It's an open and shut case: Vintage doorstops have become a collecting craze

ANTIQUES

December 05, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers Solis-Cohen Enterprises

Doorstop collectors used to be easy to spot at any flea market. They were the folks walking around with their eyes focused on the ground, looking under the display tables for weighty pieces of old painted cast-iron shaped like dogs, birds, houses, boats or basket of flowers, which they hoped to buy for a couple of dollars each.

Times have changed.

At flea markets, doorstops now are on the tables, not under them, and are dangling big-digit price tags. They're being bought and sold at auction by Wall Streeters and others who saw openings in the market and joined the collecting craze. Indeed, doorstops have wedged their way into locked display cases at specialist dealers' shops and prestigious antiques shows.

At a recent auction of 325 doorstops from the collection of Neil Weisman, a Saddle River, N.J., collector, one wondered if the rare "Whistling Jim" doorstop wasn't whistling at the price it fetched, a record $7,150.

A fine casting in pristine condition, well-painted and tall (16 1/4 inches), of a boy with his hands in his pockets whistling a tune, it was manufactured by Bradley and Hubbard, of Meriden, Conn., considered the Tiffany of doorstop makers because of its beautiful and intricately detailed castings.

In all, 23 doorstops brought four-figure prices, and 127 made records for their forms, at the Weisman sale in Philadelphia, organized by dealers Bill Bertoia, of Vineland, N.J., and Bob Brady, of Lancaster, Pa., who do business as Bertoia & Brady Auctions.

During the last 20 years, Neil Weisman, a Wall Street money manager, virtually cornered the market on vintage doorstops. Apparently, he thought it was time to sell his impressive hoard and diversify his holdings.

Jeanne Bertoia, a dealer and collector, whose "Doorstops Identification & Values," (Collector Books, 1985 with a 1993 price update, $11.50 postpaid from Bertoia, 2413 Madison Ave., Vineland, N.J. 08360; phone [609] 692-4092), is the only illustrated book in print on doorstops, said she had the chance to buy the entire Weisman collection to re-sell through her semiannual mailing list offerings.

Instead, she helped her husband, Bill Bertoia, organize an auction to give the collection its widest possible exposure.

Pat Gordon and his wife, Gayle, came to the auction from Fort Worth, Texas, for example, and bought nine doorstops.

"In our neck of the woods you just don't see a collection like this," Mr. Gordon said.

Massachusetts collector Bernadette Piepul paid a whopping $4,070 for a realistically painted, full-figured giraffe doorstop in excellent condition, estimated to fetch $850 to $900.

The rare foot-high giraffe was made by Hubley Manufacturing Co., of Lancaster, Pa., which produced doorstops from about the 1920s to 1948. Demonstrating how the market has soared, one collector said she bought a giraffe like the Hubley giraffe 12 years ago for $50, and sold it six years ago for what she then thought was an exorbitant $950.

Although the market showed strength, 20 doorstops (many of them clipper ships) brought less than $100 each. "Where can you find a doorstop for under $100 these days?" Mr. Weisman asked, shaking his head. He said he decided to keep about 50 doorstops, mostly whimsical ones, and sell the rest, but wished he had held on to a few more.

Common doorstops with chipping paint or repainted decoration fetched low prices, and there were a few genuine bargains.

In general, the bidders were sophisticated and spent lavishly on rarities in fine condition. Dealers Margo Hasson, from West Hartford, Conn., and Terry Rosenberg, from Phoenix, Md., said they bought little at the auction because prices were too high for a dealer to buy and make a profit.

"It's a shame these prices will now go into price-guide books," complained Ms. Hasson, "since sellers can't expect to get such prices in the marketplace except for examples [in] pristine condition."

?3 Peter R. Solis-Cohen contributed to this story.

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