Punch cigar store figure with Hegarty provenance takes top prize in Morphy’s $2.6 million Spring Toy Auction
DENVER, Pa. – Condition was king across the board in Morphy’s $2.6 million Spring Toy Auction, with a battle royal waged for premier examples of early American toys and folk art. The April 4-5 sale was topped by a spectacular circa-1885 William Demuth & Co. smoking Punch cigar advertising figure, which blazed past its presale estimate to knock down $207,000 (all prices quoted include 15 percent buyer’s premium).
Many areas of strength were evident, according to Morphy’s chief operating officer, Dan Morphy. “We were especially pleased with the early American bell toys,” Morphy said. “Some came with provenance from the L.C. Hegarty collection, one of the finest toy collections ever assembled. Those particular toys were in great demand.” Standouts in the group included a Merriam 15-inch cast-iron and tin depiction of a boy standing on a belled platform pulled by a horse. In near-mint condition, it achieved $47,000, nearly twice its high estimate. Another bell toy, a J. & E. Stevens 7½ inch cast-iron rarity known as the “Baby Quieter,” more than tripled expectations to earn $27,600. The toy’s name comes from its depiction of a father reclining on a couch with baby rattle in hand, reading a newspaper as he balances his baby on one leg.
Morphy reported the “strongest turnout ever” for antique and vintage marbles. “The section did fantastically well,” he said. “We had 30 people here bidding live, with another 20 online and 10 on the phones. That’s really impressive for such a narrow collecting niche. There were six marbles that brought more than $5,000 apiece.” The star of the category was a monumental 1-9/16 inch Indian Mag Lite marble with deep cobalt-blue coloration and crisp outer bands in a rainbow of colors. In near-perfect condition, it rolled to $9,200 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000.
Several examples of the coveted Kyser & Rex Roller Skating mechanical bank have come to auction over the past few years, but most collectors agree that the one in Morphy’s sale – with provenance from the L.C. Hegarty and Stanley Sax collections – trumped all others, condition wise. With its appealing action that propels skaters around the rink after a coin is deposited, the circa-1880s money box earned an above-estimate price of $184,000 in Morphy’s sale.
A wonderful selection of rare figural skittles (ninepins) sets was offered, many of them German made and of papier-mâché. A set of nine Steiff animal skittles with three original striped-wood balls scored a big strike, selling for $18,400 against an estimate of $1,000-$2,000. Following closely behind was a frog set comprised of seven smaller frogs in formal attire, housed inside a larger toad container on metal wheels. It leaped past its estimate to land at $17,800.
Vehicular toys are never short of suitors, especially the rare examples. There was no stopping a superb Carpenter cast-iron Tally-Ho coach pulled by a four-horse team. Exhibiting incredibly bright original paint, the 27-inch-long American classic ran full speed ahead to an $86,000 finish. Another cast-iron delight, a Hubley 1930s Indian motorcycle with original policeman and sidecar passenger sped past its predicted selling price of $2,000-$3,000 to settle at $16,100. The toy was a rare variation, exhibiting cast-iron as opposed to pressed-steel wheels.
European tin was especially buoyant, although the most surprising aspect was not the prices realized; it was the fact that most of the toys went to American buyers. “We had expected the Europeans to be the big buyers because of the weak dollar and strong euro,” said Dan Morphy, “but it didn’t turn out that way. Once again, a lot of the toys were mint in the box and some of the best examples known to exist. The American bidders proved to be very competitive.” Among the top lots in this section were a boxed 10-inch Lehmann Snick Snack (man walking two playful dogs), which sold for an amazing $22,000; and a very scarce Lehmann wind-up tinplate swing with cloth-dressed doll, which more than doubled its high estimate at $11,500.
Exquisite craftsmanship, eye-pleasing original paint and humorous subject matter combined to make the 18-inch zinc counter display of a cigar-smoking Punch character the sale’s blue-ribbon lot. “Dressed” in his familiar ruff-collared red waistcoat, green knee-pants and decoratively trimmed jester’s cap, the figure was described in Morphy’s catalog as being the “best example of only a few known.” Aided by its provenance through the L.C. Hegarty collection, the beautifully preserved figure was bid to $207,000, a price Dan Morphy later described as “just great … very exciting.”
Morphy also noted that the phone bank was kept consistently busy and that there were “more people than we’d ever had before watching the sale through LiveAuctioneers.” Morphy’s director of Internet Operations, Karen Novak, later confirmed than nearly 1,000 bidders had registered to bid online, and that at one point during the Friday session, there were more than 225 individual viewing the event on their computers. “I noticed more online competitive bidding with this sale than any other of our sales in the past,” Novak said. “There were over 20 countries represented in the registered-bidder list, and the values obviously reflected the online worldwide interest.” She went on to say, “Morphy Auctions has developed an online following where buyers look for our sales. They know they can trust our representations of the pieces and can depend on our service to make their transactions smooth.”
With $2.6 million gross against an overall high estimate that had been set at $2-$2.3 million, Dan Morphy dispelled the all too frequently heard complaint that a recessionary economy is hurting the auction business. “People say the economy is soft, but that’s just not the case from our vantage point,” said Morphy. “Collectors are hungry for good, clean merchandise that’s fresh to the market. If it’s rare and in really nice condition, the money is definitely out there.”
Morphy Auctions, a division of Geppi’s Entertainment Auctions & Publications, will conduct its Fall Sale on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 11-13. To v
iew additional highlights and download prices realized from past sales conducted by Morphy Auctions, log on to www.morphyauctions.com
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