Dan Morphy's Toy Auction took place back on January 29th, but many of the details have only just been released, and they hold important information for investors in vintage toys.
Compared to modern film depictions of time-travelling space explorers who effortlessly venture to galaxies where no man has gone before, the early 20th-century spaceman Buck Rogers looks positively primitive.
The invention of artist Philip Francis Nowlan, Rogers was introduced in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories and later evolved into a star of syndicated comic strips, movies, radio and television.
Along the way, a Buck Rogers franchise developed and became a money machine through an array of licensed products, especially toys. Some say the Buck Rogers "raygun" of 1934 was the item that launched the era of pop-culture merchandising.
Although Buck Rogers' swashbuckling adventures might seem almost comical today, the demand for early toys associated with Buck, his companion Wilma Deering and their various sidekicks, is stronger than ever.
A collection of Buck Rogers toys amassed over 40 years by a Chicago man, the late Wayne Jagielski, brought in more than $103,500 (all prices quoted include 15% buyer's premium) at Morphy's Jan. 29 auction in Denver, Pa. The overall total for the sale of antique and vintage toys was $420,000.
"About 10 family members, including Mr. Jagielski's wife, children, nephews and in-laws, traveled from Chicago to attend the sale," said Morphy's CEO Dan Morphy. "They all felt a very sentimental connection to the toys, which had been displayed in their own room in the family home for many years.
The auction represented a very emotional parting for the family - they said they had come to say goodbye to Dad's things."
Jagielski's collection also included articles related to Buck Rogers contemporaries and followers, like Tom Corbett, and spanned the space toy spectrum, from spaceships and spaceports to maps, guns, rings, watches, skates and books.
In most cases, the toys retained their original boxes and accompanying instructions or sales literature, extras that sometimes can double the price of a collectible at auction.
Measuring only 3 inches in diameter, a 1936 woven Buck Rogers Solar Scout patch originally obtained by sending in 15 cents and a box top from Cream of Wheat cereal was a hotly pursued lot. Considered the rarest of all Buck Rogers premiums, it met its presale estimate range of $4,000-$8,000 with a winning bid of $4,300.
A 1950s set of Cherilea die-cast spacemen, rocket ships and other figures realized $3,162.50 (estimate $1,000 to $2,000), while a lot of 10 Britains Buck Rogers premium figures earned identical money against an estimate of $400 to $800.
Other Buck Rogers highlights included a set of comic strip cards, $2,587 (estimate $1,000 to $2,000); a circa-1939 Popsicle advertising sign, $2,070 (estimate $800 to $1,200); and a child's uniform with helmet - one of the most popular Buck Rogers items ever marketed, $2,185 ($1,000 to $1,500).
A few lots in the sale had come from other consignors, including a set of English-made Johillco die-cast space figures still attached to the original cardboard insert. The set's colorful original box even bore a partial F.A.O. Schwarz price sticker.
Estimated at $1,000-$2,000, the set flew to $8,625. According to Morphy, a space toy expert who attended the sale said the figures in the Johillco set weren't particularly rare, but the box and insert were "unbelievably rare… He had never seen the set in a complete state."
Most of the top lots in the Jagielski collection went to U.S. buyers, but the remainder found new owners worldwide. "The Internet sold things to three continents, at least," Morphy said.
"There were buyers in Japan, China, Turkey, Germany…less than 10% of the collection sold to bidders in the gallery. It was 90% sold through the Internet and phones."