VINELAND, N.J. – If all the nautical toys in the world were lined up in a single fleet, their captain would surely be Dick Claus, whose magnificent 30-year collection of antique boats is being offered in two parts this year by Bertoia Auctions of Vineland, New Jersey. Part I of the Claus collection, a 220-lot array of ships and related toys, will be auctioned on Saturday, May 12. Part II will be sold in November.
Led by some of the finest known examples of Marklin ships, the May 12 auction roster will bring to life the colorful images seen in Claus’s 2005 reference book The Allure of Toy Ships: American & European Nautical Toys from the 19th and 20th Centuries.
“I’ve read Dick’s book cover to cover probably 50 times, but the privilege of handling and cataloging the toys in his collection taught me double what I thought I knew. There’s nothing like seeing and examining items of this quality firsthand. This is a collection that merits the attention of all ship collectors,” said Bertoia Auctions specialist Rich Bertoia.
The collection’s flagship is the large and impressive Marklin Chicago paddlewheeler featured on the dust jacket cover of Claus’s book. It sits at the very top of the list of select favorites that Claus retained in his private collection after publication of his book.
Claus always liked Marklins because most are named after and depict actual seagoing vessels of their time, such as the Maine, the Brooklyn, and the Olympia. He regards them as “toys with history.”
The collection’s massive, steam-engined Marklin Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, which replicates the Hamburg America ship launched in 1905, was a prized acquisition – in Claus’s words: “a wonderful example of an ocean liner that measures 46 inches long and weighs a hefty 30 pounds.” Purchased at an auction in upstate New York, it came from a doctor’s estate. Further investigation revealed that it had been kept for many years in a dry barn and probably had never been played with.
“Being stored in a barn is probably what saved it. There are far fewer pristine boats than there are toys,” Claus said. “This is because so many boats were placed in water for play and never dried off afterward.”
Among the many important, large-scale Marklins in the collection is a Providence paddlewheeler, a line-for-line production based on a majestic steamer that was launched in 1866. But boats need not be oversized in order to be beautiful and collectible. The auction includes toys that are only a few inches long but still immensely appealing.
For example, Claus has always appreciated the charm of Issmayer toys, especially a 3-inch-long tin wind-up sailboat with a painted bisque figure of a sailor boy that rides along as the craft tacks side to side.
“I really like this particular toy, which might even date to as early as the mid-19th century. We would not even have known it was an Issmayer if it hadn’t been written on the toy’s box, which luckily was retained,” said Claus.
In addition to ships and boats of every description, the auction includes a great variety of sailor figures, ranging from early German-made Heydes to 1930s Barclays figures. Also, there are U-boat submariner’s badges, a few navy recruitment posters, and what Claus calls “oddballs,” like a German beer mug from a 1909 torpedo boat squadron.
The Claus auction also includes a number of toy zeppelins, a category that attracted him because of their historical significance and his own fascination with the Hindenberg. While a young boy, Claus saw the giant airship from a distance as it was moored at Lakehurst, N.J. One year later, the Hindenberg tragically went down in flames.
“At one time, zeppelins were thought of as the future of aviation. People were intrigued by them, but of course that all ended when the Hindenburg blew up,” Claus said.
The best piece in Claus’ airship collection – a small Graf Zeppelin – was made in 1929 by Heyde. It comes in a box with numerous accessories – pilot, co-pilot and entire landing crew, plus gas cans, ropes and other small accessories. Claus describes the set as “marvelous, and the only one I’ve ever seen.”
Approximately 20 European trolleys have been included in the May 12 auction, as well. An ingeniously designed Issmayer O gauge lithographed clockwork trolley departs a small station, climbs a 4-ft. track to the top, then reverses, switches tracks and returns to the station, triumphantly ringing its bell upon arrival. “That’s pretty neat engineering for around 1910,” Claus observed.
Those who are fortunate enough to acquire a toy from the Dick Claus collection will have the assurance of knowing they own a piece that has come from one of the most discriminating collectors of the last two generations.
“Dick has always gone for the best. His collection has more top of the line Marklins than I’ve ever seen in any one collection – even Malcolm Forbes didn’t have as many,” said Rich Bertoia. “There are going to be a lot of very happy collectors at the May 12th auction. Dick has already done all of the globetrotting and tracking down of rare pieces. Now they’ll all be available at once.”
The May 12 auction of the Dick Claus collection will begin at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Preview weekdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on auction day. All forms of bidding available, including live via the Internet through www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
Tel. 856-692-1881, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Online: www.bertoiaauctions.com.