Mego Man -
Known as Mego Man, this 1950s tin battery-operated robot is widely acknowledged as the only known example. Made by an unknown Japanese manufacturer, 10in toy sports colorful “mechanical” lithography on all surfaces. Sold with provenance through the legendary F.H. Griffith collection, the robot sold to a private collector for $23,100.
Carousel Organ -
Retaining its ornate original façade, with a restored, electrified mechanism, this Wilhelm Bruder carousel organ measuring 5ft 10in by 7ft 5in by 3ft was offered with two boxes of organ music books. A collector who owns several other organs of this general type purchased it for $18,700 against a $10,000-15,000 estimate.
Hubley Four-Seat Brake -
Another entry with provenance through the F.H. Griffith collection was this Hubley cast-iron four-seat brake. Favored by collectors of cast-iron, horsedrawn toys, it achieved $16,500.
Ives Firehouse and pumper -
A classic American toy, this Ives cast-iron Fire Engine House with horse-drawn pumper was estimated at $5,000-6,000. Its mint condition took it well beyond those numbers, with bids extinguished at $10,450.
Battleship Maine Still Bank -
At the preview, collectors repeatedly expressed their amazement over the spotless condition of this J. & E. Stevens still bank replicating the battleship Maine. All original and exhibiting immaculate paint, the 10½in bank more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $7,150.
Happy Hooligan -
Equally appealing to collectors of cast-iron and comic-character toys, a near-mint Happy Hooligan in his soapbox derby racer streaked across the finish line at $4,675.
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Randy Inman Auctions’ Collectors Harvest sale featuring a bumper crop of top-quality antique advertising and the last precious hold-outs from the fabled F.H. Griffith toy collection took in more than $500,000 on Nov. 19-20 in Allentown.
The live crowd at Inman’s gallery was small, but phones and the Internet ran hot and more than made up for the modest turnout. “The gross was way over the total estimate,” Inman said. “The only thing that was a little soft was the beer trays, but they were later examples. Everything else in the sale did very well and certainly surpassed our expectations.”
Bidders got right down to business in the opening quarter-hour of the sale, as phones fired the activity on three back-to-back root beer advertising lots. A 7 by 9in self-framed, celluloid-over-cardboard sign featuring a turn of the 20th century beauty daintily sipping a mug of Dr. Swett’s Original Root Beer sparkled at $9,350 (all prices quoted include 10 percent buyer’s premium).
Next up was a 6 by 8in celluloid-over-cardboard sign, green background, emblazoned Say! Drink Hires, $10,450; followed by an even more elusive red-background variation of the same image, celluloid-over-cardboard format, which soared to $13,200. Both Hires signs featuring the trademark pointing-boy logo had been estimated at only $800-1,200. A collector bidding over the phone prevailed on all three of the rare root beer advertisements.
A highlight of the first session, an elaborately carved, electrified Wilhelm Bruder carousel organ offered with two boxes of music books, also sold well above high estimate to a bidder participating by phone, for $18,700. “It’s going into a collection,” said Inman. “The buyer has four or five other organs of this type.”
A novelty arcade game called Black Bart Quick Draw, which allows the player to draw pistols and square off against a figural sheriff dressed in black, hit the target at $2,970 against a $300-500 estimate; while a Hitler-themed “Kill the Rat” countertop penny arcade game rang up $3,850, more than six times its high estimate. “A few newer copies of this machine have been made, but collectors could tell by the mechanism that this one was an original.”
Another desirable coin-op was the black-and-gold, wood-cased horse race game called Pace’s Racers. Introduced in Chicago in 1935, it is a consistent favorite with enthusiasts. Against an $8,000-10,000 estimate, it galloped away at $13,200.
Publicized widely prior to the auction, a baseball-shaped Fan-Taz soda fountain syrup dispenser benefited from a last-minute absentee bid. “A dealer called up on behalf of a client who doesn’t collect dispensers but who liked this particular one. Apparently he likes folk art and Americana, and the baseball advertising on this dispenser definitely qualifies it as Americana. The dealer left a very large bid and won it for considerably less than he was prepared to go.” The 16in tall dispenser in good to very good overall condition brought $15,400, at the lower end of its estimate range.
Mike Cassidy, a bottle collector bidding via the Internet from his home in Toledo, Ohio, added a Lime Julep soda fountain syrup bottle to his collection, for $605. “I have about 40 of these bottles in my collection, and fountain syrup bottles of any type are difficult to find,” he said. A first-time bidder at Inman’s, Cassidy also won a 13in Hires syrup mixture tin, for $132. “I bid on the Hires tin on a lark, because I had never seen one before. I found it to be very easy to follow the sale online.”
The second session again attracted a smaller-than-usual crowd for an Inman sale, “but they were very active. The audience bought most of the toys, not the phone or absentee bidders.” Inman said there was heavy absentee bidding prior to the session because of its conflict with Noel Barrett’s train and toy auction held the same day in Philadelphia. “To accommodate bidders who wouldn’t be able to attend our sale in person, we held a weeklong preview.”
The first toy to attract big bucks was a mint-condition Ives cast-iron firehouse with horse-drawn pumper from the fabled collection of the late F.H. Griffith. Most of Griffith’s toys were sold at auction in December 2000, but a select grouping of early American-made playthings had been withheld by the collector’s family until their consignment to the Inman sale. Estimated at $5,000-6,000, the firehouse and pumper blazed to $10,450. A few lots later, another superb Griffith-owned toy, a Hubley four-seat brake, exceeded estimate to ring up $16,500.
Made by an unidentified American company, a horse-drawn cast-iron sulky was more interesting to bidders than its $100-150 estimate alluded, hammering down $3,850. “It was in really clean condition and obviously caught the eye of many people in the room.”
A charming cast-iron comic character pull toy, a Happy Hooligan Soapbox Derby in near-mint condition, cruised well beyond its estimate, to $4,675.
Top lot of the sale was the possibly unique, 10in battery-operated tin robot, ex Griffith collection, known as Mego Man. Surpassing several absentee bids, two phone bidders fought to the finish, with one of them – an advanced collector – paying $23,100 for the profusely lithographed, Japanese-made ’50s robot.
Inman’s sales always contain crisp examples of pressed-steel vehicles. At this event, a 1920s Buddy ‘L’ sand and gravel truck, 27in long, achieved $4,675; while a 1930s Keystone sit-n-ride water tower truck, 33in long with working headlights and water pump, and original box, made $2,860.
Collectors at the preview marveled over the almost impossibly crisp condition of a 10½in J. & E. Stevens cast-iron still bank replicating the battleship Maine. “It looked brand-spanking new,” Inman said, “like it was fresh from the factory.” Against a $2,500-3,000 estimate, the Maine sailed away to a new harbor for $7,150.
Other highlights of the Saturday session included a boxed Marx tin wind-up New York City Plane Ride, $1,540; and several steam toys. A Schoenner marine-type steam engine drew $1,320; while a Marklin no. 41-46 steam engine with original packing crate was snapped up for $1,650. A Falk no. 456 steam engine achieved $1,430; and an interesting Bing steam-powered hot air water fountain topped out at $1,980.
An old Inman tradition that started years ago when the auctioneer held his sales at Allentown’s Days Inn Conference Center – the informal parking lot swap meet – was revived by collectors at the event and presented an auxiliary trading platform enjoyed by many during the auction’s two-day run. Inman, himself, actually encourages the activity. “It’s a huge parking lot, so it’s not like they’re taking up any parking spaces. I’ve always said why not let them have their fun. Some auctioneers would disagree and say that it takes money away from the event, but I say it can only help. They make some money outside before the auction, then they come inside and spend it. I can honestly say that there has never been one consignor who’s come to the sale and said they were upset about it.”
Inman outlined a full slate of events his firm has scheduled for 2005, starting with a combination advertising and toy sale in early March featuring three major collections of petroliana. In June, Inman’s will hold its first-ever sale of general-line antiques, including furniture, rugs, paintings, glass and lighting, most coming from a single estate.
In September, the company will host an auction comprised of a single-owner collection of coin-ops, mechanical music, gambling devices and antique advertising. “I’m thinking of calling it the No-Excuse sale, since we won’t have to make any excuses for the condition of anything in the collection.”
Two specialty cookie-jar auctions, tentatively scheduled for May and October, will include approximately 5,000 jars from a single-owner collection. The merchandise will be offered in small groups, with three to four jars per lot.
In the fall, Inman’s will wrap up the year with its classic toy auction. To consign to any of the aforementioned sales or to obtain further information, phone (207) 453-6444, fax (207) 453-6663, write P.O. Box 726, Waterville, ME 04903, visit www.inmanauctions.com