TO visit Vectis Auctions, the toy specialists based near Stockton-on-Tees with annual sales of £5m, is to catch a glimpse of the auction business as it might be in the future.
Their saleroom on the outskirts of a no-nonsense town has rooms
and staff dedicated to the specific tasks of cataloguing via voice
recognition technology, remote bidding and packing.
Oh, and with sales across the internet now accounting for 33 per
cent of annual transactions, an audience in the room that can
typically be counted on two hands.
Of course, elements of the Vectis 'mail order' operation - the
brainchild of proprietor Bryan Goodall, who operates a warehousing
business from the same site - are made easier by the nature of the
merchandise they sell.
The majority of toys were produced in large multiples and are
easily catalogued; a (generally) accepted language exists across
the collecting community regarding condition; the average lot is
easily packed and posted while, equally important, is a large pool
of buyers comfortable with the computer age and at ease with the
idea of buying sight unseen.
But there are worse ways for a regional auctioneer to hone
his/her craft than with a visit to the Thornaby industrial estate.
The Fred J. Matt collection of diecast models offered on September
8-10 was among the firm's flagship events for 2009. So attendance
in the room across the three sale days did occasionally touch the
dizzy heights of 15.
Mr Matt, who now lives in Mayfair, is not atypical of Vectis's
most affluent clients. Brought up in south-eastern Pennsylvania,
where as a child in 1967 he played with his first Matchbox toys, he
turned to collecting a plethora of diecast marques in the 1980s
while he pursued a career as a trader on Wall Street. By 2004, and
the sale of his hedge fund boutique to a Parisian bank, his
collection of diecast models resided in climate-controlled storage
in both London and New York and numbered 2250 pieces.
Complete with biography, pictures of his children and
recollections from his family, Matt explained his choice for the
catalogue front cover illustration - a Dinky No 932 Wayne school
bus that reminded him so much of his schooldays in Abington,
Pennsylvania. Nostalgia remains a key player in the toy market, but
the focus here was not just upon models from Matt's youth but also
the diecast toys of the 1950s. Together these 'golden age' decades
represent the most popular period in collecting today, primarily
for the charm of the models but also (when investment is a
consideration) because they have largely escaped the metal fatigue
endemic among pre-War toys and the dominance of plastic that can be
subject to deterioration in later issues.
Added to this was a relatively large holding of export
productions that reflected purchases made as far afield as Eureka,
South Dakota, Ruthin, Wales, Maun, Botswana and Saigon,
Lesney's Matchbox toys had been this collector's first love and
his collection had grown to include many rare models and most (if
not all) had survived in very fine order. His Chevy Impala yellow
taxi cab with grey rather than the typical black wheels was rated
mint in a near mint box and sold at £2000, while his orange-red
Vauxhall Victor was deemed 'excellent plus' and came in a near-mint
box. The yellow version of this model is quite common (one
near-mint example sold here for £60) but this rare colourway, the
first the auctioneers had sold, took £3200.
Other rare Lesney issues included a mint Ferrari Berlinetta
(no.75b) in a nearmint box and a Volkswagon 1600TL in metallic
purple (no.67b) that was mint apart from a minor factory mark. Both
sold above estimate at £520 each. A surprise was an off-white MG
sports car (no.19b) that was in 'excellent' condition but lacked
its box. Typically the estimate of £60-80 would have sufficed, but
it sold at £440. A box would not be difficult to find. Matt had
been unusual in collecting so many different marques. There were
sections here for Tekno, Budgie, Spot-On and Corgi, but naturally
Dinky toys were dominant.
Among the most iconic Dinky models of the Golden Age period are
the series of Foden wagons that were first issued in the late
1940s. There are a number of variants and Matt owned examples of
most of them. Dinky number 505, the flatbed truck with chains from
1952, was available here in both of its 'first cab' colourways.
The example in maroon is generally considered the rarer model
but the presence of some retouching around the wheelarches was the
sort of apparently minor 'injury' that prompts resistance among
'investment grade' collectors.
It was allowed to sell at a relatively modest £2200, a fraction
of the £10,200 achieved for a near-mint example in 2003. If there
has been a change in the collecting landscape since Matt was buying
heavily in the 1980s and early 90s, it is that collectors are
becoming fussier. Boxes, in particular, have become subject to the
same rigorous condition assessment previously reserved for the toys
The price for the Foden truck in green was a stronger one and it
reflected its near-mint condition. It took £3200 - among the
highest prices achieved for this model but still shy of the £4400
paid for another, again at Vectis in 2003.
The next generation of Dinky wagons were the Leyland Octopus
series. The standard model (no.934) available from 1958 to 1962
comes in green and yellow (two examples here took £160 and £180)
but the tail end of the production run saw the colour scheme change
to blue and lemon. One here took £1800 on account of its superb
Model no.935 is the Leyland Octopus with flat bed and chains
that received a production run from 1964 to 1966. The mint example
in an excellent pictorial box brought £2200.
There were a large number of French models and these did
particularly well. A trophy lot was a rare French market 'Coffret
Cadeau Tourisme' containing a Ford Vedette, Peugeot 203, Citroen
2CV, Simca Aronde and a Buick Roadmaster - the cars near mint in a
'good plus' box - sold at £1700.
Also popular was a Radio Luxembourg Citroën estate car with its
cameraman still sealed in its original paper bag. The remarkable
(and free) Vectis online database of sold lots includes 14 other
examples of this model but none that has made as much as £540.
But it's not all about high prices, especially for those just
starting off with the collecting bug. Importantly, for the
collectors who wished to acquire elements of a 20-year collecting
odyssey on a more modest budget, Vectis avoided the temptation to
group models into large multiple lots and were happy to see many
lots knocked down well below £100.