Published: May 18, 2004
Legend says that Bluebeard, the notorious pirate, was attacked by the Jersey Devil, a creature that was supposedly sighted near this New Jersey town. But on April 2 and 3, not even another such sighting would have prevented patrons from acquiring the “pirates’ trove” of high-caliber and highly collectible toys, doorstops, banks and dolls comprising Bertoia’s 1,486-lot sale.
The top lot of this sale was a $23,100 Calamity bank, a bit of irony since with more than $1 million in sales (and worldwide interest), the auction was a resounding success. Patented in 1904 and made by the J&E Stevens Co., the Calamity football bank had a charging fullback flanked by two tackles. With a preauction high estimate of $12,000, the action started with a left bid of $5,000, but then the competition quickly shifted to the floor. A New Jersey collector seated in the back of the gallery with his bid of $23,100 won the vintage bank. A regular at Bertoia sales, he counts this bank as lucky number 38 in his growing collection, and said that he did not arrive at the sale with the intention of making the purchase.
Unusual? Perhaps for some auction houses, but not for Bertoia, according to owner Jeanne Bertoia. “We have so many repeat customers who know us. They have a high level of confidence in buying from us. They know our reputation in accurately describing each lot and for accurately conditioning [i.e. good, very good, mint] each rdf_Description in the sale, so they feel comfortable bidding telephone, absentee or over the Internet. There are no surprises – only pleasant surprises – when they receive their rdf_Description.” Bertoia added, “We are respected in the toy world. We have a good team and an excellent group of consultants. In this business, you have to be careful about repairs and the repainting of a toy.”
Another J&E Stevens sports-related bank that was noted by auctioneer Tim Luke as receiving “a lot of interest” during the preview was a Dark Town Battery in pristine condition. Patented in 1888, the bank stole home at $8,250.
Continuing the parade of J&E Stevens banks was a Home bank (patented 1872). This was a no dormer windows version in excellent condition, which went to a phone bidder for $5,775.
The piece de resistance of the toy portion of the auction was a cast iron Four Seat Brake (circa 1890) by Pratt & Letchworth. The black open coach with yellow trim and eight original figures, pulled by a team of four horses, started at $9,000. It went to a West Coast Internet bidder for $22,000. The underbidder related that he had owned this same toy approximately 13 years ago and was hoping to buy it back again.
Other toys also garnered attention on the second day of sales at Bertoia. For example, an extraordinarily rare cast iron road sweeper started at $4,000, but then “cleaned up” at $6,875 to the floor. A P&H steam shovel brought almost as much with its winning bid of $6,600. A Hubley “America” airplane, with a 17-inch wingspan, two pilots in an open cockpit and three propellers, flew out of the gallery for $3,575. Back on the ground, an Arcade Buick sedan (circa 1927) in near mint condition, brought $3,300, and an oversized dray wagon by Weller and Crosby (circa 1890) sold for the same money. A Hubley Calliope in a desirable orange painted version realized $4,400.
It was appropriate that a rare Keystone circus truck, circa 1932, had written on it “The World’s Greatest Circus,” since it came very close to being the greatest sale of the auction. Measuring 261/4 inches long, the steel Packard model opened to six animal cages and still had one of its original animals behind bars. Considered to be in very good to excellent condition, it had a preauction estimate of $7/9,000. A successful Midwest phone bidder acquired it for $20,900.
Another rdf_Description that sold during the first part of the sale was a very rare Hubley bugler doorstop, 121/2 inches high, in pristine condition. It sold to a New York private collector on the phone for $12,100. A Highlands lighthouse doorstop reached its “high-water” mark at $4,125 – significantly above the high estimate of $1,800. Another favorite was a rare Black-eyed Susans doorstop. At 173/4 inches tall, the largest of the florals made by Hubley, it sprouted to a selling price of $4,125.
Also selling the first day of the sale was an early Cadillac pedal car – predating Caddy’s elongated fins – with wooden running boards and stenciled radiator, measuring 36 inches long, which cruised out of the gallery at $6,050. A boxed example of a Ramblin Mickey Mouse (copyright 1934, Disney Enterprises) was another highly sought-after toy. This Japanese celluloid Mickey, activated by a clockwork mechanism, sold for $6,600. A circa 1959 Japanese Giant Sonic Robot (along with its tattered box), lived up to its name by bringing a colossal $6,050. Standing 111/2 inches tall, a Japanese Thunder Robot brought $4,125, while achieving the same price, a German Mickey Mouse organ grinder, copyright 1931, went off the block. A blue-green Buddy “L” coach, copyright 1927, with 22 individual seats and in very good condition, fetched $5,500.
Also included in the sale was an important grouping of dolls from the 30-year collection of the late Alberta Darby from Maryland. Auctioneer Andy Ourant mentioned, during the doll portion of the sale that several of these beauties were photographed for the Coleman book, The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls.
Additional French favorites included a Jumeau long face Triste Bebe that exchanged collections at $13,200. Bringing $9,900 was a 23-inch tall portrait Jumeau French fashion doll, circa 1870. A 12-inch-tall Steiner “A” Bebe, circa 1880s, left the gallery at $5,500.
There are times when having wide hips can be a plus. An early “wide hips” model German Kathy Kruse doll with its original outfit and wrist tag sold for $12,100. A rare, 26-inch-tall Martha Chase “Mammy” brought $8,800. A 19-inch Izannah Walker doll that had lost its left hand and toes made $9,250. Twin Philadelphia babies realized $7,150. A 21-inch Beecher baby in excellent condition sold for $5,500, along with a letter of provenance. With a preauction high estimate of $2,200, a 40-inch K*R/Simon &Halbig doll reached $6,050.
Surprisingly, a child’s wagon made by the Paris Mfg. Co., South Paris, Maine, with a preauction estimate of $150-$200, sold for $2,200.
Prices reported include a 10 percent buyer’s premium.
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