A number of notable collections that hit the auction block in 2021 had blue-chip pieces that happy collectors were eager to snap up, including comics, toys, pinback sports buttons, folk art, pinball machines and more, with some pieces even setting new world records:
Paul Cole Collection of Toys and Trains
The exceptional 50-year collection of American and European trains, early tin and pressed-steel toys of the late Paul Cole (1931-2020), a man whose career distinctions were rivaled only by his passion for hobbies and sporting pursuits, were auctioned at Bertoia Auctions in two parts in May and October. The auctions drew competitive bidding from collectors throughout the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. The 862-lot Part I grossed more than $2.5 million, exceeding pre-sale expectations by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Part II featuring 885 lots brought nearly $1.9 million.
The top lots were a Marklin Schlitz Beer Car, O gauge, hand painted, catalog no.2959, circa 1906, that sold for $40,800 (estimate was $8,000-$12,000); and a Marklin American Outline 4-4-0 Locomotive, Gauge 1, hand painted, catalog No. 1031, circa 1895-1903, the first Locomotive that Marklin made for the U.S. market. It sold for $90,000 (estimate was $10,000-$15,000).
Howard Hazelcorn Collection of Phonographs
Over the course of his 50 years of collecting, Howard Hazelcorn amassed a world-class collection over more than 30 fields of collectibles. But when it came to collecting phonographs, he literally wrote the book on it. In fact, he wrote several books. He spent decades researching Columbia and its phonographs and other products, and built the world’s largest library of information on the subject. Hazelcorn’s phonograph and music collection was auctioned by Donley Auctions in an unprecedented two-day sale in December (Day 1 results; Day 2 results). Featuring more than 800 lots and more than 150 of the rarest phonographs ever collected, the auction also included a selection of the rarest records, parts, advertising, and literature Donley said it has ever seen in a single collection. Rare examples of early Edison, Victor, and Columbia machines including two rare original tinfoil demonstration machines, coin-op cylinder machines, several Bettini’s and polyphones, and a Mills illustrated song machine — the only known example to date — were all up for grabs.
Top lots were a Mills illustrated song machine manufactured by the Mills Novelty Co. of Chicago, Illinois, circa 1907, that hammered for $42,500[ and a Kammer & Reinhardt Hand wind Disc Gramophone, circa 1891, Berliner patent, that hammered for $50,000 (not including 20 percent buyer’s premium).
John and Marilyn Keane Collection of Furniture
Skinner Auctioneers’ November sale of The Beacon Hill Collection of John and Marilyn Keane attracted interest from passionate bidders from across the United States and around the world. The collection was highlighted by masterpieces of 18th and early 19th century furniture, as well as a collection of 19th century paintings related to the China Trade. The Keanes collected exceptional pieces with the guidance of knowledgeable members of the trade and often from established private collections, which made for a great selection during this auction, which earned more than $2 million.
The collection’s top lot that sold for $396,500 to a private collector was a rare and important Chippendale carved mahogany marble-top slab table, with carving attributed to Martin Jugiez of Philadelphia, c. 1765. The Keanes had purchased it from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland,
at a landmark auction held in New York in 1998.
Paul Muchinsky Collection of Sports Pinback Buttons
Dr. Paul M. Muchinsky (1947-2015) was one of the prominent collectors of sports pinback buttons and other sports memorabilia in the U.S. He strove not only to enjoy the hobby, but to entertain and enlighten his fellow enthusiasts, and wrote two books on the subject: Baseball Pinback Buttons and Boxing Pinback Buttons. The high demand for quality sports memorabilia led his estate to sell his collection and collectors have rejoiced in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain many of the rarest and most sought after baseball (and other sports) pin-back buttons and related material. His collection, being auctioned exclusively via Hake’s Auctions, was sold in several sales in 2021; one was also held in September 2020. More are planned over the next several years.
In June, a world-record auction price was set with the sale of an extremely rare Babe Ruth/Boston Red Sox 1915 American League Champions button. The last of three different Ruth rookie-era buttons in Muchinsky’s collection entrusted to Hake’s, it sold for $70,092, supplanting Hake’s previous record price of $62,980 set in the September 2020 sale for the only known example of a Ruth/Alpen Brau Beer button.
Museum of Pinball Collection
The Museum of Pinball’s collection of more than 500 pinballs and 900 video games was auctioned off by Captain’s Auction Warehouse over two three-day sessions at the museum in Banning, California, in September. The auction was expected to attract a large number of pinball wizards and prices were expected to be at the top end of estimates, but the widespread interest and historical importance saw hammer prices exceed even those lofty values.
The collection brought in a grand total of $6.9 million. The ten priciest lots each cost more than $25,000, and after receiving 84 bids, a rare “Rat Race” skill game from Williams emerged the champ after selling for $51,493, including buyer’s premium.
Bud and Judy Newman Collection of Board Games and Folk Art
Bud and Judy Newmans’ passions were evident in the various collections they put together, including American stoneware, Pennsylvania paintings, paint-decorated sleds and one of the largest collections of 19th and 20th Century games to ever appear on the market. So when more than 250 items from their game and toy collection went up for auction at Pook & Pook in April, it provided a watershed moment for this niche collecting community, which seemingly fields more cross-over interest from abroad than within.
Auctioneer Jamie Shearer said the games, which took in more than $320,000, had interest from all over and speculated that games that featured such things as high-wheel bicycles, baseball or a Christmas theme went to people who collected in those particular areas, not necessarily board games, as the lithography was fantastic. Coupled with the couple’s folk art pieces, the 445 lots offered amassed $1.1 million.
The top lot in games was the McLoughlin’s “Yellow Kid Ten Pins,” circa 1896, sought after by game collectors as well as enthusiasts of comic character items, which sold for $20,910. The overall top lot was an important six-gallon W.A. Macquoid stoneware crock, fife and drum, circa 1870, that sold for $51,600 (estimate was $20,000-$30,000).
Al and Shirley Pfeiffer Collection of Roseville Pottery
The Al and Shirley Pfeiffer Collection was a tremendous opportunity for Roseville Pottery collectors when it went up for auction at Cambridge Auctions in December. The couple collected the pottery for decades and traveled all over the country buying collections, with a keen eye to purchase pieces that were in the best condition they could find.
They were pioneers of bringing Roseville awareness to the West Coast and became pottery dealers in the 1980s and sold at every pottery show on the West Coast and Ohio for decades. They are lifetime members of the American Art Pottery Association and have put on many exhibitions to promote their love of pottery.
The top lot was a Roseville Tourist vase of a woman driving a motorcar with a duck and a chicken that sold for $1,050 above an estimate of $500-$750.
The Promise Collection of Comic Books
The Promise Collection of nearly 5,000 comic books, 95 percent of which are super high grade, were published from 1939 to 1952 and purchased by one young comic book fan. The name of the Promise Collection was inspired by the reason that it was saved and kept in such amazing condition since that time. An avid comic book fan named Junie and his older brother Robert went to war in Korea. Robert promised Junie that he would take care of his brother’s beloved comic book collection should anything happen to him. Junie was killed during the Korean War, and Robert kept his promise.
This collection began to hit the market in June at Heritage Auctions, with additional sessions each month from August through December. Results have been astonishing. For example, the first appearance of the Riddler in Detective Comics #140 and Phantom Lady #17 with a Matt Baker cover and art, each sold for a record $456,000.
Additional highlights include Batman #1, featuring the first appearances of the Joker and the Cat (aka Catwoman). and Captain America Comics #1, the origin and first appearances of Captain America and Bucky, and first appearance of the Red Skull, which each sold for $240,000; Captain America Comics #36, with its classic thrill-ride of a cover of Cap yanking Hitler out of his convertible by his collar, and Captain America Comics #74 that Red Skull graces the cover of, each sold for $204,000.
More of the comics will be auctioned in 2022.
Aaron and Abby Schroeder Collection of Toys and Banks
The late songwriter/music industry mogul Aaron Schroeder (1926-2009) and his wife and business partner of 49 years, Abby Steinberg Schroeder, wielded influence and garnered worldwide respect both in business and philanthropy, just as they did in the sociable world of antique toy collecting, for which they both had a great passion.
Considered by many to be in a league of its own, this vast and storied collection contained some of the rarest and most exquisite toys ever to reach the auction marketplace, and, not surprisingly, generated much excitement with collectors when it was offered at Bertoia Auctions in two parts (Part I in March; Part II in September).
The collection’s holdings featuring an extraordinary selection of late-19th to early 20th-century American cast iron, including premier mechanical and still banks, ultra-desirable horse-drawn and bell toys, early American tin and clockwork toys, cast iron animated cap pistols, cigar cutters, European tin ranging from autos to trains and other toys, American clockwork and early American tin toys, early board games, comic character toys, Schoenhuts, Erzgebirge pieces, and more raked in $5.7 million.
Top lots included a pristine to near-mint J & E Stevens Girl Skipping Rope cast-iron mechanical bank, that sold for $156,000 — an auction record for the form; and an intriguing and extremely rare Mikado mechanical bank by Kyser & Rex Co., the red table version and one of the best known examples that sold for $240,000, double its high estimate of $120,000.
Collectors will be pleased to know that there’s still more to come. Next year Bertoia will hold at least one additional sale featuring the Schroeder toys.
Jimmy Wilson Collection of Tractors
To support the growth of the YMCA in his South Carolina community, Jimmy Wilson donated his lifetime collection of more than 85 antique tractors that was auctioned in October by Aumann Auctions.
Wilson amassed an impressive assortment of tractors, believed to be one of the top collections in the country, which date back to as early as 1919, and included a Hart Parr 30, 3 IHC 8-16 Junior Kerosene, International Harvester Titan 10-20, a Case 18-32, more than 50 John Deere tractors and others.
The collection ended up raising $462,000 for the YMCA of Easley, Pickens & Powdersville to build a Child Development & Training Center. The top lot was a Ford 8N Conversion that sold for $24,750.