Published: October 29, 2019
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
TIMONIUM, MD. – Rick Opfer genuinely lamented the 2018 passing of his friend and client Dick Horne as he stepped up to the podium on October 19 to offer 562 lots for sale that day. “We’ve lost a couple of great guys this year, including Dick,” Opfer told the audience before the sale got underway. “And this is your opportunity to get some of the things that he cherished.” More than once Opfer laughed when a lot came up, saying “only Dick would have this.”
Horne founded the American Dime Museum in 1999, a Baltimore institution of curiosities modeled after Barnum’s American Museum with gaffs, sideshows and old-fashioned carnival attractions galore. Horne was known to make his own displays for the museum and many of them were auctioned by Opfer in 2007 when the museum closed. Opfer said the gallery was packed for that sale, with some lots selling to David Copperfield and to plenty of others. To a connoisseur of the outrageous and unusual like Horne, whether those things were real or not was not the correct line of thinking. The Baltimore Sun quoted him saying, “If I dropped it on your foot, would you be asking that question?”
Apart from his museum, Horne was known in the area as a dealer. He often did flea markets and sold at shows in Pennsylvania.
Horne’s collection, with additions from the Sam Downey estate, a Bel-Air, Md., bank collector and a Virginia advertising collector included live steam toys and trains; Marklin, Bing, Lionel, German and American trains; scale model toys; folk art; historical lithographs; sculpture; fire collectibles; ship models; nautical items; Coca-Cola and advertising; pinballs; coin-ops; scientific and early tools and tin toys. The auction was rounded out with the Mort Hirschberg cast iron collection, which included sprinklers, nut crackers, match safes, inkwells, notary seals and doorstops.
At the beginning of the sale, Opfer told the well-attended gallery that he does not waste time on the podium. True to form, the auctioneer was selling 100-130 lots per hour throughout the sale.
Though the auction grossed $172,500, the highest priced lot of the day was $4,130 for an Eastern flintlock long gun with vermeiled silver, engraving, bone and mother-of-pearl inlay. When the lot was initially brought up, bidding was split between the gallery, a phone and the internet, selling to the latter at a hammer of $3,750. About five minutes passed before Opfer received word from his assistant that the bidder on LiveAuctioneers said they did not bid and that it was an error on the platform. Opfer got his phone bidder back on the phone and reoffered the lot, where it batted around again and hammered for $3,500, the exact underbid.
Another notable firearm came in a small package. A tiger maple miniature Kentucky rifle by G. Neaves, 22 inches long and together with a miniature powder horn, sold above the $225 high estimate for $2,124.
Selling within estimate at $2,950 was an O.D. Jennings & Company cigarette dispenser with 5-cent and 10-cent options. Some of the vintage packs left in it included Old Gold, Chesterfield and Lucky Strike.
A painting titled “Quicksand,” executed in 1957 by Betsy, a chimpanzee at the Baltimore Zoo, would go on to produce $560.
Advertising was supplied by a Virginia collection and was found in demand at the sale, primarily led by Coca-Cola offerings. At $1,534 was a Coca-Cola horizontal cardboard sign, “Refreshing,” circa 1945. Another Coca-Cola sign with the words “You trust its quality” and featuring a branded gold wood frame wound up at $1,298. Yet another with the word “Hospitality” caught $1,003. An enameled metal lift-lid ice box or cooler for the soft drink brand sold for $885 after 21 bids. Advertising for Gunther Beer was also notable, with a lithographed tin example, 20 by 14 inches and reading “A Good Head On A Fine Body,” fetching $1,298. Behind at $1,062 was a four-tier display rack for the brand, while a light-up wall clock, 15-inch diameter, sold at $1,003.
Though numbering to only four, previewers took note of the tramp art offerings, including alters and a plant stand. At $354 was a carved and stacked wood alter featuring a crucifix and an image of the last supper in a tablet. Other carved elements included a ladder, axe and rooster. The other two tramp art alters sold at $188 and $177, while the chip carved plant stand took $70.
A collection of cast iron banks from a Bel Air, Md., collector were on offer. Opfer had handled some of the examples in the past. At the lead was a Darktown Battery mechanical bank in very good to excellent condition, which sold for $2,714. Other mechanicals included a Punch & Judy in good to very good condition, $2,006; Jonah and the Whale, good condition, $1,888; a Paddy & Pig in good to very good condition, $1,416; and a Clown on Globe in very good to excellent condition, $1,298. Still banks were led by a Baseball Player in very good to excellent condition, $944.
A swathe of trains flew over their estimates. Chief among them was a lot of two Lionel GG1 Pennsylvania model 2360 locomotives, both with boxes but one still sealed, that sold for $2,596 above a $400 estimate. A tin and cast iron electric train engine followed behind with 18 bids, settling at $2,478 above a $250 estimate. A group of four Lionel trolleys, including two #60 trolleys, a #3927 track cleaning car and a #57 AEC Switcher sold for $1,534 above a $200 estimate.
Steam toys were led by trains, as well. A Stephensons locomotive #1 model built by Precision Steam Models would go out at over triple high estimate with $1,534. Close behind at $1,416 was a live steam Royal Mail locomotive in brass. A Weeden live steam boat with a brass boiler took $1,062, while an Ernst Plank steam engine and pump brought $1,003.
Bidders stuck around for the Mort Hirschberg collection of cast iron that closed out the sale. Hirschberg wrote the 2007 book Steam Toys: A Symphony in Motion, and had sales from his collection in 2018 and 2019 at Pook & Pook. A large collection of match safes and wall pockets of over 100 examples was led by three lots at $443: one featuring a Zimmermann dog and a standing elephant; two figural ladies, one with her hands behind her back by Verlay and another holding a tray with a bowl by Zimmermann; and the last a stand-alone Punch figure by Zimmermann.
Seal presses were led by a notary press manufactured by American Seal, patent date 1865 and featuring a hand with a painted sleeve holding the body, $443. A nice collection of 30 nutcrackers was topped by a “Tough Nut” figural nutcracker in a sailor form that brought $649. Behind at $590 was a painted African American head and at $450 was a painted gold dragon nutcracker. The highest lot from the Hirschberg collection was the last lot in the sale, a painted cast iron Indian head architectural element, 10 inches high, that brought $826.
Opfer was ultimately pleased with the results of the sale. “Nothing seemed to be a gift and everything kind of supported itself, whether it was a known collectible or something different,” he said.
The firm’s next general auction is November 14 with a collector’s auction on November 25.
For information, 410-252-5035 or www.opferauction.com.
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