13 October 2021
Intense competition pushed Marx prototype motorcycles to top of prices realised
Antique toy enthusiasts love nothing more than to discover the earliest iterations of whatever specialty they collect, and on October 2nd at Milestone Auctions in suburban Cleveland it was both Marx and motorcycle fans who hit the jackpot. The 704-lot auction, which was almost exclusively devoted to a single-owner collection, featured 138 super-clean bikes, including two American Marx prototypes that tied for top-lot honors at $22,800 apiece. Each had been estimated at $6,000-$8,000.
A throng of determined bidders competed from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, pushing the sale total to $768,000. It was the highest-grossing toy auction in Milestone’s history.
“There was huge interest in many categories, but most especially the motorcycles, which represented scores of manufacturers from Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy, Russia and the USA. Absentee and opening bids were insane, right off the bat,” said Milestone Auctions co-owner Chris Sammet. “The Marx prototype bikes were Speedboy 4 military-themed windups, finished in the distinctive colors of early Marx toys and with hand-painted details. One had a rear-mounted cannon and the other had a camouflage-patterned box on the back. We started getting calls about them a good month before the sale. There was no doubt they were going to fly.”
The high quality of post-WWII Japanese motorcycles was evident in the sharp-looking 12-inch-long friction-powered motorcycle known as “Romance.” Lithographed in a rainbow of pleasing colors with an image of the planet Saturn on the gas tank, the bike is operated by a helmeted and goggled male driver, with a female passenger also along for the ride. In working order and all original, it sold for $5,640 against an estimate of $2,000-$3,000.
Perhaps the “sleeper” of the section was a much smaller Japanese tin friction production identified on its box label as “Hunter-Motor Cycle.” Although only 4½ inches long, the bike is amazingly well detailed and was complete, down to its attached rifle and the fowl enclosed in a net at the back. In like-new condition with its excellent factory box, the diminutive bike zipped off to a new owner for $3,840, more than six times the high estimate.
Following closely behind the Marx prototype motorcycles at the top of prices realized was a good-looking Marx (USA) Blondie and Dagwood Family Car that never made it into production. Finished in a rich blue with red, yellow and gold accents, the windup open car included figures of Dagwood at the wheel with Blondie and their son Alexander sharing the passenger seat. This coveted prototype commanded $16,200 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000.
Transportation toys held their own throughout the sale, no matter what type of transportation they happened to depict. A terrific example of a Japanese tin friction Atom-Car #153, 15½ inches long, retained its original driver figure and rare box. It easily swept pasts its estimate range to settle at $5,400. On the other hand, there was a Strauss (USA) tin windup “Santee Claus,” with the holiday gift-giver looking jaunty in his decorative sleigh pulled by a pair of belled, leaping reindeer. Measuring 11 inches long and offered with its excellent Christmas-themed box, it dashed away for $6,000 – four times the high estimate.
A visual extravaganza, a Distler (Germany) tin windup set known as “Pinched!” re-enacts a police chase in the countryside. When activated, a motorcycle cop pursues a speeding automobile around a platform amid scenery that includes mountains, farmland, railroad trestles and more. The setting is also illustrated on the box that accompanied the toy, which sold above estimate for $6,900.
An extensive 86-lot array of Lehmann (Germany) windup and flywheel toys crossed the auction block, many of them retaining their original boxes. A fine example of the tin windup “Boxer Rebellion” toy – inspired by the Boxer secret society that was active during the Chinese rebellion of 1899-1901 – was offered with an estimate of $10,000-$15,000. All original, complete and in excellent working order, it rose to $17,400. Also selling above estimate was a handsome Lehmann tin windup Halloh motorcycle that appeared seldom, if ever, to have been taken out of its original pictorial box. It crossed the finish line at $6,900.
Of unknown German manufacture, a 17-inch-long hand-painted composition cat skittles set consisted of a large striped-cat vessel in which seven smaller cat skittles were housed. Rolling along on cast-iron wheels, the fabulous feline pounced on a winning bid of $16,200 against an estimate of $1,000-$1,500.
The 713-lot auction attracted so many absentee, phone and Internet bids that it ran nearly 12 hours from start to finish. The great success it achieved was not without its challenges, however. The day before the auction, the hosting company Milestone uses for its own online bidding platform was hit by a ransomware attack that affected many industries, from aerospace to transportation, agriculture to publishing.
“The timing was bad, but in our business, you learn to have a contingency plan in place, which we always do,” said Milestone co-owner and auctioneer Miles King. “Fortunately, we always use two other bidding platforms in addition to our own, so Internet bidders had alternatives. The challenge was in notifying bidders about the situation, on short notice. Our team had to start calling clients to let them know they needed to either switch bidding sites, book a phone line or leave absentee bids. Just about everyone who wanted to bid found a way to do so, and we were grateful for that. The bottom line is, collectors weren’t going to sit back and miss out on a collection as great as the one we were selling just because of a technology problem. They wanted those toys.” Milestone’s bidding platform was fully restored on the Monday following the sale.