April auction will wind up collection of clockwork toys


March 17, 1991|By Lita Solis-Cohen

The forthcoming sale of Maryland collector Tom Anderson's estate is the most eclectic to come along in some time.

Mr. Anderson, a Rockville attorney who died suddenly last September, had the energy, the means and the eye to assemble an extraordinary collection of country furniture, toys, coin-operated machines, pop-up books, Crackerjack prizes, sulphide marbles, Christmas ornaments and Santa Claus figures, trade signs, syrup dispensers, figural lawn sprinklers . . . the list goes on.

His favorite segment, and the most valuable, is his assemblage of nearly 60 gaily colored, late 19th century clockwork toys. Wind them up and some will stay in motion for half an hour.

He was there when the collections of the first generation of toy collectors were broken up. He bought the best clockwork toys in the Perelman Toy Museum when it was sold in Philadelphia in 1988 and from Barney Barenholtz' collection when it was dispersed in New York in 1989. When the pioneer writers on toys, Louis Hertz and Blair Whitton, decided to sell their collections several years ago, Mr. Anderson was a major buyer.

The Perelman and Barenholtz collections were sold in tag sales; Mr. Hertz and Mr. Whitton sold their toys privately. Anderson left instructions in his will that his collection be sold at public auction. The Anderson sale will be held on Sunday, April 7, at the Eagle Fire House in New Hope, Pa., by Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions Ltd. The 412 lots are estimated to bring a little more than $750,000.

"The toys to be sold are true antiques; they're now more than 100 years old," Mr. Barrett says. "Many of them have added significance because of their provenance, and because they are pictured in the classic reference books on American toys."

Anderson's automated figure of General Grant smoking a cigar, one of the largest and finest clockwork toys, circa 1876, is the very one on the cover of Louis Hertz's book "The Toy Collector." The boy riding a velocipede is the toy on the cover of "American Clockwork Toys," by Blair Whitton. The Althof Bergmann Santa and his goats is pictured in a memorable photograph by Bill Holland as a two-page centerfold in "American Antique Toys," by Barney Barenholtz and Inez McClintock.

Clockwork toys were created in the last part of the 19th century for a wealthy middle class that had expanded as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Never before had people had so much money to spend on playthings and to support the technology and skilled work force needed for large-scale toy manufacturing.

The toy industry first became established in America, not in England or France or Germany. Toy factories sprang up in New England in the early 1830s, and by 1838 Francis, Field and Francis had a sizable factory in Philadelphia producing tin toys and trains.

In Connecticut, clockmakers produced the first mechanical toys that imitated life in motion. George Brown & Co. in Forestville made clockwork toys as early as 1856. During the 1860s and 1870s the well-known factories of Hull and Stafford in Clinton, Edward Ives in Plymouth, Merriam Manufacturing Co. in Durham and Stevens and Brown in Cromwell -- all in Connecticut -- as well as Althof Bergmann and Co. in New York City and James Fallows in Philadelphia, were in full production. Several catalogs from the period exist with pages filled with toys of every description.

American clockwork toys were very expensive, so they were cared for and preserved; some even survive in their original boxes.

One of the rarest of a dozen boxed clockwork toys in the sale is an Ives circus rider made of wood, wearing a red wool coat and standing on the back of a black painted tin prancing horse. Formerly in the Whitton collection, it is estimated to bring $15,000 to $18,000. A boy on a rocking horse, also by Ives, a piece of folk sculpture in miniature, is expected to bring $14,000 to $16,000.

An Ives mechanical horse with an old lady driver and a small black boy hooking on behind captures the time when kids hitched rides on wagons for the thrill of it. It is expected to bring around $35,000.

tTC The most miraculous survivor is the tin clockwork Santa in a sleigh with goats, attributed to Althof Bergmann. Large and rare, the Santa has a composition face and wooden body and is dressed in crepe paper. When the toy is wound, the wheels are set in motion and the goats move up and down, giving the impression they are pulling the sleigh; an attachment from the rear legs of the goats causes bells to jingle. Anderson paid $85,000 for this toy at the Barenholtz tag sale. Some are predicting it will bring more than $100,000, for an auction record.

An illustrated catalog of the Anderson sale is available for $20 postpaid from Noel Barrett, P.O. Box 1001, Carversville, Pa. 18913.

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