Documented in the book ‘The Allure of Toy Ships: American & European Nautical Toys from the 19th and 20th Centuries’, the Richard T. Claus collection is widely acknowledged as the best toy boat collection in America and, some say, rivals the very best in Europe.
A Pennsylvanian chemical wholesaler with an
encyclopaedic knowledge of his 30-year hobby - his 2005 volume
presents a complete and unbroken timeline of toy boat-making across
two centuries - Dick Claus was also a stickler for condition and
looked to upgrade from good to great whenever possible.
As he narrowed down his collection after
publication of the book, the result was the cream of tinplate boats
by premier European manufacturers.
The other result was a sale which the
Vineland, New Jersey specialists
Bertoia Auctions will long remember, alongside the $12.1m,
five-part Donald Kaufman
collection, as among their very best.
To benefit the bank balances of both buyers
and seller, the collection is being offered in two tranches. The
first offering of 210 lots sold across two hours was on May 12 -
the rest will go under the hammer on November 10.
Part I of the Richard T. Claus collection
was the second major sale of European tinplate boats in the space
of as many years. Who can forget the huge Forbes collection at
Sotheby's New York in December 2010, when, among so many yachts,
battleships and liners by the likes of Rock and Graner, Carette,
Bing and Fleishman, a Märklin model of the
Lusitania made $160,000 (£106,670)? Certainly not
Dick Claus who was actively bidding at the sale. "Once a collector,
always a collector," commentated Rich Bertoia.
On a smaller scale in the UK, the Ron McCrindell
collection was sold by Special Auction Services of Greenham,
near Newbury in April when a c.1904 Märklin 'first series'
battleship, HMS Terrible, went to a Belgian telephone
bidder at £76,000.
So was there a risk of flooding the market?
In a word, No.
The Claus material was just too good to miss
and more than 100 bidders (many of them from Europe) reserved seats
at Bertoia's gallery, while scores of others waited patiently
either by their phones or computers to bid online through Live
Already $1.8m (£1.2m) is in the bag - a cool
half a million dollars more than the pre-sale high estimate of
Above: Märklin Kaiserin Augusta Victoria
steam-powered ocean liner - $120,000 (£80,000).
There were boats here by a full cross
section of European makers from the familiar to the obscure, but it
is difficult to look beyond the veritable fleet from the fabled
Göppingen factory, Gebruder Märklin.
Combining the best of man and machine in
their production methods, Märklin boats from the first decade of
the 20th century rank among the most elegant, the most colourful
and the most expensive tin toys ever made. Most collectors dream of
owning just one. Dick Claus had dozens.
Made during the first flowering of Märklin's
creative genius c.1902 was a 2ft 2in (65cm) riverboat titled
Providence to the side paddle and (like many of the
boats in this sale) dressed with the Stars and Stripes for the
American market. Alongside the Märklin paddle steamer
Chicago (featured on the dust jacket of Claus's book
and for sale come the autumn) it is among the best-known toys in
the collection and last on the market in 2007 when sold by Noel
Barrett for $90,000.
It is detail that separates Märklin from the
many other German productions of the period and here nothing was
overlooked: cabin windows with painted curtains, a funnel held
steady by chains, lifeboats (one a replacement) hung on davits and
a captain standing on the prow deck. It was one of three majestic
boats in the Part I sale to carry a six-figure estimate but in fact
doubled hopes at $215,000 (£143,350) - a record for a tinplate boat
The buyer was in the room and bidding on
behalf of a US collector.
Of those who actually won items, Bertoia
said it was a 50-50 split between European and US buyers.
The largest models in the Märklin fleet,
larger indeed than the aforementioned Lusitania
model c.1912 that measured 3ft 2in (96cm), were the series of
ocean-going liners measuring a massive 3ft 10in (1.17m).
A battery-driven model of this size was
recently offered by James D. Julia in Maine but that in the Claus
collection was powered by a very sturdy steam engine and replicated
the vessel billed as the largest of its age, the Hamburg-America
Line's Kaiserin Auguste Victoria.
Again, this was packed with detail - as
Claus points out in his book, even minute life preservers hang on
the rail across from the pilot's house - and it had received the
minimum of restoration. Having purchased it at auction in upstate
New York, Dick Claus later learnt that it had been stored for
decades in a dry barn and probably had never been played with. At
Vineland it went on its top estimate of $120,000 (£80,000).
At just over 12in (30cm) long, a
battery-powered Tip Top yacht was the smallest in a
series of luxury private yachts made by Märklin and it includes
some great detail - particularly a canopy-covered dining section
with passengers seated around a table.
The example in the Forbes collection, with
an unusual brown and orange striped hull, had sold at $15,000. This
example, with a more typical red and white hull and the small stack
replaced, took a treble-estimate $32,000 (£21,350).
Above: Märklin clockwork first-series
battleship 'New York' with original box - $95,000
It is often said wistfully that the lakes
and ponds of the western world are carpeted with the rusting hulks
of fine tinplate boats.
Certainly, given the unhappy mix of ferrous
metal and water, the few survivors that have escaped significant
restoration command a substantial premium.
Among the gems of the Claus collection was a
'first series' battleship, the New York from the
'sweet spot' years around 1905. One mast was a replacement, but
this 2ft 4in (71cm) vessel was otherwise in superb condition,
retaining all its original paint, multiple guns, a fully appointed
deck and its original pine box.
Estimated at $50,000-60,000, it made $95,000
(£63,350) - close to twice the $47,500 taken for a very similar
New York gunship of this period in lesser condition
at the Forbes sale.
While boats were sold under the Märklin name
in the 1890s, most were derivatives of models by Ludwig Lutz, the
rival toymaker in Ellwangen which Märklin acquired in 1891.
Accordingly, it is the boats that appeared
in the earliest years of the new century, superbly made if slightly
naive interpretations of real warships, which collectors have
traditionally called first generation Märklin models. Those made
after around 1909, often more sophisticated in design but painted
in more muted colours, are dubbed second generation vessels.
A number of second series American market
battleships were deemed exceptional survivors.
These included the 3ft (91cm) maroon and
grey hull Maryland (estimate $50,000-60,000) with
multiple gun turrets, a four-tiered mast and multiple observation
decks, which was modelled after the Normandie class
of Dreadnoughts ordered for the French Navy in 1912-1913, and the
well-appointed 3ft 2in (96cm) Brooklyn in two-tone
grey c.1913 (estimate $90,000-120,000).
Both with little to count against them save
very minor restoration, they sold at $125,000 (£83,350) and $90,000
Above: a c.1875 steam-powered Rock &
Graner 'Kaiser Wilhelm' paddle-wheel boat - $40,000 (£26,650) at
In a sale where the average lot price was
more than $8500, Märklin handiwork provided seven of the top ten
However, forcing its way into sixth position
was one of the earliest boats in the collection, a steam-driven
paddle steamer c.1875. The name Kaiser
Wilhelm appears on the paddle wheel covers while details
include a figurehead and bow spirit that add another 6in (15cm) to
the overall length of 21in (53cm).
Traditionally, this model, painted in green,
orange, black and maroon, and others like it were attributed to the
aforementioned Lutz factory, but the relatively recent discovery of
a catalogue from the years 1876-81 has seen them rebranded as the
products of the Rock and Graner factory.
Again in excellent condition, with just
minor enhancement to the paddle wheels and the red bell lever,
Kaiser Wilhelm sold above hopes at $40,000
Another well-known German factory to feature
strongly in the sale was Gunthermann whose output included a
lithographed-tin model of an eight-man racing scull with a
uniformed crew and blue-jacketed coxswain.
Measuring an impressive 2ft 5in (74cm) long,
it is an exceptionally detailed toy with a clockwork mechanism
providing a synchronised rowing action.
Johann Issmayer of Nuremberg also made a
version of this toy, designed to run on the floor rather than on
water, available with either a light blue crew for Cambridge or a
dark blue crew for Oxford. Here the rowers wear rather more
ambiguous blue and white vests and the hull is finished in a light
brown wood grain.
The model is illustrated across the
collecting literature but has been an elusive sight at auction in
recent years. It streaked past its $10,000-$12,000 estimate to
cross the line at $27,500 (£18,350).
The one non-German boat to feature among the
top lots was a live-steam gunboat by Radiguet. The celebrated
French makers specialised in scientific teaching aids but began
making these steam-powered toy boats, characterised by their black-
and gold-painted hulls with wood and brass fittings, in the
At 3ft 3in (99cm) from its elongated ram bow
to stern, the gunboat was larger than the example owned by Malcolm
Forbes but shared its form and details: brass cannon, a two-tiered
crow's nest, full rope railing and an elaborate centre deck boiler
with two funnel stacks. Its hull was repainted but it still doubled
hopes at $32,000 (£21,350). Forbes' 2ft 6in (76cm) model had sold
A further 300 lots are anticipated for the
second Claus sale with a pre-sale estimate of approximately
The buyer's premium at Bertoia Auctions was
£1 = $1.50