Published: July 3, 2006
Members of the Merritt family looked on, smiling, as one toy after another from the fabled archives of the Mary Merritt Doll Museum passed to new owners in Noel Barrett’s $1.4 million Spectacular Auction event conducted May 12-13.
The high estimate for the sale, which also included Bert Cohen’s lithographed paper on wood toys, the second installment of the Joyce and John Davanzo doll collection and a melting pot of extraordinary attic finds, had been set at $980,000. “But the wonderful rarities from the museum had been on display for many years, creating a pent-up demand,” said Barrett, “and collectors were prepared to bid high in what they viewed as a unique opportunity to acquire their choice of these famous toys.”
Phones ran hot throughout the sale, with six lines in use on some lots. Online bidders were responsible for a full 25 percent of the purchases, Barrett said, “and the Internet brought many underbidders to the table.”
The first lot to defy its estimate by a sizable margin was an early, manual-powered Graphaphone with Mignon Phone-a-Graph with five original wax records and original wood box. Estimated at a mere $150/250, the musical ensemble hit a high note at $14,300.
The opening session also produced record-setting prices for jointed wood figures from Schoenhut’s coveted Teddy Roosevelt African Safari series. Most notable was an 8-inch Arab chieftain with rifle, knife and cartridge case, which attracted 19 bids before settling at $10,400 against an estimate of $¾,000. Similarly estimated, an African native with drum achieved $7,700 while a cloth-dressed, mustachioed “Great Guide,” complete with original straw hat and telescope – “the first seen in a long time,” said Barrett – took a direct upward path to $8,250.
The Friday session concluded with a selection of discoverybox lots that proved popular with bidders, since they were offeredonly to those who were actually in attendance.
Saturday’s session featured both private consignments and rare toys and specialty items that had become well known to collectors from their decades of tenure at the Merritt museum in Douglassville, Penn. American tin was strong across the board, with an Ives crawling baby anything but a creeper at $4,950. But the action really took off, said Barrett, with the introduction of a skittles (ninepin bowling) set comprising a molded papier mache camel on cast-iron wheels, the camel’s back serving as the carrier for nine papier mache Arab-figure skittles. Dating to around 1900 and extraordinarily rare, the set had been estimated at $10/15,000. Twenty-seven bids were lodged on the lot, firing from all directions. Eventually a collector participating by phone prevailed, paying $33,000.
The next superstar lot was a captivating child-size painted carousel figure of an elephant, which had tantalized bidders from its place of honor to the auctioneer’s left. A floor bidder claimed the superbly carved pachyderm with glass eyes, painted leather tail and fine patina for $26,400.
Once the Merritt museum’s rabbit hutch was opened, bids beganto multiply at a rapid clip. A spectacular 21-inch cloth-dressedfather rabbit nodder holding three bunny nodders had been alongtime favorite at the museum, and was entered in the sale with a$4/6,000 estimate. Collectors of rabbits, Easter toys and earlyclockwork toys jumped at the opportunity to bid on the iconicpiece, pushing the final price to $30,800. The exotic rabbit lotswere not destined for private collections. The buyers,Philadelphians Grace and Roy Olson, were bidding on behalf of theOld Salem Toy Museum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Surely no one, including veteran appraiser and Antiques Roadshow expert Barrett, expected 53 bids to be garnered by an unusual painted and carved wood figure called “Man with a Girl on His Mind,” which was estimated at $600/800. When a small wire lever is turned on this curious toy, a tiny carved and painted figure of a lady pops out of the man’s hat. The bidding war over this toy, which was the first and only example Barrett had ever seen, ended with a phone bidder winning out at $26,400.
One of the only interactive exhibits at Merritt’s was an 1896-patent Madam Zita penny arcade fortune-telling machine. It more than doubled its low estimate at an “unpredictable” $45,100.
An Internet bidder won the competition for a German clockwork Gunthermann Magician toy, at $6,600; and a fresh-to-the-market gem by Marklin, an elaborate carousel exhibiting painstaking detail and lithography, opened at $20,000 and jumped by $5,000 increments before gliding to a halt at $88,000. An example of a Lionel gondola – the first model issued by Lionel – held steady with previous prices realized, rolling to a stop at $27,500.
A group of 80 antique and vintage doll lots all sold within or above estimate.
All prices quoted are inclusive of ten percent buyer’s premium; additional premium online. For information, www.noelbarrett.com or 215-297-5109.
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