Published: June 1, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Bertoia Auctions
VINELAND, N.J. – The train and toy collection of the late collector Paul Cole grossed more than $2.5 million for Bertoia Auctions May 21-22.
The catalog’s foreword tells the story of a man with an inquisitive mind who would go on to become an active member and president of the Antique Toy Collectors of America club and a proponent for the field in general. Cole received his MBA from Harvard before becoming a captain in the US Army. He worked as a systems engineer for IBM until his father passed away, at which point he moved back to his hometown of Bluefield, W.Va., to take over the family’s International Harvester dealership. Mechanically inclined, Cole would establish an automotive parts firm and would later own a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership. He was also inclined towards social relationships, with the Bertoias writing, “If you had the good fortune of knowing Paul Cole… you knew you had made a new friend and that you were welcome in his circle.” Much of his hometown of Bluefield was in that circle and Cole served as the town’s mayor from 1981 to 1993.
Though Cole began in the 1970s collecting American and Lionel trains, by the 1990s he found what would become his passion: European trains. From Marklin and other premier makers, Cole’s collection grew to be one of the finest in America.
“Paul collected for 50 years,” auction house principal Jeanne Bertoia said. “He traveled through Europe and bought there from collectors and sellers.” On the collection’s quality, she said, “It was just the beauty of the collection and the rarity. Those two things really pushed the prices.”
The sale would outperform its aggregate estimate by a couple hundred thousand with the hammer price alone.
The auction’s leaderboard was appropriately filled with examples from Marklin from the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
“In the world of trains, Marklin is king,” Jeanne Bertoia said. “In other toys, too, whether it’s boats, trains or cars, Marklin is the premium toy manufacturer in the market.”
At $40,800 was a Marklin Schlitz beer car in O gauge, circa 1906. The car was hand painted in a banana yellow body with red highlights and black lettering that spelled “Schlitz / The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous.” At the time of its manufacture, Marklin was trying to crack the code and figure out what American buyers wanted. The answer, it turned out, was beer, and the beer advertising cars proved a popular line for the company in the ensuing decade. Among collectors, the cars have proved a darling for their sense of historical custom – where a company could sell a toy with beer advertising emblazoned across it to children and it proved lucrative for them.
“They’re hot,” Jeanne Bertoia said. “We’ve sold this car in the past from Jerry Greene’s and Tony Annese’s collections. They always command a strong price.”
Marklin’s “Circus Oriental” wagon and gondola in gauge 1 was entirely hand painted including the details on the window shutters and the wagon’s banner. The gondola featured folding sides and the wagon had a compartment underneath that opened for storage. There are only a handful known. Auctioneer Michael Bertoia said, “To have one at all is a triumph for a collector, furthermore to have one in excellent condition – that’s what made this as valuable as it was.” It would go on to take $38,400.
Not far behind at $32,400 was a No 2361 Electric Tramway trolley in gauge 1 with clockwork mechanism and seven original figures. The trolley had been made for the American market, but not far away was a similar form from the company that was made for the European market. At $31,200 was an Electrische Strassenbahn trolley trailer in O gauge with six original figures. It was unpowered and came with its safety chains at each stairway.
Two American market Marklin locomotives would finish near each other. At $32,400 was a clockwork 4-4-0 express in O gauge with a deluxe six-wheel tender marked “NYC & HR” and at $31,200 was an electric 4-6-2 Pacific in gauge 1 with matching eight-wheel Pennsylvania Rail Road tender. Both were in near mint and pristine condition.
Marklin accessories were in high demand as well, including a Churchbury Station #2848 that took $24,000. Modeled after an English countryside station in gauge 1, it featured original ramps and advertising for popular British brands like Bovril and Sunlight Soaps. Selling for $9,000 was a singular “Droschken, Strassenbahn, Haltestelle” lamp post, translating to “Cab, Trolley, Bus Stop.” The post measured 8½ inches high and dated circa 1902.
Other European makers included Bing and Carette. From the latter was a Vauclain locomotive with tender, made for the American market, that sold for $14,400. The catalog noted that author Paul Klein Schiphorst called the Vauclain “one of the most remarkable engines ever made.” The locomotive features a clockwork mechanism with brake and reverse gear controlled from the cab. Circa 1910, Bertoia called it “probably the highest quality model locomotive made at the time.” Three Carette O gauge coaches would follow not far behind at $13,200. From Bing was a $14,400 result for a gauge 3 steeple cab locomotive. Circa 1902, the firm noted that this was very early for an electric train.
Collected earlier in his timeline, Cole’s collection of American-made trains featured strong. From among the earliest electric train makers in the country, Carlisle & Finch’s #4 locomotive with Lincoln pin coupler tender and baggage car would sell for $21,600 on a $3,500 high estimate. The firm said it was a rare first version of the model with an early paper label that dated it to circa 1899. “What makes that special is this was the first version of that locomotive, the earliest of the early,” said Michael Bertoia. An Ives National Limited Passenger set in standard gauge with locomotive and tender and four passenger cars sold for $20,400.
“There were some that went to Europe, but the American buyers were the strongest,” Jeanne Bertoia said. “People worldwide were participating in this sale and were successful, however most of the trains are staying in this country.”
Cole’s collection of seven Hubley cast iron horse-drawn toys was a ringer with forms in exceptional paint and condition. Jeanne Bertoia said they “looked as if the paint was still wet.” The top selling lots were 12 inches long, the second smallest versions in the series from the company. Taking $18,000 was a reduced Calliope circus wagon. The firm wrote “stronger condition can not be had” as the toy looked like it just came out of a box. At $14,400 was a reduced Monkey Trapeze circus wagon of the same size that received the same description, and $9,000 was paid for a reduced Rhino circus wagon.
Jeanne Bertoia remembers splitting up and framing the sketch book of George Brown when her auction house sold off the Bernard Barenholtz collection in 1990. The double-sided pages featured the colored line drawing designs for Brown’s toys that would later prove quite popular with collectors. This sale featured one of those original framed pages, double-sided to include a design for an Excelsior tin locomotive and a tin fire pumper. The page sold for $21,600.
Offerings from Erzgebirge were bountiful, including $30,000 paid for a Preston train set. It featured an unpowered 2-2-2- European outline steam locomotive with tender as well as an open gondola, log transport wagon, baggage car and third class coach. Jeanne Bertoia said she believed it to be a record for an Erzgebirge train, saying, “it was the size of this set, the color, the condition – it was just spectacular.” An Erzgebirge/Thuringia warship with soldiers took $12,000 on a $1,500 estimate. The work was 9 inches long of painted wood with armed soldiers. A smaller warship, 6½ inches long, with five figures took $10,800. Bertoia said ships from Erzgebirge are particularly rare.
“The nice thing about this sale was that most bidders didn’t get everything they wanted, but they walked away with a couple pieces,” Jeanne Bertoia said. “I always enjoy when everything is spread around to lots of collectors.”
Prices reported include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.bertoiaauctions.com or 856-692-1881.
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