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Tinplate to treasure at Bertoia

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On March 9-10, Bertoia Auctions held its 700 lot Spring Signature Sale. It included a 60-year collection of Fernand Martin and early American tin and clockwork toys. Many of the toys are the collecting legacy of one Sam Downey, who passed away recently.

Whilst the Downey Jr. collection is flagged up for its significant diversity, at its core lies turn-of-the-last century tin. The collector had an affinity for toys representing speed, so it’s no surprise to see several Gordon Bennett racers and a Gunthermann Gordon Bennett-type racing motorcycle.

In addition, there are Marklin aeronautical toys, zeppelins, aircraft and steam toys, including a large Doll et Cie ferris wheel and roller coaster. A sizeable grouping of submersible tin divers suitable for play in a pond or bath (if you dare!) was joined by an Ernst Plank clockwork torpedo boat: this is an extremely rare item, which is seldom sighted.

The Downey flotilla consisted primarily of military boats, with an approximate split of 50% live steam and 50% clockwork. All the coveted makers were represented, including Marklin, Bing and Radiguet. A stand-out example in the marine category, though, indeed one that takes prominence in the sale overall, was that of a 46-inch battery-powered ocean liner, the August Victoria, which was manufactured by Marklin around 1910. Its provenance includes time spent in the venerable Malcolm Forbes collection.

In amongst the lots was a treasure trove of wonderful American and European trains and accessories. Highlights from the American section included examples of 2-inch gauge Carlisle & Finch trains and Voltamp examples, such as an Interurban Trolley. Equally interesting are the railway accessories: the collector amassed lamp posts and stations, including a Marklin Café station. The extensive specialty sub-collection of steam accessories is distinguished by its near-mint Bing brewery and distillery examples.

Running alongside these desirables was the Douglas Jackman collection, a New England dealer who co-owns Douglas Jackman Antiques in Rockingham, Vermont. Jackman vigilantly scoured high-end Americana and general antiques shows for rare banks throughout his 40 year collecting quest.

In all, more than 100 banks from Jackman’s collection were chosen for the March 9-10 auction, with condition and rarity as the guidelines. Worthy of special note are the God Is Love (or “Cross”) bank, the Chancellor bank and the Lilliput bank, which is an uncommon variation of the better-known Lilliput mechanical bank.

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