Published: March 22, 2022
Review & Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy RSL Auction Co.
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. – RSL Auction Company’s March 5 Crème de la Crème 2022 sale offered more than 500 lots of mechanical and still banks, American folk art and tin toys and German and American antique and cast iron toys. All lots sold and the sale total was “about $1.8 million,” according to the firm’s partner, Leon Weiss.
“It was a strong sale and we thought it was fantastic. It did exceedingly well. Between every category, about 75 or 100 world records were set.”
Mechanical banks, of which there were about 75 lots from three or four different sellers, brought some of the highest prices in the sale, including the top two lots in the sale. Leading at $111,000 was a “Pokey the Turtle” bank in near mint condition with color that was described as “crisp diverse.” Made by the Kilgore Manufacturing Company in Westerville, Ohio, in the late 1920s, the bank was one of few produced after a design flaw that caused banks to break led the company to halt production. According to the catalog, if a large coin, such as a nickel, was pushed through the slot with too much force, it would break the mechanism, rendering the bank inoperable. The example at RSL had provenance to the Perelman Museum collection as well as the Haradin family collection; it was considered a superior example with the most varied color combination on the base. Weiss said it sold to a private collector for what was a world record.
A “Clown on Bar” bank, made by C.G. Bush & Co., of Providence, R.I., circa 1880, was the lot featured on the cover of the sale’s catalog; bidders flipped for what the catalog described as “one of the most elusive and rare pieces in the field of mechanical bank collecting.” It brought $96,000 from a private collector. One of just five known examples in the world, the bank operates when a coin is placed in the red and white striped figure’s hand, causing him to lean forward and somersault around. Worth noting was its provenance: pioneering hobbyist John Meyer had acquired it in 1940 and it stayed in his collection until the Haradin family acquired it at auction in 1994.
An exceptional example – described in the catalog as “very possibly the finest surviving specimen known to exist” – of the J&E Stevens Company’s “Novelty cast iron house-form mechanical bank featured a hinged door and teller who took coins on a tray. The form was one of Stevens’ top selling cast iron mechanical toy banks and was produced in three different color schemes. This example exhibited an autumnal palette of tan, brown, green and white that differed from the other two versions of red, white and blue; and red, yellow and blue. In addition to its spectacular condition, the bank survived with its original box, so it was not surprising that it found a new home for $34,800, a price that exceeded expectations.
Leaping past its high estimate was a Kyser and Rex Company “Chimpanzee” cast iron bank, which closed out at $26,400. Made by the Philadelphia firm in the 1880s, the bank was made at a time when Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution invited interest and speculation on monkeys and other primate species. In this example, the chimpanzee is imbued with human attributes and is depicted as a bookkeeper. A design flaw led to most examples eventually developing a hairline crack in the roof, which this example, rendered in a striking palette of red, blue and yellow, had but did not deter bidders.
A “Schley” bank, made by an unknown American maker circa 1900, was one of very few examples designed after contemporary current events. It referenced a short-lived skirmish between the United States and the Spanish fleet during the Spanish American War. The Spanish Royal Navy, led by Admiral Pascual Cervera, attempted to steam past the American blockade at Santiago de Cuba; his fleet was outnumbered by ships commanded by Rear Admiral Schley. The American ships “bottled up” the Spanish fleet, sinking it in retribution for the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. The bank, which retained strong colors, finished at $25,200.
The market for still banks is growing and Weiss said the firm registered about a dozen new bidders for them, all online, who had never bid with RSL before.
Offerings of still banks numbered approximately 115 and were led at $40,800 by a large “Old South Church” bank from the Haradin collection. It stood 13 inches tall and was considered a stellar example in near mint condition with one hairline crack to the roof. The catalog noted that “for advanced collectors of building banks, the large version of the Old South Church is perhaps the most prized Holy Grail to acquire.” Though no maker has been definitively linked to either large or small size of the model, the catalog suggested Smith & Egge Company of Boston as a possible maker, given that firm’s contemporary production of the closely related “Boston State House” bank.
For those whose pockets were not quite so deep, the sale offered a small example of the “Old South Church” bank that closed out at $10,800, exceeding expectations. From the Haradin collection as well, the 9½-inch-tall model was noted to be in “pristine plus” condition, though a cleaning was recommended.
Bigger does not always mean better. Two sizes of the “Boston State House” provided an unusual opportunity for connoisseurship. The larger version, standing 6¾ inches tall and noted to be in pristine condition, went out at $12,000 while the 5-1/8-inch smaller version, in near mint condition with rich vivid color and considered to be the finest known example, realized $26,400. Both versions had been made in the mid 1870s by Smith & Egge Co.; the smaller version had been in the collection of Andy Moore.
Coming on the heels of the “Boston State House” and “Old South Church” banks, a deluxe painted expanded version of “Independence Hall,” made by Enterprise Mfg. Co. in Philadelphia and patented 1875, realized $12,000. The fully expanded model, which stood 6-3/8 inches tall and measured 11 inches long, had three coin slots; the one on offer was a highly superior example in “near mint” condition with exceptional patina.
Just two bidding increments separated the results of two 7½-inch-tall “Palace” banks by Ives, Blakeslee & Company, Bridgeport, Conn., 1885. The first to cross the block was in a rare original bronze pattern that had provenance to Donal Markey; it was in pristine condition with a burnished patina and closed out at $10,200. Finishing at $10,800 was the same version but in a scarce polychrome version in excellent, very bright condition.
Markey’s “Home” bank, in exceptional bright paint, was the last lot of still banks to cross the block but it was well worth waiting for. Not only was the J&E Stevens Company 5¼-inch example considered the finest known one but the catalog said it was one of Markey’s most favorite still banks. It topped expectations and realized $21,600.
One of the first still banks on offer, a 5-inch-tall Ober Mfg. Co., “Capitalist” bank, circa 1890s, exceeded expectations and finished at $7,800. With provenance to the collection of Frank Kidd, it was in near mint condition with a “great surface,” and described in the catalog as “reputed to be the finest known.”
Another bank of similar rarity and condition that was also made by the Ober Mfg. Co., and had provenance to Frank Kidd, as well as Donal Markey, was a “Clown with Crooked Hat” bank. In near mint condition with great highlights, it charmed bidders to $5,700 and also outpaced its estimates.
Leading the category of American and German toys was a Gebruder Marklin four-funneled ocean liner, The George Washington. Made in 1910, the 38-inch-long scarce live steam model survived in “very superior” condition. Based on the minor burn or bubbling to the paint on the boat sides where the boiler sits, it was probable that it had not been “fired up” too many times. While all ten of the lifeboats were original, the catalog suggested they could benefit from expert restoration. The boat, rare for its original condition, steamed to $48,000.
Fire engines, perennial favorites at toy auctions, did not disappoint. Notably, an XL Line by Carpenter Toys, Port Chester, N.Y., circa 1884, that measured 21 inches long and had provenance to the Haradin family collection, as well as its original box, saw heat from bidders, who lit it up to $9,600. Pristine condition and retaining both of its original figures, a Pratt & Letchworth Co., fire pumper iron toy, 1890, was 16 inches long and ran to $2,280.
Bidders drove another large scale toy – this time a French-made Delahaye roadster – to $13,200. Made by Blondinat in 1908, the 21-inch open roadster was modeled on cars made by Emile Delahaye in Tours, France, in 1894. It was considered in excellent-plus condition and was one of several cars in the auction, including a Gunthermann large open two-seat touring car that was 16½ inches in length. It had been found with very little paint and was restored in the 1980s; bidders rode it to $6,000.
Toys of various kinds were on offer but vehicles in a multitude of forms were highly popular with bidders. A circa 1930s Hubley Mfg., Co., police motorcycle and sidecar iron toy, in near mint condition with vivid color, zipped past its high estimate to stop at $1,800, while a 15-inch-long “New York” paddlewheel river boat iron toy, Wilkins Mfg., Co., Keene, N.H., was deemed an exceptional specimen and sold just below estimate, for $1,200. Meeting expectations, a Pike’s Peak Conestoga Wagon iron toy, made in Bridgeport, Conn., by the Ives, Blakeslee & Co., 1890s, drove to $5,100.
The next auction for RSL is scheduled for May 1 and will feature the Alvin Goldstein collection. Leon Weiss said it would feature about 375 still banks and 90 mechanical ones, with rare examples, including a few that were either the only known example or one of just a few extant models.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.rslauctionco.com or 908-823-4049.
January 31, 2023
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