Published: October 6, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Morphy Auctions
DENVER, PENN. – There was a clear top lot at Morphy Auctions’ September 23-24 Toy, Doll & Figural Cast Iron sale as a Japanese tin-litho Machine Man with original box, the scarcest member of Japanese company Masudaya’s “Gang of Five,” set an auction record for any toy robot when it sold for $159,900.
Masudaya produced the “Gang of Five” from the 1950s through the 1960s, though Machine Man was the only example not distributed to retailers. Anyone wishing to purchase had to send away for it and that odd sales funnel has resulted in only a dozen known, and only two or three known with the box.
Tommy Sage Jr, Morphy’s head of toy and train division, said he got a call from a gentleman who had seen the firm’s $86,100 result for an unboxed Machine Man, which set an auction record for any unboxed robot in March 2019. The toy had been in his mother’s attic, and he believed he received it as a child but had no recollection of it.
The result is a notable benchmark for not only toy robots, but also among tin lithograph and Japanese toys.
“We’ve sold some banks in the hundreds of thousands, some Mörklin trains will go that high, too, but when you get to comic toys or Japanese toys, $100,000 is a tough barrier to break,” Sage said. “It’s a glass ceiling. To break that is good. Once you hit that mark, people have that in mind.”
On hitting that result, Sage said he has received more notes of congratulations from colleagues than he can remember from any past sale.
“Since it was a 9.8 and it had a box, I originally thought it would do $120,000. That it did $159,900 wasn’t a shock, but it was a nice surprise,” Sage said.
The sale pulled together about a dozen different collections and grossed just shy of $1 million, including buyer’s premium.
The next highest lot rang in at $28,290 for a Gum Incorporated Horrors of War boxed card set. Sage said he knew of one other complete set like this and it brought about the same price some years back. The set was from the first series released by Gum Inc., based in Philadelphia, and it featured 24 celluloid packs inside the retailer’s box, which offered them for sale at $1 a piece. Produced in 1938, the cards depicted “true stories of modern warfare” through illustrated pictures of the Chinese-Japanese War, the Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War.
Behind that came a run of banks, led at $25,200 by an Atlas mechanical bank, which Sage said was the finest example known. The manufacturer of the bank is unknown, though it features Atlas atop a building holding a paper globe on his back. It had provenance to C.F. Hegarty. At the same price was a J&E Stevens Boy Scout Camp bank in excellent to near mint condition that included its original flag. The piece flew well over its $10,000 high estimate.
“The best banks did unbelievably well,” Sage said. “It seems to be a trend that continues on: the top collectors want to buy the same 20 best things in the sale. That doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.”
Adding to that count was a J&E Stevens Girl Skipping Rope mechanical bank that sold for $14,760. It was all original with only a minor paint touch-up on the face. Also by Stevens was a US mechanical bank with provenance to Al Davidson. In all original bright paint, it sold for $10,800.
Sage said he had about 60 people bidding in the gallery throughout the day, sitting down when their section of interest was crossing the block and leaving thereafter. He said bids are flying online and by phone, with approximately 3,000 bidders participating in the sale from outside of the gallery, whether that’s by phone, left bid or online.
When Sage was a bit younger, he got his start selling in sports memorabilia and trading cards. Featured in this sale was a number of pieces in that category, including a pair of Nike Air Jordan 1s, size 13, that sold for $8,400. They were accompanied by a 1997 letter that stated they were game worn by Jordan. Another piece from Jordan was a signed Bulls 23 “Career Achievements” jersey released by Upper Deck and included the original box that sold for $4,160. Jordan won six NBA championships leading up to 1998.
Large Hubley toys proved desirable, largely driven by good, original paint. Among them was a large size “Say It With Flowers” delivery motorcycle in blue paint with the original policeman driver that brought $10,880. A large size Harley Davidson 2-cylinder hillclimber motorcycle in orange with original wheels and driver brought a high price at $7,200. It had provenance to Donald Kaufman. Finally a yellow Friendship pontoon seaplane with original rubber wheels went out above estimate at $6,765.
Among clockwork toys, Sage said an Ives Santa Claus walker was the finest example he had ever handled. It took $5,700 on a $4,000 estimate. Circa the Nineteenth Century, Ives made a few walkers in a series, including a “General Butler,” a “Chinaman,” an “Old Black Joe” and a “Jackass.”
Disney items were led by a complete 1935 Mickey Mouse trading card set, which sold for $5,760 on an $800 estimate. The group included volume one and two. Also in the category was a tin and celluloid Elmer and Donald Duck on Trapeze toy with original box that sold for $5,228. The toy was from the collection of Jeff Landes and had been produced in Japan and distributed through George Borgfeldt of New York.
Sage says the next toy sale will occur in March 2021. All prices quoted include buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For additional information, www.morphyauctions.com or 877-968-8880.
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