Bertoia’s March 16 auction devoted to historic antique toy collection of Curtis and Linda Smith

 In Auctions

50-year collection includes pre-1900 American tin clockwork toys, many boxed; plus early cast-iron toys, mechanical banks, Marklin and other German toys, with provenance from pioneer toy collectors

VINELAND, N.J. – Antique toy collectors dream of being able to board a time machine to travel back to the 1970s and ’80s when the now-legendary toy shows and auctions took place. There would be quite a waiting list for a journey of that type, but since that won’t be happening anytime soon, there’s an alternative to consider. Some of the finest toys from those landmark events of 50 years ago are held in one breathtaking collection that was loved and displayed for decades by Linda Smith and her late husband Curtis Smith, and will be offered in a single-owner auction on March 16 at Bertoia’s.

“Curt and Linda Smith were prominent in the toy-collecting fraternity for decades,” said Michael Bertoia, president of Bertoia Auctions. “Both were active members of the Antique Toy Collectors of America (ATCA) and served on numerous committees over the years. Curt even served as the club’s president.”

By profession, Curt was a nuclear engineer, while Linda worked in the legal field as a writer of sentencing investigation reports for superior court cases. Like most California-based collectors of the 1970s, which is when the Smiths began their toy odyssey, they felt isolated in their pursuit, Bertoia said.

“They had no idea there was a growing community of enthusiasts eager to connect with other collectors, but thanks to a chance encounter with one of the leading lights of the hobby, they got tapped into a national, and eventually global, network of likeminded people.”

The Smiths’ decades-long collecting adventure would take them to now-historic East Coast and European auctions, shows and markets where they acquired pieces with provenance from such fabled pioneers of the antique toy hobby as Louis Hertz, Bernard Barenholtz, Athel Spilhaus, Covert Hegarty, Leon Perelman, and many more. Those prized acquisitions will change hands in two single-consignor sales at Bertoia’s, the first taking place on March 16.

Top billing in this month’s auction goes to a large and impressive Carpenter (American) cast-iron Tally Ho horse-drawn coach. All original, including its removable, often-missing figures, the dashing 26-inch-long vehicle is described by Michael Bertoia as being “the finest of all known examples.” Its pre-sale estimate is $50,000-$75,000.

Curtis Smith made no secret of the fact that he especially loved firefighting pieces because of their wonderful detailing. The Smiths’ collection includes a large-scale German horse-drawn fire pumper of hand-painted tin with painted wood horses and composition fireman figure at the reins. Remarkably, it retains its original rubber fire hose and hand lever for pumping water. In excellent condition, the 14-inch-long toy is estimated at $15,000-$25,000.

Linda Smith has always favored the hand-lever velocipedes in their collection, in particular a circa-1880 Uncle Sam clockwork perambulator that is believed to be one of only two surviving examples. The Uncle Sam figure is dressed in its original cloth jacket “American Flag” striped pants. This famous toy is pictured in two esteemed reference books: American Clockwork Toys by Blair Whitton and American Tin Toys by Bernard Barenholtz. It was owned by both authors, consecutively, before joining the Smith collection and now comes to auction with a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.

A grand Althof Bergmann Circus Roundabout, measuring 17 inches in diameter, is unquestionably one of the finest early American clockwork toys ever to reach the marketplace. It has a storied background, having been discovered in a Pennsylvania attic by a picker. According to Linda Smith, the picker had been given permission to “clear out the attic and keep anything he wanted.” He was not a toy expert, so he listed it on eBay, where it was purchased by Steven Weiss of Gemini Antiques Ltd, then resold to the Smiths on the basis of photos the picker had taken. In pristine condition and in fine working order, it is the only known example of its type. It will enter its next chapter in American toy history when it is offered at Bertoia’s with a pre-auction estimate of $30,000-$50,000.

Another Althof Bergmann toy with charm to spare is the couple’s Sheep Herder platform toy whose figures include the herder with staff, four sheep, a dog and a goat. Made of hand-painted tin and measuring 14 inches long, it is expected to sell in the $8,000-$12,000 range.

Politically significant, a circa-1890s George Brown (American) clockwork hoop toy depicts a William Goodwin-made girl with a hand-painted head pushing a wheeled vehicle with a suffragette balance-figure at its center. The 11.5-inch toy is pictures in Whitton’s American Clockwork Toys and carries a $10,000-$15,000 estimate.

Michael Bertoia observed: “The Curtis and Linda collection is a classic, and the March auction – part one of a two-part series – is an event the world will want to watch. The high condition that distinguishes the entire collection is unrivaled. Many of the best of all known examples, whether tin or cast iron, are included in the Smith collection. Some of the primitive American tin pieces, which are so desired by collectors, have thick, bright, original paint. These are the types of toys you just never see. They were acquired by collectors 40 to 50 years ago, and unless a collection is auctioned as a whole, there aren’t many opportunities to buy toys of this caliber.”

Bertoia’s Signature Auction exclusively featuring the Curtis and Linda Smith antique toy collection will be held on March 16, 2024 at Bertoia’s gallery located at 2141 DeMarco Drive, Vineland, NJ 08360. Live attendance is by reservation only. Preview the week before the auction by appointment only. Remote-bidding options include absentee, by phone, or live online through Bertoia Live or LiveAuctioneers. For additional information on any item, to leave an absentee bid, to make a private-preview appointment, or to reserve a gallery seat or telephone line for bidding, please call 856-692-1881, email Visit Bertoia Auctions online at

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