Published: December 4, 2001
Bidders on the Edge of Their Seats for the Hegarty Toy Collection in New York
By Dick Friz
NEW YORK CITY – The mantra “You had to there” applies to Sotheby’s Covert and Gertrude Hegarty Collection happening on Friday, October 12. The masterfully orchestrated 300-lot Hegarty trove harks back to the hobby’s signature windfalls of yore – that of the Atlanta Toy Museum, Bernard Barentholtz, Leon Perelman, F.H. Griffith, Dick Keats, Stanley Sax, Lillian and Bill Gottschalk, and Carol Anderson.
The consensus of those in the packed gallery perched on the edge of their seats and swept up in the bidding frenzy was that it was possibly the most extraordinary toy collection ever to come to market.
In stark contrast to Sotheby’s Americana sales that week, where 40 percent of the lots failed to sell, the mind-blowing Hegarty event boasted a 99 percent success rate with only two (low-end) buy-ins.
The sale rang up $2,192,365, more than double its combined high estimate. Twenty-three lots sold in the $20,000 range and beyond, accounting for a whopping $1,006,575 of that total.
In an eclectic selection that spanned from 1860 to 1938 and chronicled the evolution of virtually every mode of transport in America, the most exquisite and widely heralded toy in the collection was the 19 ½ -inch clockwork tinplate Ives Cutter Sleigh.
Beckoning from the centerfold of Sotheby’s full-color catalog, the intricately cast horse-drawn sleigh far exceeded expectations (est $20/30,000), gliding to $159,750 amidst a burst of applause, with bidders Heidi and Max Berry of Washington D.C. prevailing.
In the early days, Covert and Gertrude Hegarty and only a few other visionaries had the playing arena to themselves. On one of their many forays up and down the East Coast, they were granted access to the Dent Factory in Fullerton, Penn. (long after that once prolific toy maker had phased out of the business).
The Hegartys were allowed to purchase a number of near mint cast-iron toys that still retained original factory sample tags. The crème de la creme of these factory finds, a 1923 Dent “New York To Philadelphia” Express Truck, had collectors chafing at the leash in anticipation at Friday’s preview.
Unfortunately, later, in the process of moving it, the truck rolled, toppled off its shelf, and crashed, sustaining a long scratch on roof, bending but not breaking rear doors. When the truck came up on the block, Sotheby’s announced the bad news and indicated they would absorb the cost of restoration.
New Yorker Leon Weiss was top bidder at a modest $13,200. The current buzz is that the wayward truck would have commanded at least double that outlay, and more than one underbidder with second thoughts, are currently negotiating with the Weiss twins Leon and Steven to buy it.
Other 1923 Dent factory finds, resplendent in pale blue and red with gold accents, black roofs and yellow spoked metal wheels included an American Oil Co. Mack Truck that moved out at $16,800. A Mack Dump Truck with “C” cab rumbled to $10,800 and Mack Stake Truck with “C” cab made $10,200. A bright orange with black roof Public Service Bus, circa 1926, whose spare may be a later replacement, managed $10,800.
The only passenger car in the sale, acclaimed as Hubley’s masterpiece, the 1927 Straight Eight Packard is rated by authority Lillian Gottschalk as “the ultimate cast-iron toy.” Though impaired by the three R’s (restoration, repair and retouching) the Packard still went to $12,000.
New Yorkers Burt Ehrlich (who, as readers may recall, sold off a significant collection at Guernsey’s, New York City in 1989) and the Weiss twins Leon and Steven dominated the action on 60 highly coveted and delightful cast iron and tinplate bell toys. Three prime examples flaunted a patriotic motif.
An Althof Bergmann circa 1875 Patent Chime with Soldiers and US Flag bearer flew high at $41,000. A J. & E. Stevens Drummer Boy figure in spiffy black shako and gold braiding, rang the chimes at $27,200; a circa 1880 Gong Bell Freedom Bell Ringer, in tin and cast-iron aspired to $19,150 even though the flagpole had been re-soldered and the flag was probably an old replacement.
A scarce circa 1885 Black Lady Drummer Bell Toy with eagle finial, probably by Kyser & Rex drummed up $21,450. A circa 1902 Gong Bell entry, embossed with “The Cossack and the Jap” (ethnic slurs were not uncommon back then) advanced to $19,150.
When arguably the finest specimen known of the Hubley “Say It With Flowers” Indian Delivery Cycle came up for grabs, sparks inevitably flew. When Pennsylvanian Bob Brady threw in a $50,000 preemptive opener, it created nary a ripple, but heads turned as the big boys took over. In the end, Massachusetts collector Don Kaufman, always a major player, doled out a record $126,75.
Kaufman also would not be denied on a red “The Flower Shoppe” Indian Delivery Van, circa 1932, (which according to Sotheby’s Leila Dunbar, may have been produced as a special order) revving it to $35,250; as well as an Indian Side Car Motorcycle with Sports figures at $20,300. A Harley Davidson with Sport Rider roused a lot of fans up to $14,400.
Hubley again got in the act as a circa 1938 Penn Yan Speedboat spanning 14 inches made a splash that was more like a tidal wave. In what seemed an interminable exchange, two Pennsylvanians, Alan Joy and Don Heim took it full throttle. Ultimately Heim, who had been underbidder on several earlier prized entries, won out at $55,375.
Accompanied by vibrant Currier & Ives “Life of the Fireman” prints, more than 50 fire rigs and engine houses had occupied a special niche in the Hegarty decorative scheme. Once displayed on their fireplace mantel, a stunning 44-inch long circa 1910 Dent cast-iron oversized four-horse Hook and Ladder Wagon, sped to $10,200.
Another Hegarty favorite, the classic Carpenter Burning Building in the scarce double ladder version fired up the crowd to $26,625 despite extensive restoration. Also by Carpenter, a circa 1890 Fire Engine House of yellow and red painted wood with cast-iron window trim, fancy bell’s harp and striped fabric roof streaked to $16,800. Pennsylvanians Steavie and Bill Weart took home a 21-inch long circa 1910 Dent combination Hose Reel and Ladder Wagon at $9,600
It was a pleasure to note new blood among the X and Y generation in the crowd. A young couple, Heather and Eric Rettberg of Marlborough, Conn. were top bidders at $4,800 on a Wilkins oversized Aerial Fire Wagon circa 1895. At 43 ½-inches long, this rig is believed to be the largest cast-iron toy produced in the Nineteenth Century. (Yes, there were buys to be had, with numerous entries bracketed between $3,500 and $5,000 range.)
The firefighter-related Currier & Ives prints incidentally ranged from $1,920 to $3,900. A circa 1856 black with red and gilt embellished leather West Philadelphia Hose Company Parade Hat excelled at $10,300.
Talk about dealing a hot hand, an 1890 Pratt & Letchworth Four Seated Brake at a hefty $43,875 headed a royal flush of four elusive cast-iron brake entries plus the celebrated Tally-Ho. A Hubley Two Seat Brake trotted briskly to $15,600 and the Three-Seat version made $19,500.
A Hubley Four Seat Brake, hampered by a replaced recast front section, still managed $20,300. The Carpenter Tally-Ho with realistic four horse galloping action and seven festively attired revelers aboard is widely regarded as a capstone of any equine toy assemblage. This specimen brought a relatively “quiet” $22,600 when it was announced that it had been restored.
Such was the unparalleled Hegarty treasure trove that Part II, comprising hundreds of cap pistols and cap bombs, marbles, cast-iron and tin toys (many of them European), was auctioned online from October 5 to 26 at www.sothebys.com.
At Sothebys.com associate Dawson’s Auctioneers, furniture and decorative arts, art glass and post cards sold on October 13 and a trio of Hegarty Tiffany lamps were sold live at Sotheby’s on December 1.
In the early 1940s, Covert Hegarty, a successful auto dealer from Coalport, Penn., was having medical problems. His doctor suggested a relaxing hobby. Covert and his wife Gertrude first focused on mechanical banks, but they later branched out to cast-iron animal-drawn rigs, motortoys and finally tinplate clockwork toys. In 1965, the Hegartys became founding members of the Antique Toy Collectors of America.
The couple’s quest was marked by tenacity, thorough research and meticulous upgrading. Covert liked telling tales of searching for over 20 years for a perfect giraffe cage to complete his Hubley Royal Circus.
Covert Hegarty passed away in 1968. The bank collection was sold to dealers Alex Acevedo and Bill Bertoia in the late 1980s, in a controversial transaction that saw the collection earning prices in the range of $250,000 to $500,000 for several rarities that were resold to collector Al Davidson.
According to the consignor Richard Hegarty, the couple’s son, his mother added only a few toys to the collection, which was to remain on display and intact over the next three decades.
Three generations of Hegartys attended the sale and watched the proceedings from the loge overlooking the gallery. They were highly pleased, if not bowled over, by the incredible prices.
All prices quoted entail a rather complex buyer’s add-on of 20 percent of the hammer price of lots up to and including $15,000 and 15 percent on the next $85/100,000; 10 percent on any amount bid beyond $100,000.
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