The holiday spirit could be felt throughout Bertoia Auctions’ gallery even weeks before their $2.6 million Fall Signature Sale commenced. The spacious auction venue looked like an upscale toy store from a classic film, with pristine playthings lined up in sparkling glass showcases, aviation toys artfully suspended from the ceiling, and, of course, Christmas antiques enhancing the decor and signifying the start of the holiday season.
On opening day of the Nov. 11-12 sale, the excitement was palpable as hopeful bidders browsed the cases and scribbled private notes in their auction catalogs. Even to the casual observer, there were no weak links, category wise, and with provenance from prestigious collections accompanying so many of the lots, the consensus was that it would likely be a sellout.
The European section dazzled with a fleet of 40 antique boats led by an imposing 28-inch-long Marklin Battleship Sankt Georg. Transatlantic bidding helped drive it to a final bid of $192,000, making it the top lot of the sale. Another early nautical toy, a 19-inch Gunthermann tin scull with eight-man racing team, swept past its $6,000-$8,000 estimate to cross the finish line at $18,000.
A highlight of the opening session was the enviable array of 30+ French-made Martin clockwork toys that had been amassed by a New York collector and world traveler. Each was untouched and pristine, and several were so rare that even seasoned collectors had never seen them before except in books. Many paddles were airborne for a circa-1905 Le Gymnaste, $16,800 (est. $7,000-$9,000); circa-1900 Soldier with original box, $15,600 (est. $5,000-$7,500); and circa-1901 Sandwich Man with billboard advertising on his back, which was bid to $13,200 (est. $4,000-$5,000).
“Collections like the one containing the Martins don’t come along very often,” said Bertoia Auctions’ owner Jeanne Bertoia. “Yes, it would have been easier to put the entire collection in our November sale, but that would not have been the responsible way to do it, so we split the collection in half to give it the importance it deserves. That way collectors are not overwhelmed, and it helps to achieve the strongest prices for the consignor.” Part II of the Martin collection will be offered in Bertoia’s spring auction.
There were several ways in which bidders could participate remotely, including by phone or live via the Internet. A bank of eight phone lines was engaged throughout most of the sale, and the Internet buzzed with activity from bidders all over the world. Even with those options in play, toy collectors turned out in force. Additionally, many others who had previewed in person in the days prior to the sale ended up winning their chosen lots by phone.