DENVER, Pa. – Worldwide competition for a high-end collection of antique toys resulted in a million-dollar gross at Morphy’s on July 16-17 as the central Pennsylvania auction house presented the 28-year collection of retired California architect Michael O’Hearn.
“Interest in the O’Hearn collection, and in all of the toy consignments for that matter, was fierce,” said auction house owner Dan Morphy. “The gallery was busy all day with in-house bidders, and we had the largest number of Internet bidders in Morphy’s history.” The final tally for the 1,354-lot sale was $1,050,000. All prices quoted are inclusive of 15% buyer’s premium.
A futuristic postwar Japanese friction racer known as the Atom Jet, measuring an impressive 25½ inches long, commanded a strong price due to its originality and excellent condition. Against an estimate of $4,000-$8,000 the bizarre, dorsal-finned vehicle finished in a mint green color sped across the finish line at $15,500.
A toy vehicle of quite a different type, a 21-inch-long red metal Ferrari made around 1952 by the Italian manufacturer Toschi, had the added appeal of a (reproduction) factory tag featuring the trademark Ferrari horse logo. With hopes of making $2,000-$3,000, the car confidently achieved that and more, closing its hood at $5,200.
Of a much earlier era, an early 20th-century German-made Karl Bub clockwork limousine, 10½ inches long with original lithographed driver, front headlights and gearshift levers on both sides of the front door, was won by an Internet bidder who paid $4,680.
A colorful fleet of toy ice cream trucks found favor in the midsummer sale. The bell rang loudest for a 7-inch tin friction truck made by the Japanese company HTC and emblazoned with advertising on both sides that says “Fresh Delicious Ice Cream.” Its bonus feature is a three-dimensional vendor figure that pops out to offer an ice cream cone when the truck is activated. Against an estimate of $700-$1,000, the truck scooped up a winning bid of $3,700.
Of the two-wheeled vehicles, a 15-inch-long Japanese tinplate Harley-Davidson friction motorcycle with smartly dressed and helmeted rider fared best. Made by I.Y. Metal Toys, the bike exhibited true, unfaded colors and crisp lithography. It rolled to the top of its estimate range at $4,900.
The last lot of the opening session hit a nostalgic note with those who could recall riding in Dad’s new car – a Ford – in the carefree 1950s. Made by Haji, the faithful depiction of a 1956 Ford Sunliner convertible in a snappy red and white color scheme with peppermint-striped seats came with its original pictorial box showing a young family out for a leisurely drive. One of the most desirable of all postwar Japanese tin cars and described as the same example shown in Dale Kelley’s book titled Collecting the Tin Toy Car, it easily glided past its $3,000-$6,000 estimate to a final bid of $7,500.
Character toys put in an impressive performance. A lot consisting of a pair of 80-year-old Amos & Andy walking toys, each 11 inches tall and with the correct individually named “Amos” or “Andy” box, sashayed to $5,200. In other character highlights, a 1932 Chein Popeye Heavy Hitter wind-up toy flexed its muscle at $4,300; while a rare and very charming painted-lead still bank fashioned as an early-style Mickey Mouse standing on a round of cheddar cheese earned every penny it deserved, with a winning bid of $4,600. The perennial popularity of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters was evidenced by the above-estimate $15,000 price paid for the artist’s original daily comic strip panel dated “5-2-1967.”
While toys were red hot, so were virtually all other categories in the sale. An exceptional single-owner collection of antique occupational shaving mugs attracted spirited bidding, with a china mug depicting a roofing contractor in his 1920s-vintage, spoke-wheeled truck taking top honors for the group at $16,100 – nearly five times the lot’s high estimate.
Yet another auction surprise was the $11,000 price fetched by a 10½-inch-tall cast-iron mechanical bank replicating a lighthouse of red brick. “It had everything going for it,” said Dan Morphy. “It was all original, in near-mint condition with strong red paint, and it was a form that isn’t seen very often.” The bank had been entered in the sale with a $3,000-$4,000 estimate.
There was a surge of bidding for early Coca-Cola advertising, such as the 1903 tinplate “pretty lady” tip tray that earned an $8,600 gratuity (est. $3,000-$5,000), and the 1940s cardboard sign of a bathing beauty sipping a Coke atop a beach blanket, $6,900 (est. $3,500-$4,500).
In other advertising, an Internet bidder claimed a convex porcelain Campbell’s Soup sign in near-mint condition for $8,190 (est. $4,000-$6,000); and a tin Robert Smith Ale sign featuring the image of a forward-leaping tiger met presale expectations at $5,500. A Hi-Ho Tobacco pocket tin with an image of scullers rowing past the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames reached the upper level of its estimate range at $4,600.
Dan Morphy Auctions has a full slate of Discovery and Specialty sales planned for the remainder of 2010, all of which are detailed on Morphy’s Web site. The company’s next Premier Auction, featuring antique toys, dolls, trains and advertising, will be held on Oct. 15 and 16. A special highlight of the sale is the antique, vintage and contemporary doll collection of the late Martha Cristol and her daughter, Merle Cristol Glickman.