Snow joke... A rare cast iron toy sleigh skims to $86,250 at Bertoia
The exquisite plaything led the way at the auction of Donal Markey's extraordinary collection
The stellar collection of antique toys, banks and Americana amassed by the late Donal Markey surpassed the $2m mark at the end of last month at Bertoia's in Vineland, New Jersey.
The 1,034-lot auction inventory added a full spectrum of colours to the shelves of Bertoia's gleaming glass showcases, with scores of early American folk-art objects and hand-painted signs artfully arranged alongside toys of exceptional quality and condition.
An elegant masterpiece of toy production that was chosen for the auction catalogue's cover, an 1890s Ives cast-iron cutter sleigh with articulated walking horse, led the grand parade of playthings.
One of only a handful known to exist, the beautifully proportioned 22-inch-long sleigh was designed with a faux-tufted red seat, delicately detailed running boards, and attractive stencilling to its sides. It more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $86,250.
The buyer was a collector from Texas who attended the sale in person.
Of the same era as the sleigh, a Pratt & Letchworth painted cast-iron 4-seat brake with eight passengers and a team of four 'galloping' horses was a testament to Markey's eye for condition and colour.
Formerly in the Covert and Gertrude Hegarty collection, and measuring an impressive 28½ inches in length, the early transportation toy streaked past its $25,000-$35,000 estimate to settle at $48,875.
Each of two cast-iron mechanical banks achieved a selling price of $51,750. One of them, an 1884 Kyser & Rex Mammy and Child, drew crossover interest from black Americana collectors. The bank's action consists of the woman lowering a spoon as though feeding the baby on her lap, followed by the baby raising her legs as the coin drops inside.
The second bank, an 1876 J. & E. Stevens production known as "Panorama," derives its name from the fact that it displays one of a rotating selection of pictures through its front window when a coin is dropped into the slot.
Donal Markey's collection also boasted many rare and outstanding still (non-mechanical) banks, like a circa-1885 red-version Ives Palace. A favourite with collectors because of its realistic details, the Palace is adorned with chimneys, mock shingles, a cupola and dozens of windows. Estimated at $4,000-$6,000, it attracted a flurry of bids before hammering $23,000.
"Just about anyone who collects banks was either here in person, was represented by someone who attended on their behalf, or was bidding over the phone or Internet," said Bertoia Auctions' owner Jeanne Bertoia.
"We had 100% participation from the hobby, a reflection of respect for Donal Markey. People adored Don, and they knew that if they bought a piece from his collection, it was quite likely the best one known of its type.
"Collectors fought hard to get what they wanted, and it sent the prices skyrocketing."
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