Published: June 27, 2000
By Catherine Saunders-Watson
PHILADELPHIA, PA. – Last October, train enthusiasts from all over America gathered at Bill Bertoia’s Philadelphia auction to battle over 1,226 railway lots consigned by multimillionaire executive and collector extraordinaire Jerry Poch. The final tally, $1.4 million, was a remarkable result, bolstered by the fact that so many of the trains in the sale were exquisitely rare and had come from a virtually unknown private collection. And amazingly, there were still more to come.
On May 6, an additional 747 train lots were sold by Bertoia’s, again at the Philadelphia Airport Westin Suites, but within a decidedly different bidding atmosphere. Instead of the bustling full house that had marked the October sale, it was a quiet, sparsely occupied room. A fire sale? Hardly. Plentiful absentee and phone bids kept the prices up where they belonged, and after the last train had left the station, a $609,000 total (including 10 percent buyer’s premium) had been achieved.
American Flyer, the brand that had put in such a strong performance in the previous Poch sale, had another blazing run. An appealingly primitive cast iron clockwork set litho’d “Chicago” brought $3,300, while a group of four circa 1910 freight cars, very simple in design, doubled its higher estimate, and then some, at $4,400. Topping them both at $4,620 was another variation of American Flyer’s “Chicago,” finished in scarlet, green and gold. The same company’s “World’s Greatest Show” circus set with streamlined P-7 “Pacific” locomotive and cardboard circus display box earned $2,090, and a handsome 1927 “President’s Special” with “West Point” and “Annapolis” passenger cars captured bidders’ attention, fetching $7,150.
Next up were accessories – the buildings, towers, bridges and signs that add realism and charm to a train layout. An American Flyer automatic semaphore nearly tripled its estimate to hammer down at $990, and a Lionel #913 landscaped bungalow brought $1,320. A 24-inch wide pressed steel and terra-cotta roundhouse capable of housing four sections of track proved popular at $2,090. Far more detailed was a Lionel landscaped “terrace” – a 22 by 19-inch tableau consisting of two villas, a bungalow, lampposts, trees and an imposing American flag on a centrally positioned pole. Although estimated at $5/6,000, it fell short of expectations, closing at $3,850. Individual Lionel lampposts in various sizes and colors ranged in price from $30 to $240 each.
Many collectors seemed bullish on vintage sets by the revered American toy manufacturer Ives, commenting that the trains’ outstanding condition was the reason for so many estimate-crushing results. Two different examples of a “Twentieth Century Limited Express” 1 gauge passenger set, one of them pulled by a clockwork steam locomotive, made identical money, concluding at $15,400. Other sets went even higher. A very rare wide gauge “St. Paul” electric locomotive sold by itself for $20,900, while another wide gauge Ives, the 1924 “Wanamaker’s Railway Lines” set was snagged by New York collector Stuart Waldman for $19,250.
The most astonishing price of the day was paid for a circa 1930 Ives wide gauge “National Limited” passenger set. One of the most colorful of all trains, the French blue and cherry red 5-piece set chugged off to its new owner for $24,200, making it the auction’s top lot.
Lionel individual rolling stock was in demand, with a refrigerator boxcar going for $2,090 and a standard gauge #515 tank car selling to a phone bidder for $3,520. They were followed by two examples of Lionel’s “Blue Comet” passenger sets, which went on the block consecutively and brought nearly the same money. The nickel-trimmed version cashed in at $10,450, while the copper-trimmed variation eked out a bit more at $11,000.
One of the most sizable trains ever made by Lionel, a green standard gauge “large series” passenger set produced between 1928 and 1936, was on target with its estimate, finishing at $14,300.
The auction wound down with the sale of 183 lots of modern train sets, mint in their original boxes, and a select assortment of vintage toy train catalogues. A lot consisting of over a dozen beautifully illustrated Ives, Boucher, Carlisle & Finch and Voltemp catalogues spanning the years 1904 through 1931 topped its category at $1,980.
Although it lacked the anticipation and auction room excrdf_Descriptionent of the first sale, part two of the Jerry Poch train sale was punctuated by many high points and aggressive bids on the more exceptional lots. As Poch, himself, had told this writer months before the initial event, “This could be the only opportunity some collectors will ever have to complete certain sets, since some of the more elusive pieces are not available at any price. The collection was built over 20 years and is so comprehensive, it’s a phenomenon in terms of a buying opportunity.”
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm