TIMONIUM, Md. – On July 1st, Ray Haradin, Steven Weiss and Leon Weiss – known collectively as RSL Auction Company – welcomed their biggest auction crowd ever to Richard Opfer’s gallery in suburban Baltimore. The occasion was a 621-lot sale of fine antique toys, train stations, banks and Americana. Numerous world records were set during the event, which grossed $1.3 million, inclusive of buyer’s premium.
RSL expected a strong turnout for the auction, not only because of its star attractions – the John Jirofsky and Jim Laster collections – but also because the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America and Still Bank Collectors of America were in town for a joint convention. Haradin and the Weiss brothers arrived several days early to assist clubmembers whose homes were to be opened to conventioneers over the weekend.
On Thursday evening, June 28, RSL hosted a lavish reception and auction preview for 230 people. Guests were treated to an open bar and grand seafood buffet catered by Baltimore’s famed Michael’s Restaurant. The menu included – amongst other scrumptious delicacies – shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell, chicken wings, and of course, Maryland crab cakes.
The day after the high-spirited reception, however, the mood was not quite as festive.
“On Friday night, some big storms moved in, and by Saturday morning, the storm damage was evident all over Baltimore. There were downed trees and wires everywhere,” said Haradin. “One of the local bank collectors who was supposed to receive clubmembers at his home had lost his power. It was a big scramble bringing in a generator, organizing bathroom facilities and arranging for box lunches to be refrigerated. Our busses had to try three different routes to get to the house, but the only thing that counted was that we pulled it off.”
Fortunately, Internet service at Opfer’s gallery had been spared. And in spite of the closed roads and ravaged landscape around Baltimore, around 150 people found a way to get to the gallery. When the first lot in the sale – a circa-1890 Santa with tree mechanical bank – reached a record $22,050, Haradin said he knew the day would be a big success.
Many of the high-end lots sold to the room, with prices bolstered by the record number of phone bids. “Many bidders came in the morning, then left and bid later on by phone,” Haradin noted.
Black-themed toys showed particular strength. A circa-1915 German spelter bank depicting a European character known as “Snowflake” was described in the catalog as being the only known specimen. In mint condition, it sailed past its $3,000-$4,500 estimate to settle at $9,493, a world record price for the form.
A circa-1875 Ives, Blakeslee wind-up toy known as “The Nursemaid” portrayed a black nanny character known as “Old Aunt Chloe” caring for a white infant. One of approximately 10 known examples, it sold for an above-estimate price of $11,638. A third highlight from the category was the circa-1895 “Black Dandy” ball-toss toy of papier-mache, cardboard and wood. The German-made toy with a target in its midsection exceeded expectations at $8,575.
“There was a lot of crossover interest from folk art and black Americana collectors. As a result of the strong prices, we secured a major collection of black memorabilia. We look forward to offering it in our December sale,” said Haradin.
RSL also presented an outstanding array of building-shape cast-iron still banks in the July 1 auction. A one-of-a-kind “1905 Bank” replicated an old-fashioned bank building with a domed roof and five spires. It led the group at a record $20,825. Several other still banks achieved prices in the same region, including a superbly detailed Ives, Blakeslee Red Palace bank that rang the register at $19,600 against an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.
An excellent selection of cast-iron mechanical banks crossed the auction block, as well. A circa-1895 “blue dress” variant of J. & E. Stevens’ Speaking Dog bank was a popular entry. It boasted especially nice original paint and warranted every penny of the $14,700 winning bid.
The coveted Marklin brand kept bidders engaged on both sides of the Atlantic. A US-based Internet bidder prevailed on an all-original circa-1905 1-gauge Café train station with provenance from the revered Ward Kimball collection. It sold within estimate for $18,375. Another choice Marklin design, a circa-1895 three-tiered castle with revolving parade ground adaptable to a steam source, went to an overseas bidder for $28,175.
RSL Auction Company is currently accepting quality consignments for its Dec. 1, 2012 sale of black Americana and mechanical banks to be held at Richard Opfer’s gallery in Timonium, Maryland. To contact the company, call Ray Haradin at 412-343-8733, Leon Weiss at 917-991-7352, or Steven Weiss at 212-729-0011. Visit the RSL website at www.rslauctions.com.