600, and a brightly painted complete set of cast iron alphabet letters finished at believed record price of $8,050,
Markey loved his folk art, especially brightly painted trade signs and game boards. While the history of the game Monopoly is shaky in regard to an attribution to the original inventor, all of that was cast aside when a circa 1920 wooden Monopoly board with brightly painted streets and a large rooster decorating the center panel was offered. Similar boards have been attributed to the “Philadelphia maker,” presumably Charles Darrow, who is said to have enjoyed the pastime of spending money that he did not have †playing his game. Darrow eventually hit a home-run with his game when Parker Brothers bought him out for big money. It was a similar scenario at the Markey sale as the game board, estimated at $3,5/4,500, sold at $23,000. A checkerboard in bright paint realized $8,050.
The Red Goose Shoes string holder in near-mint condition established a record price paid at auction. Active bidding pushed the lot well past the $2,5/3,000 estimate, selling at $17,250. A child’s tramp art chest with brightly painted accents brought $10,925, an early sign in the form of a boot $2,587, and a Man in a Barrel inkwell in excellent paint brought $9,200 against a $1,5/2,000 estimate.
There were only a couple pieces of furniture in the auction, including a four-drawer chest with wonderful vinegar paint decoration. Not original to the piece †Markey had it painted many years ago †it sold for $7,475. A nice dower chest in paint went out at $3,162.
Included in the Markey auction, but consigned from a private collection, a handful of other pristine condition banks were sold. Leading the group was a Panorama bank in excellent condition that sold at $51,750. Two banks hammering down at $46,000 each were the Cupola bank, with Perelman provenance, and a Mason bank by Shepard Hardware that retained the original box.
Prices include the buyer’s premium. For additional information, 856-692-1881 or www.bertoiaauctions.com .
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