NEW YORK – As 1988 drew to a close, and with the electrifying Perelman Museum and Hegarty sales now in their rear-view mirrors, collectors took a break to reflect on how the year’s back-to-back headliner events had charted a new course for the antique toy hobby. With their values now exposed, fine toys had gained a new respect within the world of art and antiques, and it had become abundantly clear that the collectors were out there. But what would come next?
With the Perelman Museum and Hegarty sales now behind them, it didn’t seem fathomable to collectors that there could be yet another event of comparable scope waiting on the horizon to put a cherry on top of the cake…but there was: the Barenholtz Sale.
Held in New York City on Sunday, Dec. 17, 1989, the event was billed in magazine ads as “Another Unique Buying Experience Presented by Alex Acevedo & Bill Bertoia.”
Structured as a tag sale, it featured the 1,000-piece collection of pioneer toy aficionado Bernard “Barney” Barenholtz, who had passed away four months earlier, on Aug. 5.
Barenholtz was a pioneer collector, revered not only for his prescient wisdom in collecting rare toys of exquisite form but also for the generosity with which he shared his knowledge with new collectors.
“Barney Barenholtz was instrumental in the formation of the Antique Toy Collectors of America. He was a charter member,” said Bertoia Auctions’ president Jeanne Bertoia. “I did not know him myself, but of course Bill [Jeanne’s husband, the late Bill Bertoia] did. In the beginning, the ATCA was just a small group, and they would meet at the Barenholtz home in Princeton, New Jersey.”
Bill Bertoia and New York art gallery owner Alex Acevedo had successfully collaborated – together with the late Donal Markey – in producing the 1988 Perelman Museum and Hegarty sales. When the opportunity to broker the Barenholtz collection presented itself to Bertoia, it was a foregone conclusion that he would do the deal in partnership with Acevedo, who had been the “money man” in their previous collaborations.
“Bill and Alex had already been involved in many private deals together, even before the Perelman sale,” said Jeanne. “They would buy and resell small collections of toys. We had even held a few small tag sales – maybe as early as 1987 – in the basement of our home. We’d invite a handful of dealers whom we knew would be interested in those particular toys. I remember one of the collections we sold was Buddy Hendler’s cast-iron toys. Those basement sales were a testing ground for
the big sales that followed.”
In terms of the way it was organized and promoted, the Barenholtz sale bore some similarities to its predecessors. Magazine ads informed: “The recent acquisition of the renowned Barenholtz Toy Collection conjured up memories of the fun and excitement we, and all who participated, had at the Perelman Museum Tag Sale. Guess what, we’ve decided to do it again!” That was enough to get the adrenaline coursing through collectors’ veins.
The venue for the sale was the upscale Mark Hotel located on Madison Avenue at 77th Street, directly across the street from Acevedo’s gallery. The toys were displayed in showcases in one of the hotel’s ballrooms, and on the Saturday before the tag sale, previewers were allowed to peruse the goods from 3 till 7 p.m. and again before the tag sale on Sunday morning, from 8 till noon. Amazingly, the preview was open to the public.
There were two tag sale sessions, both of which were held in a room adjacent to the preview room. The first offering, which began at noon, included toys valued at $50-$7,500 apiece. At 3 p.m., collectors made their run at the more-expensive toys, each valued at $7,500 to $125,000.
Photos of the toys were arranged across a contiguous series of pegboards, and each photo was identified by a unique number that corresponded to one of the toys from the collection.
“Everyone was given tickets to stick onto the photos of toys they wanted,” recalled Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia, who served as a spotter at the sale. “Everyone lined up across a long horizontal line, like runners before a race. Alex fired a toy gun, and everybody bolted forward to stake their claims.”