ALLENTOWN, PENN. – A noticeable absence of coats and gloves told the story — it was the warmest weekend of the warmest winter ever recorded in the Lehigh Valley, and a shirt-sleeved crowd that included many toy trade heavyweights did not mind pushing the salesroom temperature even higher as 1,491 lots went under the hammer at Randy Inman’s $850,000 spring sale.
Highlighting the March 8-10 auction were the 36-year cast-iron automotive and fire toy collection of Iowa physician Dr Jim Collins, the impeccable childhood toys of the late Dr R. William Alexander of Reading, Penn., and the blockbuster Walter Youree Collection from Oregon comprising approximately 600 lots of pressed steel and aluminum vehicles.
By the end of auction, two West Coast brands that featured prominently in the late Youree’s collection, All-American and Sturdi-Bilt, had moved up considerably in the pecking order of metal toys, thanks in no small part to several collectors who had flown in from the Pacific Northwest specifically to bid on vehicles of those particular makes.
During the opening session on Friday evening, Lionel train lots finished consistently within estimate, with some achieving two and three times their expectations, if not more. It was the same story with American Flyer. One boxed AF set with track that was estimated at $250/350 easily made $1,100.
An extremely rare Mickey the Musical Mouse mechanical toy from the Alexander Collection had at least six bidders competing on the floor, with two others participating by phone. Eventually it sold to a phone bidder for $17,600 against a $4/6,000 estimate. (Very few examples of this toy have ever been offered at auction. Others sold exhibited variations in lithography.)
Two lots later, a Mickey Mouse Organ Grinder with original dancing Minnie and profusely litho’d original box hit a high note at $24,200, also above estimate.
The 1/12 scale cast aluminum toys made in the 1950s by All-American Toy Company of Salem, Ore., packed a mighty punch. Completely ignoring their modest estimates, the oversized boys’ toys knocked down one impressive result after another. A 24-inch wrecker brought $1,760; a 37-inch lumber truck, $1,210 in spite of repaint; a wood and metal derrick, $1,155. A simple 19-inch loader estimated at $50/100 had many suitors coaxing it to a $1,045 conclusion.
The day-long Saturday session started with Metalcraft. Seven beautiful 1930s advertising trucks attracted aggressive bids, with a Coca-Cola delivery truck with miniature bottles taking in $1,375 and a Shell Oil delivery truck with eight original oil barrels going even higher at $1,595.
A trio of classic 1920s Buddy ‘L’ vehicles moved prices into another stratum, with an Insurance Patrol leading at $6,050, but even high-quality contemporary examples of pressed steel trucks were winners, most notably Fred Thompson’s licensed versions of Smith-Miller trucks. A “D” model Smith-Miller Blue Diamond cement mixer in like-new condition snared $3,960 against a $1,5/2,000 estimate, and a “Terrible Herbst” tanker and trailer sold for $2,310.
Once again, All-American toys took the spotlight and, just as they had done the day before, demolished their presale estimates. A “Timber Toter” lumber truck finished at $1,980 in spite of having lost its load at some point in the past, a 38-inch cargo liner breezed to $2,200, and a 36-inch cattle tractor-trailer was nothing short of astonishing with a selling price of $3,960.
Yet another 1950s West Coast toy company, Sturdi-Bilt of Coquille, Ore., made a big impression on the prices realized. One after another, the Sturdi-Bilt lots crashed through their catalog estimates: a 42-inch lumber truck with trailer went for $1,870; a 37-inch log truck, $2,640; and a 23-inch crane truck in bright red and yellow paint brought $5,170 against a miniscule $300/500 estimate.
The last Sturdi-Bilt lot to be offered in the sale, a dump truck estimated at $75/125, left people shaking their heads in amazement as it hammered down $2,420.
A 1920s Keystone Packard chemical truck with opening hood doubled its higher estimate to close at $3,430; a very rare Arcade white cast-iron panel truck described as an “attic find” soared to $3,630, and a fascinating figural clockwork trade stimulator bearing a close resemblance to a toothy Mickey Mouse concluded its run at $5,720.
On the third and final day of the auction, a 1930s Cor-Cor Graham with electric headlights shot to $4,950, and a 1920s Buddy ‘L’ junior dray with ten original milk cans rumbled off to a phone bidder for a hefty $11,550.
Two A.C. Williams cast-iron vehicles proved surprisingly strong. A 61/2-inch take-apart coupe was bought over the phone for $3,430 against a $300/400 estimate, and a 7-inch touring car by the same manufacturer and similarly estimated brought $1,430.
The invincible name in pressed steel, Buddy ‘L’ came through once again, with a rare 24-inch “Red Baby,” a promotional toy available only through International Harvester dealers, pulling in $5,500. A 1920s motor coach was above estimate, as well, at $13,750.
In what seemed to be a last-dance, last-chance atmosphere, the final grouping of All-American toys was disbursed at somewhat puzzling prices, a case in point being the two lumber truck lots that sold for $2,310 and $275, respectively.
It is true that the higher-priced truck was more complete, but the disparity between the two prices still seemed extreme. More time and national exposure will be needed before prices for All-American trucks can be considered firmly established.
The market for All-American toys, like that of Sturdi-Bilt toys, is undefined, but Randy Inman’s spring sale has set the wheels in motion for an unquestionably promising future for both these brands. Expect the prices to go nowhere but up, especially on rarer models.