VINELAND, N.J. – Richard “Rich” Bertoia, an expert in the field of antique toys and an associate with family-owned Bertoia Auctions, died peacefully December 19 at his home in Vineland. He had waged a courageous battle against cancer over the past year and was 62 years old.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1954, Rich moved with his family to Millville, N.J., when he was 3 years old. He attended Millville schools and graduated from Cumberland County College and Rowan University.
As a boy, he developed an interest in early glass and other antiques. At age 12, he began collecting antique bottles that he and his older brother, Bill, dug up from the soil of southern New Jersey. He was soon buying and selling at local bottle shows.
After college, Rich began his career as a teacher. He later moved into sales. In 1994, he joined the Bertoia family’s auction business as a cataloger and auction coordinator. There, he built a stellar reputation as an antique toy expert. He also authored several important reference books on such subjects as antique motorcycle toys and antique advertising. He was an active member of many collector organizations, including the Antique Toy Collectors of America and Still Bank Collectors Club of America; and served as a member of the board of the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America. Rich was known for his warmth and genuine friendliness. Although he was regarded as one of the world’s most knowledgeable authorities on antique toys and trains, he always remained humble and preferred to keep a low profile.
He enjoyed soccer, karate, hunting for antiques and music, especially the percussion and rhythms of Santana. However, his greatest love was spending his time with his family. He is survived by his loving wife of 36 years, Trina (Guessford); daughters Nina, Lani and Monica; granddaughters Angelina and Ava; parents Ofelia and Hector; in-laws Pearl and Jim Guessford; nephew Michael Bertoia, niece Lauren Bertoia Costanza, sister-in-law Jeanne Bertoia, and brother-in-law Brian Guessford. He was predeceased by his brother Bill in 2003.
Rich Bertoia will be dearly missed by his family and friends, especially those from the antique toy collecting community. Washington attorney and former chair of the Smithsonian National Board Max N. Berry remembers his friend Rich as “a mild and gentle man – a truly great person who cared about everybody.” Berry said Rich had a disarming quality that made everyone want to know him better. “I never met anybody who said one negative thing about him or who didn’t consider him a good friend after getting to know him – which didn’t take very long at all… He has left us too soon.”
Representatives of collector clubs have offered their condolences and recollections. Barry Seiden, past president of the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, said, “I knew Rich for many years. He was one of the finest gentlemen in the business. In our dealings, he was always very thorough and knowledgeable. If he didn’t know the answer, he would get the answer for me.” John Olshefski, president of the Antique Toy Collectors of America, said, “Rich was a very gracious person and always willing to help… I never once saw him get upset.”
Someone who knew Rich Bertoia very well is attorney, Yale Law School lecturer and antique toy collector Anthony J. LaSala. “Rich Bertoia was a true gentleman, an antique toy expert and an exemplary family man and friend,” LaSala said. “He will be missed by all with whom he came in contact.”
One of Rich’s friends of longest standing, attorney and antique toy collector Jerry Steiner, described his friend as “a brilliant man who could talk to you about anything.” Steiner recalled sitting next to Rich on a toy club-sponsored bus tour and being amazed by the depth of Rich’s knowledge on science, sports, politics and many other topics.
“I think we covered it all during that trip,” Steiner said. “But when it came to toys, no one had a broader knowledge. I remember one time I was thinking about buying an old toy at an antique shop in Florida, but I didn’t really know anything about it. It was made of cast iron, which is not something I’m familiar with. I called a friend to ask him what he knew about it, and he said, ‘You should call Rich Bertoia. He’ll know.’ Whenever an expert opinion was needed, it always filtered back to Rich.”
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Rich’s memory to the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.