COLLECTORS COULD STRIKE GOLD
When little-known California toy collection is auctioned…
Michael O’Hearn collection “flew under the radar” for nearly three decades.
DENVER, PA. – Dan Morphy Auctions has become a hive of activity over the past year since the introduction of its new Discovery & Specialty Auctions – which offer collectors variety and a choice of price points – and its tightly focused Specialty Auctions that present one particular type of collectible, such as antique firearms. The cream of the crop – whether it’s toy trains, advertising or fine and decorative art – is reserved for Morphy’s Premier Auction series, the first of which will take place July 16-17.
Featuring 1,300+ lots of toys and advertising, the July Premier event offers as its centerpiece the collection of retired California architect and Victorian home restorer Michael O’Hearn (read Michael O’Hearn’s Collector Profile). The collection of mostly mint/boxed toys was amassed over a 28-year period and will be offered unpicked and in its entirety. It runs the gamut from European, early American and Japanese toys to pressed steel, pedal cars and even two actual hot rods.
“Very few people have seen or heard of this truly exceptional collection,” said auction company owner Dan Morphy. “Mr. O’Hearn never sold a toy; over the years he only bought, and in each of the 46 categories of his collection, he kept the emphasis on condition. Almost all of the O’Hearn toys are a strong 9 out of 10 or better. What’s amazing is that, as large as this collection is and as long as it took to put it together, it was only ever viewed by a few people. To most collectors, it is an unknown collection that has flown under the radar for nearly three decades. It’s as fresh to the market as it gets, and collectors are going to love it.”
The auction’s flagship collection came to Morphy’s as a result of the 20-year business association and friendship between O’Hearn and Morphy’s chief operating officer, Tom Sage Jr. “I started selling toys to Michael in the late 1980s or early 1990s, through my ads in Antique Toy World,” said Sage. “He was always very pleasant to deal with, a real gentleman. He was also very modest. For many years I had no idea how large and impressive his collection was, until Michael extended an invitation to Dan and myself to visit his home and view the toys. We took him up on the invitation.”
“At his house, he had six cases filled with toys downstairs, which in itself, was not that unusual, but then we went into a second room, a third room and then upstairs. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I never would have imagined he had some 4,000 toys in his collection, at least 2,500 of them in their original boxes. As toy collections go, it’s a California gold mine, right up there with the very best, and I’m really honored that Michael entrusted the collection to us.”
The Friday, July 16 session will open with more than 75 boxed robot and space toy lots. Highlights include boxed examples of a New Space Station (estimate $1,000-$1,500), a standard Space Station ($1,500-$2,000) and a friction Space Bus ($1,200-$1,800). A TV Space Patrol Car is expected to make $1,500-$2,500.
More than 100 European tin toys will be auctioned in the first session. A French Gem #42 racecar is entered with a $1,500-$2,000 estimate, while a German lithographed-tin #15 Super Racer friction toy shows its rarity and desirability with a $4,000-$8,000 estimate. Other top lots among the European toys include a Fisher windup bus with “Joyville” as its destination ($2,000-$4,000), a Moko windup tin auto ($1,500-$2,000) and a Lehmann Luxus auto ($1,500-$2,500).
The panoramic sub-collection of Japanese toys spans the era from pre-World War II through the boom years of postwar toymaking, known for its colorful and imaginative designs. “It covers quite a range – celluloid, battery ops, tin airplanes, big ’50s cars,” said Morphy. A #58 Atom Jet racecar is estimated at $2,000-$4,000, as is a windup Harley motorcycle. A fleet of sleek cars includes a prewar Packard ($1,200-$1,800), 1954 red Alps Cadillac ($1,500-$2,500) and Lincoln Futura ($1,500-$2,500). A 1958 Buick Century has its cruise control set at $1,000-$1,500; while a newspaper delivery station wagon is expected to apply the brakes at $1,200-$1,800. A prized 1956 Haji Ford Sunliner with box could realize $4,000-$6,000.
Michael O’Hearn also gets a kick out of full-size cars, as evidenced by the two beautifully appointed contemporary hot rods consigned to Morphy’s sale. The first, which he has owned for the past 26 years, is a 1927 Model T with green body, black fenders and black tonneau. Its original all-steel body has a new undercarriage, Ford Cobra engine and Jaguar front and rear end – which hot rodders love. Described by O’Hearn as “a deluxe mini racecar in an antique body,” the car has air conditioning, power steering and a 50-gallon gas tank in its trunk.
“At first glance, it looks like a Model T, but it’s deceptive,” said O’Hearn. I would take it out for a spin and have a little fun when people would drive by, pointing at the old Model T. I’d hit the gas and leave them in the dust.”
The second hot rod, which O’Hearn has owned for 30 years, is a 1929 Ford Roadster convertible pickup truck in two-tone brown with chrome accenting and pinstriping. The all-original steel body accommodates a big-block Chevy engine, and its full truck bed has alternating wood panels. It has power steering, a wood dashboard and removable convertible top. Like the Model T, the powerful pickup truck has always been garaged in California, avoiding wet or cold winters. Both are licensed for the road, have been scrupulously maintained and are offered at auction complete with service records and protective covers.
The Saturday, July 17 session opens with more than 125 high-end advertising lots. A parade of pretty girls from the turn of the 20th century includes the fabled model Hilda Clark on a near-mint 1903 Coca-Cola tray; and a beauty sipping Dr. Pepper from a glass as the central image of a near-mint-plus, late-19th-century cardboard sign (estimate $10,000-$15,000).
Additional soft drink advertising includes a number of large near-mint-plus cardboard signs from the 1930s and ’40s touting Coca-Cola. Among them is a 1940s example with the image of a girl lying on the beach ($3,000-$5,000). An early Lawrence Paint Company porcelain sign emblazoned with a tiger’s head is expected to leap to a winning bid of $2,000-$4,000; while an oval tin sign for Robert Smith Ale, Philadelphia, with a Bengal tiger’s head “emerging” through it, will require $5,000-$7,000 in order to be tamed.
Representing an American classic, a porcelain Campbell’s Soup sign in near-mint condition is mm-mm-good looking and carries an estimate of $4,000-$6,000. Another domestically themed sign advertises Westinghouse appliances ($2,000-$4,000), while a custom sign depicting a cook holding a pan and frying chicken over a fire also carries an estimate of $2,000-$4,000.
In the tobacciana section, a large Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco porcelain sign with a rooster image could reach $4,000-$6,000. Smaller but no less desirable, a Hi-Ho Tobacco pocket tin with a wonderful image of scullers rowing also carries a $4,000-$6,000 estimate.
The advertising selection includes three complete sets of Roly Poly tins, advertising Dixie Queen, Navy Cut and Red Man Tobacco, respectively. “These are going to fly. It took the gentleman who consigned the tins 30 years to collect them all. I’m guessing they’ll do $4,000 to $6,000 per set,” said Dan Morphy. Additional lots include a large assortment of tip trays in near-mint-plus condition. The trays include advertising for Coca-Cola, breweries and other companies.
A featured grouping of 20 large, double-sided porcelain neon signs was sourced from a warehouse in Duluth, Minnesota, where they had been stored for many years. “Some are 10 to 12 feet tall and weigh 300 pounds. They came off 1920s storefronts in Duluth and advertise such retail establishments as a furniture store, jewelry store, a brewery, etc.,” said Morphy. Among the more eye-catching examples is a 10-foot-long, quintessentially Art Deco, lime green and yellow neon sign for Nolander’s Furniture ($3,000-$5,000) and an 8-foot-long 1920s sign for Hotel Arrowhead ($3,000-$5,000). “I expect there will be lot of interest in that particular sign. The colors are fantastic,” said Morphy.
Part II of an “old-time collection with deep provenance” is how Morphy described the 78 occupational shaving mugs to be offered on July 17. “All are recognized mugs, and many are featured in Brian Estepp’s shaving mug book,” he said. (See separate sidebar feature accompanying this article.)
More than 200 tin toy lots, many from the Michael O’Hearn collection, will be auctioned on day two of the sale. Included are near-mint Marx Amos & Andy walkers with two boxes ($2,000-$3,000), a Marx Ring-a-Ling Circus windup toy with original box ($1,500-$2,000) and a rare boxed Hootin’ Hollow Haunted House ($1,000-$1,500), which holds crossover appeal with Halloween collectors.
Over 100 pressed-steel toys and pedal cars will be offered, many of them from the O’Hearn collection. A toy Packard sedan estimated at $2,000-$3,000 is one of the many coveted examples that will cross the auction block.“Many of the pedal cars were custom made and unusual,” said Morphy. An Indian Carnival pedal car is estimated at $6,000-$8,000; and a 1928 Model A Ford coupe is expected to head off to a new owner for$4,000-$6,000. A 1914 Ford C-Cab could bring $5,000-$7,000. Motorcycle fans are sure to find the Say It With Flowers motorcycle pedal car appealing. Its presale estimate is $7,500-$9,500.
The July 17 session also includes more than 60 mechanical and still banks. Among the stills are many buildings and other architecturally themed examples. One of the more-coveted lots is a Lighthouse still bank in near-mint condition.
If interested in consigning, please visit our consignment page.
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