Lot 289 – This three-quarter scale, scratch-built scale model of B&O Railroad locomotive and tender was made in the late 19th century and was acquired by Kimball from the son of its maker, Samuel Medary Wilson, who worked in the offices of the railroad’s master mechanic, $41,800.
Lot 475 – A delightful Stevens & Brown circa 1872 New York omnibus of painted and stenciled tin with robust clockwork motor, original driver and two horses brought $52,800.
Lot 264 – In superb condition, a Lionel Mickey Mouse circus train with original tent, all accessories and original lithographed box garnered $18,700,
Lot 300 – Marklin 40in Boston live steam battleship made sometime between 1906 and 1918, $71,500.
Lot 483 – Rock & Graner Nachfolger train station with separate downside covered platform, in pristine condition and a favorite of Kimball’s, $71,500.
PHILADELPHIA - It was, perhaps, the greatest gathering of train aficionados ever – Noel Barrett’s Nov. 20, 2004, auction of part one of the legendary Ward Kimball collection.
Held at the Philadelphia Airport Ramada Inn, the 854-lot sale grossed $2.75 million (inclusive of 10 percent buyer’s premium), and was enthusiastically supported by an international crowd. Many viewed the event as a unique opportunity to buy pristine trains and toys gathered during the pioneer days of collecting – examples not likely to resurface for several decades.
As a collector, Kimball occupied the top of Mount Olympus. The Academy Award-winning Disney animator was known throughout the world for his prescient purchases of European toy trains – primarily those of German manufacture, acquired when few others were after them – as well as superior-quality, early American trains and toys. It was the contents of his famous train and toy shed located behind his home in a three-acre orange grove that now, on an autumn day in Pennsylvania, were being offered without reserve to Kimball’s peers, per his wishes.
Kimball had expressed on several occasions prior to his passing in July 2002 that he wanted his toys to “go back to the collectors” – and that they did. With Kimball’s son, daughter-in-law and two of his grandsons looking on, part one of the collection smashed its aggregate high estimate by an astonishing $1 million margin.
“It was a long day of selling, and we had thought maybe it would slow down toward the end, but it never did,” said Noel Barrett. “Almost everything met or exceeded estimate, and it stayed that way to the very end. ”
Prices bordered on the unbelievable, with four different lots hitting the $71,500 mark, the top individual price realized in the sale. First to attain that milestone was a 40in Marklin live steam battleship Boston, made sometime between 1906 and 1907. About an hour later, a Marklin gauge 1 Presidential passenger train set, pulled by what is considered to be the first clockwork locomotive the company manufactured for the U.S. market, equaled the Boston’s price. Later, one of Kimball’s most cherished pieces, a Rock & Graner Nachfolger train station; and a Marklin gauge 2 American Eagle passenger train set (which doubled its $20,000-25,000 estimate), took their turns in the spotlight as top earners.
While the individual cars and the locomotive and tender were sold as four separate lots, the cumulative total achieved by Kimball’s Marklin gauge 1 circus train was the highest dollar amount achieved in the sale in terms of a single train set: $100,100. Breaking it down, the American outline brass, live steam locomotive and tender made $11,000; a quaintly lithographed moving van goods wagon, $12,100; a Hagenbeck’s Menagerie goods wagon, $36,000; and a gypsy caravan-style Circus Oriental goods wagon, $40,700. Kimball would have been amused at the return on his investment, Barrett said. “He bought the train at a flea market for less than $500, or so the story goes.”
The last row of chairs in the hotel ballroom where the sale took place was occupied by a cluster of overseas bidders, intent on snapping up the rare German trains. “That’s where the money was,” Barrett observed. “They came from France, Germany, Belgium, England, Italy – and we also had three bidders on the phone, from Austria, England and Switzerland. There were 47 successful international bidders, 20 of whom were in the hall. The Internet brought in another 75 successful bidders, who represented about $100,000 of the gross. Seventeen of those who bid successfully via the Internet were from outside the United States.”
Of those participating from abroad, German bidders were responsible for more than $200,000 in sales, while Belgians spent $400,000 on trains and toys. In all, international sales totaled $844,000. Barrett’s staff had their work cut out for them during the days immediately following the sale, packing and shipping boxes destined for 13 different countries on three continents.
More than 50 lots finished above $10,000; and 21 lots topped $25,000. Within the latter group were a Marklin gauge 1 Congressional Limited passenger set, $52,250; a Marklin gauge 1 Royal Blue Limited passenger set, $50,600; and an 1895 train station with glass platform canopy, one of the first stations made by the premier German manufacturer Marklin, $49,500.
The most expensive American-made train lot was a Lionel dummy crane car. Made of cast iron with a tin platform equipped with a hand crank and rachet brake, the 14in car was a very early Lionel production. Estimated at $10,000-12,000, it rumbled away at $46,200.
A handmade masterpiece, a three-quarter scale model of a B&O 4-4-0 locomotive and tender from the last quarter of the 19th century sold for $41,800, against a $25,000-30,000 estimate. Kimball had acquired it from the son of its maker, Samuel Medary Wilson, who worked in the offices of the master mechanic for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad during the period that the real-life 700 series locomotives were made.
Another coveted American-made lot was Voltamp’s no. 2115 Interurban trolley. Made of green-painted tin with wooden seats, the 18in trolley estimated at $12,000-15,000 rang its bell at $35,200 as it began its journey to a new owner in Austria, who prevailed against aggressive phone bidding.
But trains weren’t the only playthings that distinguished the Ward Kimball collection, by any means. His impeccable eye drew the artist to the charming early American toys of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A star lot in the sale was a wonderfully primitive, circa 1870s Stevens & Brown tinplate omnibus. Painted yellow, with stenciled red flowers, a patriotic shield and rampant eagle; the horse-drawn, clockwork vehicle is emblazoned Broadway & 5th Avenue on each side and 92 Battery to its rear. Estimated at $25,000-30,000, the rare and exquisite transport toy garnered $52,800.
Kimball’s inextricable association with Disney toys manifested in several delightful lots, led by a complete Lionel Mickey Mouse circus, with red, yellow and blue paper tent, a clockwork circus train engineered by Mickey, and numerous accessories that usually are missing on those rare occasions when such sets are encountered. Against a $6,000-8,000 estimate, the circus extravaganza, complete with original lithographed box, sold for $18,700.
The mood of the sale and its steady, two-day preview – which Barrett described as “a meeting of the train clan from all over the world” – was decidedly upbeat, while at the same time respectful of the collector’s memory. All lots were beautifully arranged in double-sided glass cases, and handled with utmost care by Barrett’s staff members, who wore white museum gloves. “We didn’t want the toys to be overhandled. With some of these old trains and toys, you can lose a decal if you do that.”
Barrett had nothing but praise for his auction staff, ably led by Jack Borelli, and for auctioneer Andy Ourant, who presided over the event with skill and patience. “He called the sale without a break, and he didn’t leave any money on the table. You’d see things hover and slow down at $40,000 or $50,000, but then Andy gave the crowd a chance to catch their breath and realize that this was a once in a lifetime event, and by $1,000 increments, the piece would climb up to another 10 or 20 thousand.”
Postsale statistics indicated there were 289 successful bidders, 200 absentee bidders, another 200 bidders registered in person at the sale, and 567 bidders registered through eBay Live Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com.
More excitement awaits collectors over Memorial Day weekend, when Noel Barrett will offer the second and final installment of the Ward Kimball collection in two sessions: “most likely Friday evening, May 27 and Saturday, May 28.” The sale will take place at a Philadelphia-area venue yet to be chosen. Asked what can be expected as a follow-up, Barrett replied, “It will be almost a mirror image of part one in terms of European material, with some very important stations and trains. We broke up almost all the categories, so in the second sale, you’ll see more of just about everything except Disney and classic American Lionel and American Flyer standard gauge, which were exhausted in the first sale. Exclusively in part two, we’ll be featuring Ward’s Ives collection, which is extraordinary.”
Complete details on part two of the auction of the Ward Kimball collection will be announced in the near future. Contact: (215) 297-5109
For additional information, phone (215) 297-5109, fax (215) 297-0457, email or write to Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions, Ltd., P.O. Box 300, Carversville, PA 18913. Website: www.noelbarrett.com