Iron & Steam: Assembling the March Toy Auction

Mar 09,2017 | 14:12 EST By Noel Barrett

Prior to this sale, I couldn't remember being entrusted with an important collection whose owner I did not know personally. In this auction, however, there are two. Each unique, as all collections are, Stephen Sachs iron toys and Eberhard Luethkes steam engines are collections that differ in ways well beyond their contents. I didn't have the pleasure of knowing either Stephen or Eberhard while they were alive, but I came to know each of them in handling their treasures. I realized I was vicariously meeting two collectors whose approaches to collecting were as different as the items that intrigued them.

Lot 415, Rare Hubley cast iron Indian Say it with Flowers three-wheel delivery motorcycle; Estimate $18,000 - $25,000

When I saw pictures of Stephens toys, I was astounded by the number of items in his collection. When Pook & Pook Vice President Jamie Shearer and I arrived in St. Louis and saw what was on the second floor of Stephens house, we were bowled over. The pictures did not come close to depicting what we found. Both the quantity and condition of the toys had to be seen to be believed. Everywhere you looked, there were toys - over a thousand of them on shelves, on the floor under tables, on shelves behind doors, and in closed drawers. The clothes in Stephens walk-in dressing room closet vied with toys for space on open shelves. There I found some of his favorites - such Hubley rarities as a Say it with Flowers motorcycle, a Penn Yan speedboat, and an Old Dutch Cleanser pull toy. When I remarked on this, Stephens sister said he loved to look at his toys while he was dressing. This was a man after my own heart! I love people who truly live with their collections. 

Lot 220, Shepard Hardware Co. cast iron Leap Frog mechanical bank with a gray tree; Estimate $1,000 - $1,500

Almost every category and every maker of automotive cast iron toys found welcome refuge in his home, and many had siblings. One or two Arcade "White" moving vans apparently werent enough. I could imagine Stephen saying, "Who are you kidding? Theres never enough!" After searching through room after room, we found eight vans in all. I think that is enough for the average collector, but Stephen was far from average. It seemed like he never saw a cast iron toy he didnt want, no matter how many he already had: over 60 buses, more than 40 motorcycles, at least 40 airplanes, easily 20 taxicabs, as well as all manner of industrial toys: farm, road-building, etc. Added to these was an overwhelming assemblage of Arcade miniature furniture for kitchens, bedrooms, etc. While toys by Hubley and Arcade dominate the Sachs collection, other manufacturers - such as Dent, Kenton, Kilgore, and Vindex - are also very well represented.

Lot 713, Kenton cast iron City Telephone utility truck with a painted driver, a scarce example; Estimate $2,000 - $3,000

Among the surprises we found in Stephens' collection was an impressive assortment of mechanical and still banks - a surprise, since, in my experience, it is a bit uncommon for collectors of automotive toys to have an interest in mechanical banks from earlier days. Stephen was an exception that proves the rule. All in all, we found at least 50 mechanicals and 100 stills. The stills include several examples by Arcade plus others made in the 1920s and 30s. Perhaps those opened his eyes to banks in general, explaining his foray into mechanical bank collecting. One of the few categories of cast iron toys Stephen passed over were horse-drawn toys from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Apparently even he had some limits.

Fortunately for our presentation of American cast iron toys, a third consignment (from a private collector) has helped fill the gap. His offering includes a variety of horse-drawn pieces: fire toys, carriages, and commercial vehicles by such makers as Ives, Kenton, Hubley, and Pratt & Letchworth. Within this selection there are more than a few scarce pieces.

Lot 437, Hubley cast iron Harley Davidson hillclimber motorcycle; Estimate $4,000 - $6,000

It took Jamie and me, along with Stephens most helpful and accommodating sister Susan, two long days to pack up the Sachs collection for our trip back to Pook & Pooks gallery in Downingtown. The full and heavy load of cast iron was almost more than the Mercedes Sprint van could handle, and like the truck driver anthem Six Days on the Road says, we had to "dodge every scale in sight."

Lot 814, Seven desktop advertising signs, to include Max AMS machine Co., Hawthorne Follies; Estimate $300 - $400

Later, back at home in Carversville, I received some enticing pictures via email. Following several phone calls, Renate Luethke had sent me a few pictures of her late husbands steam engines and toys - so here was another exciting collection. Based on a handful of images and the reputation of the Luethke collection as conveyed to me by other steam collectors, I knew that Jamie and I would be in for a treat when we got to Renates Waldoboro, Maine home. Eberhard Luethke had been a very successful commercial illustrator in New York for many years before retiring with Renate to the picturesque coastal reaches of upper New England.

On arrival, we enjoyed a tour of the Luethkes lovely home. First we were introduced to some of Eberhards artwork on view throughout the house - drawings and paintings; and intricate and precise renderings - some being industrial images and one of a train. In the study, there were a few toys, and in the living room, Renate showed us his favorite toy, the one Eberhard considered the star of his collection. It was certainly a star, one of the finest live-steam locomotives I have ever seen. Sporting the nameplate "Magnet," this sparkling brass confection rested on a section of track in a custom glass showcase. I could easily understand it being a favorite - but favorite among what? I felt we had seen the whole house, but where was his collection?

Lot 66, Magnet live steam train locomotive, 2-2-2, with double cylinder engine, fully functional; Estimate $8,000 - $10,000

Retracing our steps, Renate pointed to a door just off the dining room that we had bypassed earlier. It opened into an immaculate artists studio, the Maine winter sun streaming through the windows. It looked like Eberhard had just put his pencils down and gone off to lunch. On the bright white walls, Eberhards steam engines and toys were carefully arranged on white cubbyhole shelving so he could enjoy them as he worked at his drawing table.

The same precision evidenced in Eberhards art was seen in both the choices and quality of his collection, and in the manner of display. This well selected group included engines by various makers: Bing, Carette, Radiguet, Falk, and Plank. But far outnumbering those were the numerous engines and steam plants made by Marklin, more than 35 in all. A gem in that collection was the elusive 1908 # 4124/14 engine generally referred to as the "hammer engine." Along with the steam there were many hot air engines by Plank and Krauss & Mohr. Rounding out the collection was an impressive group of steam-powered toys including fire pumpers, traction engines, and trains.

Lot 17, Marklin hammer steam plant with a vertical boiler; Estimate $8,000 - $10,000

Eberhard was also intrigued by, and acquired, a number of what appeared to be one-off steam engine models. Some were very sturdy and robust; others were crafted with an amazing delicacy and level of detail that is astounding.

I could only imagine how much we might have learned, had we been able to enjoy this collection with Eberhard himself explaining the intricacies of his wonderful machines, both the manufactured masterpieces by the German toy makers and the craftsman-made engines and models.

This auction pays tribute to three collectors - two whom I wish I had known but now feel that I have gotten to know through their collections. With this sale and catalog, I think buyers will come to know both Stephen and Eberhard, too. In total, three great and disparate collections will cross the auction block.

Click here to view the full Day 1 catalog: Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett Antiques and Auctions LTD Iron & Steam Toys: Day 1 on March 31

Click here to view the full Day 2 catalog: Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett Antiques and Auctions LTD Iron & Steam Toys: Day 2 on April 1.