Published: August 11, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Rich Penn Auctions
WATERLOO, IOWA — After months without being able to conduct live sales and a surfeit of property on hand in needing of selling, Rich Penn rolled up his sleeves and tried to make up for lost time, selling the approximately 2,500 lots he had planned to sell in May over a span of four days, July 23-26. The timing was fortuitous, coming right before Penn saw spikes in the virus across the state. He and his staff were particularly cautious, requiring everyone to have their temperature taken and to wear a mask, spacing property out as much as possible so clients could social distance both during the previews and in the saleroom, for which capacity was limited. Bidding was available online through LiveAuctioneers, a platform Penn feels is the most cost-effective and has been selling on for about 20 years. The sale, which was unreserved, netted Penn about $1.3 million and was all but 100 percent sold, with just a few lots passing.
“It was considerably more chaotic than any other sale we’ve ever done, but it was a very good sale,” Penn relayed to us a week after the dust settled. “It pushed a bunch of people who would have come to the sale to bid online. More than half of the stuff sold to online buyers, and for a lot of the large lots, too; that’s very unusual for us. We had a lot of new bidders; I was really surprised at the geographic spread of new buyers — we had bidders from all over Asia, the United Arab Emirates, Europe, Russia, South America, Australia…every continent except Antarctica.”
The first session on Thursday, offered nearly 300 lots of coins, the bulk of it from the family of a private coin collector from Kansas. Penn said he had been “flabbergasted” by the collection, which he described as “absolutely amazing,” and one which featured everything from Colonial coins to Twenty-First Century proofs, including pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, halves, dollars and gold coins up to $10 Eagles. “Every single coin was uncirculated, and the condition was very bright.”
Far and away the top seller of the session and one of the top prices of the entire sale was a 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter that opened at $50 but jumped to $12,100, acquired by a collector/dealer. An 1893 Morgan Silver dollar went out at $1,980, and it was followed by several lots of Liberty head sets of quarters and dollars, as well as Mercury head dimes and buffalo nickels, that ranged in price from $1,650 to $1,980. The most inexpensive lots brought $11 and only two lots were passed from the podium.
On Friday, Black Americana and barbershop items kicked things off for the approximately 750-lot session that also featured toys, pedal cars and banks. A single-owner collection of about 300 occupational shaving mugs were on offer and brought some of the highest prices of the session. A Standard Oil Gasoline mug climbed to $3,850, the highest price of the day. Other desirable examples included an ambulance driver that made $2,750, the same price realized as for a mug with a bi-plane, pilot and a school bus driver.
More than two dozen tin lithographed Popeye toys came from one collection. “There were some really rare pieces in there, and I thought the prices we got were very, very good. We had some aggressive in-house bidders on those that were competing against the internet,” Penn said. The heavyweight of that category was a Linemar lithograph on tin Popeye basketball player, which sold for $3,575; while a Popeye the Sailor by Hoge finished at $3,575 and a Chein lithograph on tin windup Popeye “Heavy Hitter” was a crowd-pleaser at $3,300.
Not to be left in the dust, an Austin J40 pressed steel child’s pedal car in red, circa 1949, raced to $3,575, while not far behind, a 1930s Stutz Roadster child’s pedal car, by American, in blue and green drove home for $2,200. Of the entire session, things could be had for as little as $22, with only one lot passing — a group of two Kelmar “Power House” construction sets.
The largest session of the sale took place on Saturday, offering exactly 800 lots of country store objects, coin-operated machines, soda fountains and advertising and collectibles from a broad range of categories including – but not limited to — petroliana, tobacciana and breweriana. “It’s hard to tell if prices were higher,” Penn said. “Great stuff still brings really good money and a lot of it went to private collectors.”
The final push on Sunday offered 659 lots featuring furniture, art glass and china, lighting, sculpture, primitives, to name just a few of the categories. “This sale had some really high-quality things and they brought prices I thought were really strong, particularly in the current market. A lot of the stuff went to either the East or West Coast, or the South. People who love that stuff really stepped up. I had a guy here from the West Coast, he said ‘you know, I haven’t been out, it’s good to get out and go to a show, but this whole thing has changed things. I only buy things I like looking at.’”
Bringing the most on the last day of the sale was a Royal Vienna-style Wagner double-portrait vase that stood more than 17 inches tall and brought $7,700 from an American buyer bidding by absentee bid. The interest in decorative antiques continued, with a mid-Nineteenth Century Renaissance Revival three-piece bedroom suite attributed to Thomas Brooks selling to a West Coast buyer for $6,050. Several lots of taxidermy were on offer, with two of the best lots — an Edwardian diorama on parlor stand making $5,225 and a pair of Victorian domed decorative birds flying to $4,950.
Before Penn concluded his comments, he said, “As I was going through the shipping, I noticed the number of people who paid a lot of money for just one thing; I would bet this sale has the largest percentage of one-time buyers we’ve ever had. This has been a totally different auction in every aspect, I’m sure it’s because of the pandemic. But it’s affirmed one thing: collectors are a hard group to keep down and out.”
Rich Penn Auctions hopes to conduct their next sale in November, which is subject to change. In addition to what Penn called his “usual hodgepodge,” he said he thought it would include as well a sizeable collection of Buddy L toys and a collection of Native American works.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For additional information. www.richpennauctions.com or 319-291-6688.
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