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Märklin Schlitz beer wagon, O gauge, hand-painted, catalogue no 2959, from c.1906 - $34,000 (£23,940) at Bertoia.

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As successful as he was in the business world, Paul Cole (1931-2020) always found time for leisure pursuits. He was a licensed pilot, a bridge ‘life master’ and an avid sportsman. But of all his hobbies, none captured his imagination quite like antique toy and train collecting.

With a stellar railway collection spoken of around the world and a massive toy collection rivalled by few, the auction series of the late Paul Cole held at Bertoia (23.5/20% buyer’s premium) on May 21-22 in Vineland, New Jersey, was always likely to produce eye-catching results.

The 866 lots offered over two days comprised American tin and clockwork toys, penny toys, unusual European wind-up toys and much more, but it was some of the rarest trains and accessories by German manufacturer Märklin that produced the most demand.

Michael Bertoia, president of Bertoia Auctions, said: “Paul started collecting Lionel trains in the early 1970s. When he discovered the York (Pennsylvania Model Train) show, it opened a whole new world to him.

“He started attending many of the shows on the train circuit as well as the swap meets that preceded those shows, where collectors networked and socialised.

“In the early 1980s, Paul’s interest in railroad handcars led him to the next phase of his collecting journey: antique toys. He and his wife of 61 years, Carol, wholeheartedly embraced toy collecting and went on to become active members of the ATCA [Antique Toy Collectors of America].”

Bertoia added: “The arc of Paul’s collecting, which started with American trains, headed down a different ‘track’ in the 1990s with his newfound interest in Märklin and other European train marques. Over time, Paul built what is arguably one of the finest European train collections in this country.”

Schlitz happens

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Märklin O gauge Circus Oriental caravan carriage - $32,000 (£22,540) at Bertoia.

The premium-quality Märklin trains in the Cole collection were led by an ‘all-original, excellent-to-pristine’ O gauge Circus Oriental caravan carriage estimated at $20,000-30,000. It sold for $32,000 (£22,540).

However, top price was claimed not by a locomotive but by a simple Schlitz beer wagon (pictured top). The O gauge, hand-painted, catalogue no 2959, toy dated from c.1906. The guide was $8000-12,000 but it made a whopping $34,000 (£23,940).

Tram demand

Trams were sought after throughout the Paul Cole sale at Bertoia. A Märklin No 2361 electric tramway trolley (a clockwork toy) in Gauge 1, hand painted, with English writing, sold for $27,000 (£19,010), estimate $12,000-16,000, while an O gauge, hand painted, un-powered trailer that reads Electrische Strassenbahn impressed at $26,000 (£18,310) against the same guide.

Export intentions

Many of the Märklin items collected by Cole were made for export markets – a key factor in the success of the brand and one that produced some rare models.

A large and impressive Gauge 1 American market electric 4-6-2 Pacific Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive, hand painted, took $26,000 (£18,310) against a guide of $14,000-18,000. A clockwork 4-4-0 American market loco estimated at $8000-12,000 sold for $27,000 (£19,010).

At lower hopes of $3000-5000, a 1031B American red cab loco, Gauge 1, clockwork, hand painted, a ‘desirable long cab version in red made for US market’, realised $17,000 (£11,970).

Among the carriages, three ‘limited vestibule express cars’ O gauge, hand painted, were described as ‘very rare cars and nearly impossible to find in a set’. Bidders agreed, pushing the price well beyond a guide of $4000-6000 to $24,000 (£16,900). Estimated at $8000-12,000 and sold at $17,000 (£11,970) was a ‘blue eagle’ O Gauge carriage with rare ‘light blue T-truck wheels’, dating back to c.1879.

British station

Märklin railway toys for export also included those intended for the British market. A ‘beautiful hand-painted’ Churchbury station c.1906 featured advertising for familiar British brands such as Bovril and Sunlight Soaps and came with ‘tough to find’ original ramps. It sold on top estimate at $20,000 (£14,080). British-market Märklin stations are very rare, with Christie’s South Kensington selling one of these in 1998 for £7500.

Also getting away at the top guide, at $8000 (£5630), was a platform to complement the Churchbury station from the same year, including lavatories and even Great Northern Railway timetables printed inside a waiting shelter for the convenience of the passengers.

Going to war

During the First World War Märklin produced a series of railway toys on a military theme, notably wagons carrying equipment. Several examples were on offer from the Cole collection, including an O gauge army postal wagon, with one original figure and one replacement made c.1915-16. Estimated at $800-1200, it took $7500 (£5280).

A military transport flat car, this time Gauge 1, c.1915 with its original canvas, sold for eight times top estimate in taking $4000 (£2820), while another hand-painted Gauge 1 model from this period, a military staff car transport , made $4500 (£3170) against a guide of £500-700.

Gunthermann biplane

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Gunthermann biplane - $25,000 (£17,610) at Bertoia.

One of the highest prices among the non-railway toys came for a biplane described as ‘a museum-grade aeronautic piece, better condition on such a fragile bi-wing airplane cannot be found’. With original cloth wings and replacement rear propeller blades made of cardboard as the only flaw, this item by Gunthermann sold for $25,000 (£17,610) against hopes of $4000-6000.

Gunthermann began producing mechanical toy cars in Nuremberg in 1898.

Further German toys in demand at the Cole auction originated in the renowned Erzgebrige production area.

In November last year Kent auction house C&T sold a Gottschalk doll’s house for £17,000 (ATG No 2477) and a large, colourfully painted, boxed Preston railway set reportedly made by the same manufacturer took $25,000 (£17,610) in New Jersey against an estimate of $4000-7000.

A Erzgebrige wooden gunboat with armed soldiers, above right, made 10 times its low estimate at $10,000 (£7040) while a similar wooden boat with cannon sold for $9000 (£6340), nine times the top guide. Estimated at $400-600, an Erzgebrige ‘cat seeking bird’ mechanical toy made rather more at $4500 (£3170).

Hubley circus theme 

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A ‘reduced’ Hubley calliope circus wagon - $15,000 (£10,560) at Bertoia.

Of the American manufacturers, early toys by Hubley on a circus theme generated some impressive results above estimates for items in exceptional condition. Hubley, established in Pennsylvania in 1894, first started to make cast-iron toys in 1909.

A ‘reduced’ Hubley calliope circus wagon sold for $15,000 (£10,560), five times the top estimate, and a monkey trapeze wagon that realised $12,000 (£8450), four times top guide, was described as ‘stronger condition cannot be had; absolute brilliant depth of colours in this wagon begs the question if the piece was ever played with’.

£1 = $1.42