Published: April 19, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Milestone Auctions
WILLOUGHBY, OHIO – Milestone Auctions presented rare toys in a one-day sale that was billed as a Spring Antique Toy Spectacular on April 9. The auction comprised the gamut of different collecting categories, offering something for everyone – from cast iron cars, trucks, motorcycles, airplanes, banks and door stops to Japanese and American character toys, tin windups and friction toys. The star attraction of the 795-lot sale was what Milestone characterized as one of the finest collection of Popeye toys ever to come to market. American character toys wax and wane in popularity but Popeye, the swaggering, wisecracking cartoon sailor, is indefatigable, pressing on, powered by spinach and accompanied by a motley crew of comical sidekicks. Six of the eight highest selling lots in this sale were propelled by Popeye – augmented not by that leafy green substance but in many cases the original pictorial boxes.
The selection of Popeye toys was led by the greatest rarity of them all: a Popeye and Olive Oyl Tank with its original pictorial box. “Every major collector of Popeye toys – and just about every collector of comic character toys, in general – wants that tank,” said Milestone Auctions co-owner Miles King prior to sale. “The minute word got out about it, the phones started ringing and collectors started searching for it in the online catalog.” Sure enough, fan collectors pounced on the opportunity, pushing the lot to $87,500, against its $30/40,000 estimate. Made by Linemar (Japanese post-World War II subsidiary of Louis Marx & Co), the 11-inch-long, battery-operated Popeye and Olive Oyl Tank was all original and complete, even retaining Popeye’s pipe and the red plastic caps that hold his legs to the tank. When activated, Olive Oyl’s head emerges from the cupola with a surprised expression on her face, as Popeye flips the tank over. The pièce de résistance, however, was the crisp, profusely illustrated original box that accompanied the toy.
There were many more Popeye-themed top lots in this sale. In fact, there were more than 60 rare toys with his image in a variety of occupations crossing the block. An example of a boxed Linemar battery-operated Popeye and rowboat, complete with oars and correct remote control, swamped its $2,5/3,500 estimate to dock at $11,000. The 10½-inch-long toy showed virtually no play wear with colors that were bright and a crisp complete box that had insert and instruction sheet for oars.
Popeye was a strongman hitting a carnival bell in Chein’s Popeye Heavy Hitter boxed toy that hit $9,500 against a $5/6,000 expectation and a training pugilist in a boxed Chein tin windup Popeye Overhead Puncher. All original and complete with celluloid punching bag, the toy looked like it had never been played with, and its windup works had the original key. It also sold for $9,500.
He even buzzed around as a pilot in Linemar’s mechanical Popeye Air-O-Plane with original box, which was bid to $8,750. And he showed up again in Hoge’s tin clockwork Popeye Row Boat, all original and complete with its original oars and rudder. An example of a hard-to-find toy, the 14½-inch lot made $8,000.
Would-be high society types could bid on a 1920s Steelcraft Packard Deluxe pressed steel pedal car, 49 inches long. It was estimated $6/8,000 but did much better, finishing at $13,500. “Only a privileged child could have owned this car,” King observed. “It has a klaxon horn, spotlight, colored marker lights, dash gauges and license plates. You won’t find a better or more original example.” Another 1920s Steelcraft production, a 49-inch “Little Jim” Air Mail pedal airplane, landed at $8,750, more than twice its high estimate.
Pressed steel highlights, a category boasting more than 90 vehicles in total, included a rare 26-inch American National Coal Truck with electric headlights, which left the gallery at $4,400. There were many more on offer, including automobiles, airplanes, buses, moving vans, wreckers, fire, delivery, livestock, military and construction trucks.
Cast iron collectors vied for a rare Kenton Willys-Knight sedan, 8 inches long, with all original paint with no cracks or repairs and even a correct spare replacement, which tooled to $4,680.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For more information, www.milestoneauctions.com or 440-527-8060.
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