Published: May 8, 2001
Randy Inman Sets Buddy ‘L’ Records
By Catherine Saunders-Watson
ALLENTOWN, PA. – Farmers in plaid shirts and baseball caps sat elbow-to-elbow with Manhattan businessmen and chic Europeans as astronomical prices on prototypes, samples and production models from the Buddy ‘L’ Toy Company Archive tallied $2,475,253 (inclusive of 10 percent buyer’s premium) at Randy Inman’s March 9 to 11 auction.
The total set a new world record for an auction comprised exclusively of toys, which, in this case, were consigned by former Buddy ‘L’ president Richard Keats. By the time the dust had settled, four separate toys had broken the existing record for most money paid at auction for a Buddy ‘L’ toy ($28,600 for a ‘Red Baby’ truck, sold last year by Inman Auctions).
Throughout the three-day event, the air sizzled inside the Grand Ballroom of the Days Inn Allentown’s Conference Center, with up to 700 people seated and still more standing against the rear wall, all intent on buying pressed steel vehicles from a legendary cache of toys that most collectors thought had disappeared long ago.
Top lot was the only known example of a Buddy ‘L’ Insurance Patrol truck with headlights and front bumper. Boxed with a sample room I.D. tag, the bright red 27-inch truck brought $40,700 against an already hefty $8/12,000 estimate. Not far behind were a very scarce toy version of a 1930s International truck-mounted steam shovel with original box, which scooped up $35,200; and a one-of-a-kind factory display of a Buddy ‘L’ copper and nickel-plated locomotive, tender and caboose, which sold for $33,000.
Also closing at $33,000 was a 25-inch Buddy ‘L’ Express truck with headlights and rare functional doors. Each of the four toys surpassed the previously held world record price for a Buddy ‘L’ toy at auction.
Other top ten highlights included a factory prototype of a doored Express truck – $27,500, a boxed 1935 ice truck – $25,300, and a 1931-’32 screen side truck with factory I.D. tag – $24,200. Both a boxed 1938 International Shell Oil tanker and a 24-inch pile driver on crawler tracks reached the $22,000 mark.
Consignor Richard Keats beamed as one lot after another knocked down fabulous prices. Later, he autographed toy boxes, catalogues and even the crates in which the archive contents had been stored for over two decades. These same crates were offered as uncatalogued lots at the end of the Saturday session, and many soon resold in the conference center’s parking lot.
Buyers came from all directions and walks of life. Jerome Lauren, executive vice president of Polo Ralph Lauren, bid from the front row during Saturday’s session and took home two toys, including a 1920s Flivver Huckster with canopy-style bed cover priced at $23,100. Reportedly, Lauren also left absentee bids on lots in the Sunday session.
A couple from New England, known both for their champagne tastes in toys and their penchant for remaining anonymous, proved to be daunting opposition and, according to one near observer, spent in excess of $350,000 on mostly mint/boxed examples.
French restaurateurs Jean-Luc and Evelyne Petit-Davy, who had flown over from Brittany with their young daughter Alix specifically to attend the auction, left with smiles on their faces and several very desirable Coca-Cola vehicles in tow, including a warehouse and store delivery truck set for which they paid $3,740.
“When we read about the sale in an American magazine and noticed that there was a Web site to view the toys, we immediately checked it to see if there were any Coca-Cola trucks to be sold,” Mme. Petit-Davy revealed. “My husband has a very large collection, so it is not easy to find toys that he does not already own. When he saw the rare Coca-Cola advertising trucks in the sale, none of which were in his collection, we began making plans to fly to the United States for the event.” She went on to say that the consignor of the archive, Dick Keats, had been very helpful during the preview sessions, providing little-known details about the production of various Coca-Cola models.
Other enthusiasts came knowing they probably couldn’t win against the formidable competition in the auction room but still wanted to experience the occasion. One collector remarked, “I drove here all the way from Minnesota and wouldn’t have missed it. This was my only chance to ever see these famous toys.”
Since the early 1920s, the Buddy ‘L’ Toy Company of East Moline, Ill. had maintained an archive of perfect, boxed examples of toys taken at random from their assembly lines, as well as unique models from their design and engineering departments, some of which never progressed to the production stage. Although many collectors knew of the archive, or “morgue,” as it was referred to by Buddy ‘L’ employees, no one could trace the toys after they suddenly left factory premises in 1976.
In actuality, the company’s then-new president and owner, the aforementioned Richard Keats, had ordered 64 crates to be filled with the archive toys for transport to a private, undisclosed location. It was in a Clifton, N.J. warehouse that the toys lay dormant until last year when the decision was made to sell what is widely regarded as the ultimate collection of American pressed steel toys.
Part II of the Buddy ‘L’ Archive will be sold without reserve by Randy Inman Auctions at the same Allentown Days Inn Conference Center location over the second weekend in October.
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