17 October 2017
On 14 October, collectors of antique and vintage toy soldiers were setting their sights on Pittsburgh
On 14 October, collectors of antique and vintage toy soldiers were setting their sights on Pittsburgh as Old Toy Soldier Auctions (OTSA) presented two consecutive auction events whose contents boasted outstanding quality, provenance and rarity. The bidding started with the distinguished Ib Melchior estate collection of antique military miniatures.
“The Melchior family is very famous in their homeland of Denmark,” said OTSA owner Ray Haradin. “Ib Melchior was a screenwriter and director, his father, Lauritz Melchior, was an acclaimed Wagnerian tenor; and his grandfather, Jorgen Melchior, was headmaster of Melchior’s School in Copenhagen. Jorgen started the family collection of toy soldiers in 1860, and both Lauritz and Ib continued the tradition. For more than 150 years, the collection has remained in the Melchior family, so it’s a very special honor for us now to be auctioning it on their behalf.”
The Melchior collection comprised of 170 auction lots of primarily 30mm Nuremberg-style flat figures – the oldest type of military figures ever to be offered in an OTSA sale. It encompassed another fabled collection – that of a Dutch army general named Snyders – which Lauritz purchased in 1896. The 2,500 figures acquired from General Snyders were made between 1820 and 1890. The auction included the actual ledger from the Snyders purchase, as well as a Melchior family scrapbook containing photos, newspaper clippings and other fascinating documentation. “It’s highly unusual for a toy soldier collection to come with provenance like this. You just never see it outside of collections owned by royal families, and those collections are never sold.”
Nuremberg flat figures represent the very earliest period of commercial toy manufacture and seldom appear in the marketplace. Most that have survived are found only in museums in Germany and Austria. Within the Melchior collection there are very early figures by Allgeyer (active 1843-1890), Heinrichsen (multiple generations, 1843-1945), Gerhardt Lezius (active 1862-1880), and Christoph Ammon (mid-19th century).
Among the highlights was Lot 128, a very rare Allgeyer figure that was among 20 made in 1850 with a backward signature in the mold. According to archival records, the senior Mr. Allgeyer “signed the mold, but absentmindedly reversed the signature so that when the castings came out all the signatures were backwards – in mirror writing!” In the world of toy soldiers, Haradin commented, “an error like this one would be akin to a misstruck coin.” Only four such figures are known to have survived, and one is in the Melchior collection.
Many of the military miniatures were presented in beautiful shadowboxes that were created by Ib’s wife, artist and decorator Cleo Baldon. The backgrounds were hand-colored engravings of the period, or original watercolors painted by Ms. Baldon. One such shadowbox, titled “Place de la Concorde,” held one of the reverse-signed figures. Together with 11 other Napoleonic Cavalry figures, the reverse-signed example was offered in the auction as Lot 1128 with a group-lot estimate of $1,350-$1,500.
The Melchior collection also includes many figures from the Napoleonic Wars as well as Lot 132, an 1850 post-Napoleonic set depicting an army camp at Treves. It contained 65 figures made by Heinrichsen and Allgeyer.
Other highly desirable sets included Lot 124, Edinburgh Castle shadowbox (22 pieces, circa 1840), est. $500-$600; Palace Gardens shadowbox (circa 1845), Napoleon’s Farewell to His Troops (circa 1860), Review of French Troops (circa 1765-1785), and Napoleon’s Retreat from Waterloo (circa 1860).
Figures in the Melchior sale will be offered in group lots of 20-40 pieces, with opening bids as low as $20. “Every collector will have a chance to own something rare and early with great provenance,” Haradin said.