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Antiques and The Arts Weekly October 4, 1991

Auction Action in Philadelphia, Pa.

$2.27 Million Grossed at Bertoia/Brady Bank Auction

                             (web note additional images with descriptions after text)
     It was exactly five years to the day since Bill Bertoia had marched into the main ballroom of the Philadelphia Hilton Airport Hilton and made history by conducting one of the most successful toy auctions ever, that of The Atlanta Toy Museum. With several eventful escapades added to his list of achievements during the interim, Bertoia once again strode confidently into the Airport Hilton on September 14 to conduct another history making sale by offering the Bill Norman Mechanical Bank Collection.
     Bertoia with his most recent partner Bob Brady, succeeded in once again sending shockwaves throughout the normally stable toy-world by conducting a gangbuster auction which established more record setting prices than you could shake a stick at. The auction featured some 400 lots and grossed an impressive $2.27 million dollars after premium. More than 35 records in the over $10,000 category were established, along with a virtual plethora of records in the $3-5,000 range.
     For lack of 20 pages to cover this auction, we will concentrate only on the big ticket items. Sixty banks in the sale exceeded $10,000, which accounted for slightly more than half the auction gross by themselves, totaling some $1.2 million. Five of the banks offered either tied or broke the previous record price paid at auction for a mechanical bank, which was established earlier this year by Mike Clum when he sold a near mint Circus bank with box for $55,000. (No buyer's premium was charged at Clum's.)
     The Norman Collection was rated prior to the sale as one of the top three collections of mechanical banks in the world. It was regarded not so much for rarity, although there were certainly enough highly desirable banks to make most any collector envious, but for being the premier collection of banks in prime condition. Words such as "mint, near mint," and "pristine" followed virtually every lot in the descriptive text of the catalog with an occasional "very fine condition" representing the lower end of the condition reports.
     Bertoia got his start in the auction business with then-partner Noel Barrett at the Atlanta Toy Museum sale, but the two parted ways after that auction. He then teamed up with Madison Avenue's Alex Acevedo for several hair-raising events. Bertoia and Acevedo conducted the legendary "Tag Sale" at the Perelman Toy Museum, which was closely followed by the renowned sale of the Hegarty Bank Collection. With collectors still reeling from those two record setting mega-events, the duo of Acevedo and Bertoia hammered the toy collecting community once again with the disposal of the Bernard Barenholz collection in New York City in 1990.
     Each of the sales has created an aura all of its own with record prices being paid, almost to the point of being commonplace, and an excitement level which has escalated from one sale to the next. Many felt that a pinnacle had been reached and that the best was already over. But, just when serious bank collectors thought it was safe to resume shopping, up steps Bertoia again, this time with Bob Brady, and yet another major collection.
     The two announced the acquisition of the Bill Norman collection. Norman authored The Bank Book, and leaked word of the auction early this past summer. This set the toy-world abuzz with predictions and all the serious collectors were frantically making out their "wish lists." As the catalogs were released a frenzied atmosphere existed at many of the intermediate levels, while all of the big guns just sat back and kept their opinions to themselves.
     Bertoia termed the collection as the "best mechanical bank collection to reach the public in the Twentieth Century." It offered such rare items as trade cards, bronze and lead patterns for the banks, rare ephemera such as infringement agreements between companies, and, naturally, some 375 banks in pristine condition.
     Several at the sale called this auction "an opportunity of a lifetime" for serious bank collectors. "This sale provides collectors with an opportunity to not only pick a bank of their choice, but in many instances, there are as many as six color variations to choose from," said one wide-eyed collector.
     Norman began collecting banks in 1979 and during his years of collecting he acquired banks from many of the premier collections, including the Perelman Toy Museum and Hegarty tag sales. Other provenance including Mosler, Carron, Whitting, Weider, and Meyer.
     Preview for the auction began the day prior to the sale with a large crowd spending the majority of the day, and well into the evening, inspecting each and every bank. Three cases in the center of the room were glassed on all sides, and due to rarity and condition, these top lots were not available for the general public to handle. "We don't want the condition to deteriorate on these banks," reasoned Bill Bertoia, although after preview closed on Friday evening major clients, and those who expressed serious interest, were allowed to inspect the banks.
     Preview the morning of the sale also proved active and come auction time most of the 400 seats in the large hall were filled. A crowd in the range of 350 was estimated by Bertoia and Brady. A large number of absentee and several phone bids were registered for the sale, yet a minimal percentage of the lots were won by them.
     As the auction got underway, it was apparent that the toy world would have to brace itself again as premium price levels got pushed towards the stratosphere and record after record was toppled.
     The first few lots set a blistering pace with the offering of a select group of trade cards. The first lot, a Humpty Dumpty card estimated as $1/1,350, started it all off by selling above estimates at $1,800. It wasn't long before the first record price paid at auction was established as a Watchdog Safe bank trade card soared past the $1,500/1,750 presale estimate as it sold to a New England collector Steve Rottman for $5,200, plus premium. Other trade cards included a Picture bank which brought $4,000, a Bad Accident card $2,500, and a Mason bank card brought $2,400. All more than doubled their high estimates, in fact it wasn't until lot 15 that a price realized actually fell within estimates.
     The first bank   to establish a record price paid at auction was Artillery bank, lot 24, which was described by auctioneer Rick Opfer as "the best known example." Estimated at $4/5,000, the bank opened at $2,000 and was bid actively by several in the room to a selling price of $20,000, plus premium. Two other Artillery banks were sold, both listed as "pristine condition," and both went out above their estimates at $1,250 and $1,400.
     A Bismark Pig bank, which carried a provenance of the Hegarty collection, sold towards the low end of the estimates as it brought $10,500 from toy dealer Ray Haradin, a Baby Elephant with replaced trunk and tail brought $18,000 from Stan Sax, and a butting Ram was bid successfully by Bob Booth's pre-teenage son for a record price of $15,000.
     The first bank to break into the stratospheric price range was the Fowler bank, or Sportsman, which was estimated at $20/25,000. Opfer looked for an opening bid at the high estimate and quickly got a bid from the rear of the room. Moving in $5,000 increments the bids came quickly from several collectors in the room until the $45,000 mark, where the bid was cut to $2,500 increments. At $50,000 Bill Bertoia stuck a paddle with the number "1" on it, the bid was advanced to $52,500 from the rear of the room and again Opfer looked to Bertoia who once again raised the ante. It was at $55,000 that the Fowler bank was knocked down, with Bill Bertoia trying vainly to conceal a smile.
     Bertoia commented after the sale that the number "1" paddle was his own and that the bank had been bought for his private collection. "Bobby and I discussed this prior to the sale," said Bertoia, "and we decided that since we were both among the top collectors that if there was anything we wanted from the collection we would have to buy it at the sale. We wanted to offer this collection both unpicked and absolutely unreserved."
     While many in the room felt that this was just a starting point for the record prices to escalate from, it was a price level which would, surprisingly, not be repeated during the course of the auction. The bank was a classic example with paint that was not only in mint condition, but it also had a patina and colorscheme which made it worthy of the price. "I have wanted that bank for more than 10 years, " said Bertoia, "and to get one in this kind of condition (the best known) is the cream on the cake." Bertoia felt that this bank transcends the collecting areas. "Due to the fowling theme it would be equally desirable to decoy collectors and because of the form and paint it also crosses over into the folk art arena," he said.
     The first bank to provide a real shock for the crowd was the Girl Skipping Rope bank which carried a presale estimate of $21/25,000. Presale scuttle-butt was that the bank should do $40,000. This bank also opened at the high estimate and was also subject to rapid-fire $5,000 increment bids. When the bank hit the anticipated level of $40,000 things slowed and the bid was once again cut to $2,500 advances. A relatively new collector seated in the third row had been hopeful of getting the bank and seemed determined as he executed his next bid, and then after being raised, executed another. His bid was once again raised, and then, seemingly gritting his teeth, collector Jan Piepul raised his paddle and executed the winning and record setting bid of $50,000, plus premium.
     The next bank to create a big stir was the extremely rare Jonah and Whale pedestal bank which was estimated at $30/35,000 and was expected to bring substantially more. Bidding on this lot opened, somewhat reluctantly compared to the other prime lots, at $20,000 and moved in $2,500 increments to $32,000. Here the bid was cut to $1,000 and once again the Jonah on pedestal bank was on the move to the $50,000 mark where it was hammered down to English collector John Haley.
     Fireworks were also expected when the Mikado bank was sold, the last known example to trade went privately at the Hegarty sale for $85,000 selling to Bob Brady. That bank was in slightly better condition and had a red base. When the blue based Mikado said to be the best blue example known, was offered it opened well below the $50/60,000 estimate at $25,000 and was bid actively to the low estimate of $50,000 where it sold to a Midwestern private investor.
     The last bank which people thought stood a chance to break the now stagnant $50,000 mark was Little Red Riding Hood bank, which was offered during the last quarter of the sale. Estimated at $24/28,000, this small bank in near mint condition had attracted the attention of all the major collectors. The unusual small bank depicted Little Red Riding Hood seated on the edge of Granny's bed. By pulling a lever on the side of the bank, Granny's head moved forward and revealed the Big Bad Wolf hiding underneath.
     Bidding opened on this lot at $10,000 and soared past the estimates with all of the action coming from the room. Just as it appeared that the piece would be sold, Bertoia raised his paddle and within a couple of advancements won the bank at $52,000, plus premium.
     Other top lots which established records included the Roller Skater bank which sold to Dr Tony Haradin for $45,000, the Picture Gallery bank at $42,000, Breadwinners at $35,000, and Horse Race at $29,000.
     Bill Bertoia reported numerous offers being tendered in the days following the sale on several of the top lots which were sold. "Several people sat on their hands or left absentee bids and came away from the sale with nothing," said Bertoia, "now they realize what a mistake they made and they're kicking themselves in the backside. They now want us to tender offers of ten percent profit and more to the successful bidders." Bertoia commented that one bank which he believes will be sold immediately is the Mikado which he predicted would move in the $60,000-plus price range.
     If you think this sale was one that can't be beat, then hold onto your hats because it is in the wind that Bertoia has yet another ace up his sleeve and may soon be making another announcement.
     Prices printed in this review do not include the ten percent buyer's premium which was charged. For further information regarding this auction contact Bill Bertoia at (609) 692-4092, or Bob Brady (717) 569-7408.









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