NEW HOPE, PA. - It took more than a brass ring to claim ownership of an exquisite Marklin carousel that topped prices realized at Noel Barrett’s $1.3 million Winter Auction. The circa-1910 German-made toy commanded $218,500 at Barrett’s Nov. 16-17 event, selling to a US buyer against stiff competition from collectors on both sides of the Atlantic. All prices quoted in this report include a basic 15% buyer’s premium; additional for Internet.
A toy fit for royalty, the carousel had surfaced during the disposition of an estate in Phoenix, and to Barrett’s great surprise, was in “astoundingly original condition.” Lavishly festooned with colored glass balls, mirrors, pennants, cartouches and metal embellishments, the cloth-canopied carousel could be operated either as a crank or steam-driven toy. It featured eight girl and four boy riders on diminutive hide-covered horses and in vis-à-vis chariots. Entered as the star lot of the sale, it carried a pre-auction estimate of $75,000-$100,000.
A rare and most impressive toy, the carousel will be in good company alongside a folk-art “Amor L Jones” loco and tender that was offered together with a photo of a young girl for whom the train may have been created. Selling price: $907.50. “The same person bid successfully on both the carousel and the Amor Jones train. He likes to buy the best of every category, and although the train was not one of the more expensive toys in the sale, it was definitely the best train in the folk art category. To me, this approach to buying proves the buyer has an eye, not just a pocketbook,” said Barrett.
Several train-related lots landed in the top 10, including a circa-1909 to 1919 Marklin PLM coupe-vent passenger set with pictorial box, which sold for $46,000. It had been shipped to Barrett’s gallery from Buenos Aires by the nephew of the original owner, who received the train as a young girl around 1920. “Apparently she preferred playing with dolls, so the train was packed up and stored away. It spent the next 90 years virtually untouched. It was in near-mint condition when it arrived to us,” said Barrett.
Other train highlights included a lithographed tin Grand Central Station made for the American market, $28,750; and a fully functional 89-inch-long live-steam model of the Empire State Express, whose detailed construction was covered in the May 1976 issue of Live Steam Magazine. It was bid to $27,600. A Carette 2350 gauge 1 live-steam loco and tender that appeared in the manufacturer’s 1911 catalog with the description “Latest design (an original scale model)” changed hands for $16,100; while a Marklin Washington Pullman observation car more than tripled its high estimate at $13,800.
One of the most popular toys in the 932-lot sale was a wonderful Althof-Bergmann Santa Sleigh drawn by two goats wearing royal blue and gold saddles with matching pairs of bells. For years the only known examples of this particular toy were those belonging to pioneer collector Bernard Barenholtz and another trailblazer of the toy hobby, Leon Perelman, founder of the Perelman Antique Toy Museum in Philadelphia. A third Althof-Bergmann Santa Sleigh with goat team was later confirmed in the collection of the Margaret Strong Museum. The sleigh in Barrett’s sale became the fourth, and quite likely will be the last, Santa Sleigh to emerge, Barrett said, noting that only the Barenholtz sleigh and the one in his sale are considered totally original. An iconic toy with immense charm, the sleigh sold for $97,750.
The auction included a fine array of high-end European and American toys, bolstered by selections from the renowned Athelstan and Kathy Spilhaus antique toy collection and the Rick Ralston collection of trains and trolleys. The two anchor collections were complemented by numerous attic discoveries and choice single pieces from several consignors.
A cloth-dressed clockwork Tambourine Player from a series of four African-American clockwork toys produced in the last quarter of the 20th century by Jerome Secor easily surpassed its estimate to ring up $17,200. Another American beauty, The Pittsburgh House was an extravagantly detailed circa-1890 architectural model formerly in the collection of the Toy Museum of Atlanta. It achieved $18,400 against a $6,000-$10,000 estimate.
Cast-iron mechanical banks made their mark in Barrett’s sale, as well. An excellent to near-mint J. & E. Stevens Clown on Globe made $18,400 against an estimate of $6,000-$8,000; and an exceptional example of a Stevens Cat & Mouse bank streaked past its $3,000-$5,000 estimate to settle at $9,775.
Other highlights of Noel Barrett’s Winter Auction included Gerald Wingrove hand-made scale models of a 1924 Hispano-Suiza No. 3 and a 1933 Derham Tourster Duesenberg. Each was estimated at $7,000-$9,000 and each realized $16,100.
After the sale, Barrett commented that it had been “quite the international event. We shipped toys to sixteen countries. A brand new customer from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe bought twelve items, and two pieces from the top ten were purchased by collectors who knew me but who never laid eyes on the toys they bid on. They felt confident that our descriptions were accurate and thorough.”
Phone bidders were responsible for 40% of the gross, Internet bidders 24%, and absentee bidders just under 10%. The remaining 25% of the $1.3 million total was attributable to bidders in the room.