Theres no great mystery as to why vintage toys are so popular with collectors. Theyre colorful, theyre fun, and they invariably prompt the comment so familiar to auctioneers and toy dealers: Wow! I had one of those when I was a kid! One of Milestone Auctions
specialties is antique and vintage toys, and the nostalgia factor that drives todays prices for clean, crisp vintage toys is something they witness at each of their sales, including their January 29 Winter Antique Toy Spectacular that took in just under half a million dollars.
Business partners Miles King and Chris Sammet were elated with the excellent auction results in virtually all toy categories. There was strong competition for the rare Marx prototypes, which were very high-condition pieces, and a lot of bidder interest in our first major offering of cast-iron toys. Were going to make sure theres more high-quality cast iron in our April toy sale, King said.
The demand for toy motorcycles has been off the charts for Milestone, and the rare, early examples offered on January 29th only added fuel to the ever-growing fire. The top lot of both the motorcycle section and the sale overall was a Marx protoype Speedboy 4 with a soldier driver and rear accoutrements, including a branded AMMO box and a movable spring-loaded cannon for shooting projectiles. In near-perfect condition, it raced off to a new owner for $16,800 against an estimate of $6,000-$9,000.
Many of the 130 bikes that crossed the auction block came with their original factory boxes, like the Marx windup Indian motorcycle with sidecar in all-original, like-new condition with bright, attractive paint colors. Its crisp original box with art depicting an early Indian bike whizzing along with a passenger in tow made it super appealing to collectors. According to Milestones research, the toy was discovered in a collection of parts and accessories at an old Indian motorcycle dealership [the Indian company ceased operations in 2003]. Entered with a $4,000-$6,000 estimate, the rare toy sold for $9,840.
Good things also came in small packages, including a rare 5½-inch-long I.Y. Metal Toys (Japan) #3 Race Motor Cycle, which came with its original box bearing a striking multicolor image of a rider speeding along on a bike with white tires. This tin friction gem approached the auction block with expectations of making $4,000-$6,000 but went the extra mile to retire at $8,400.
American cast-iron vehicles also had a big day, starting with an oversize, late-19th-century Wilkins (Keene, N.H.) cast-iron water tower fire wagon. An impressive production, it measured a full 44 inches long, including its trio of 10½-inch-long horses. This particular Wilkins model was the largest horse-drawn cast-iron toy ever made, Miles King noted. Cast iron collectors consider it one of the great prizes to acquire. In all-original condition with no cracks or breaks, it earned a very respectable $8,400 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000.
Made in the 1920s, a very rare Freidag (American) 7½-inch cast-iron Pickup Utility Truck with all-original apple-green paint and nickel wheels was designed with a cast-in driver figure wearing a gold-visored cap. It rumbled off for $2,400 against a $600-$800 estimate. And at only 4¼ inches long, a Dent (American) factory-painted cast-iron La Salle Sedan with a nickel grille, from a series of toys that doesnt appear at auction very often, came with the bonus of its very rare original, paper-labeled box. In excellent to near-mint condition, with no breaks or repairs, the eye-catching red-and-yellow motor car glided to a winning price of $1,660, more than twice its high estimate.
Space toys grabbed the spotlight at Milestones January 29 auction, as well. A Marx tin wind-up Tom Corbett Space Cadets Rocket Ship prototype with amusing pre-war styling and hand-painted details peaked at $6,600. From the postwar era, an especially well preserved and well accessorized example of a 38-inch-tall Marx Big Loo Giant Moon Robot also created a stir. It was in excellent condition and, remarkably, its talking mechanism was tested and deemed to be in fine working order. With its massive original box displaying rich, unfaded colors, Big Loo caught the eye of multiple bidders and went on to more than double its high estimate at $3,480.
Sought-after Tonka toys from the postwar TV advertising era captured bidders attention. Inspiring memories of afternoons on a sandpile or just digging in the backyard, a boxed 13-inch Tonka #406 pressed-steel Dump Truck looked as though it had escaped any play at all. The pristine green-and-yellow work vehicle was in pristine condition and sold for more than eight times its high estimate at $3,444.
A stunning example of a Smith-Miller pressed-steel Coca-Cola delivery truck complete with all its cases of miniature Coke bottles was the object of bidder interest from the day the auction catalog came out. It was entered with an $800-$1,000 estimate but captured a top bid of $2,460. It would be very difficult to locate a better example of the Steelcraft Navy Patrol pedal airplane entered in the sale with an $800-$1,000 estimate. All original and with nice original paint, it soared to $2,583.
The highest-selling European toy was a 40-inch Bing (German) 3-funnel tin ocean liner made around 1915 to 1927. With all-original paint and a fully operational clockwork motor, it surpassed its high estimate to sell for $6,150.