Talking Toys: Q&A with Dan Morphy

Mar 07,2019 | 15:00 EST By Jessica Helen Weinberg

It takes time for American coins to amount to a considerable sum these days. Pennies, nickels and dimes float around in handbags or find themselves in odd corners of kitchen drawers, and on occasion a full baggie gets dropped down a Coinstar machine with blind faith that it might return a handsome receipt. However, our relationship to pocket change wasn't always this way. In the early 20th century, corner stores welcomed round-faced children willing to drop a few chips on goods such as soda pop, chewing gum and comic books, and how one stored their coins was just as swell. 

Cast iron mechanical banks have been popular collectors items for decades, and the prices they achieve at auction go well beyond the capacity of their coin chambers. Valuable and vibrant examples in their original condition are difficult to come by, and when you're looking for the genuine article, it's best to know from whom and where they came.

Lot 1159, J. & E. Stevens Girl Skipping Rope Cast Iron Mechanical Bank; Estimate $60,000-$90,000

Here to talk toys with us is Dan Morphy, President of Morphy Auctions, a full-service auction house that has achieved world-record prices in categories such as decorative art, fine jewelry and firearms, with its roots deeply embedded in the antique toy and bank community. Since opening its doors in 1997, Morphy’s has represented one distinguished collection after another, including the Stephen and Marilyn Steckbeck bank collection (Oct. 2007), whose $7.7 million total set a new record for the highest-achieving one-day single-owner toy collection ever sold at auction. 

On March 13-14, Morphy Auctions will offer 1,590 lots at their southeastern Pennsylvania gallery, with many of the banks, marbles and robots expected to achieve top prices. So, what is it that keeps the antique and vintage toy market wound-up so well?

BSQ: In Morphy’s recent press release, you mentioned that you’ve been collecting mechanical banks since you were a boy. When appraising a bank, even at the highest standards (like lot 1159, J. & E. Stevens (Cromwell, Conn.) Girl Skipping Rope) does the simple element of childlike ‘fun’ help determine the banks value?

DM: I would actually replace the term of childlike ‘fun’ with ‘action’. There were many banks like the Girl Skipping Rope that just had a fantastic action to them. These clever and intricate designs would definitely play a factor in determining value of a bank.

Lot 2541, Tin Litho Battery Operated Machine Man Robot; Estimate $50,000-$80,000

BSQ: Day 2 includes an exciting Japanese toy, lot 2541, a Tin Litho Battery Operated ‘Machine Man’ Robot, one of the most sought-after robots of all! Since this robot originally came from Masudaya’s famous Gang of Five series, are competitive collectors seeking to complete their gang? Or can this be collected as a stand-alone toy?

DM: Being that this is the rarest of the five, there are people that will chase it due to its extreme rarity. This example is also very unique in that it comes from original owner in near mint condition.

Lot 2007, Outstanding Large Three Stage Ribbon Swirl Marble; Estimate $7,000-$10,000

BSQ: Marble enthusiasts will enjoy a fascinating swirl of 44 top-notch marbles in this upcoming sale. What basic points of value should an amateur marble seeker look for when examining these petite works of art?

DM: Marble value is dependent on size, condition, rarity, make and overall eye appeal. This is a unique grouping as the owner was very particular on condition. It is very difficult to find large hand-mades with original untouched surface and yet in killer condition.

Lot 1160, Kyser & Rex Merry-Go-Round Cast Iron Mechanical Bank; Estimate $50,000-$80,000

BSQ: There’s an exciting ‘Kyser & Rex Merry-Go-Round Cast Iron Mechanical Bank’ up for grabs on Day 1, holding as estimate of 50k-80k. Can you tell us what makes Kyser & Rex such a desirable toy manufacturer?

DM: Kyser & Rex was known for having intricate and colorful designs. The Merry-Go-Round is a classic example of Kyser & Rex at its best!

BSQ: There are so many familiar faces in these catalogs; Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Batman, The Beatles! What character are you most looking forward to watching during the sale?

DM: Some of the Popeye toys we have in this sale are the top examples known and many with original boxes. Many people would say that Popeye toys are soft right now. I believe this will be a good example of where condition is king and therefore demands top dollar.

Lot 2060, Chein Tin Litho Wind Up Popeye Overhead Bag Puncher Toy with Box; Estimate $2,000-$4,000

BSQ: What makes collecting toys so popular?

DM: Most people like to collect things that remind them of their childhood. This would put toys in the front running.

BSQ: Are there any overall new trends on toy collecting?

DM: There is a big craze for unopened computer and video games from the 1980’s to present. These games can now be graded just like a coin or sports card.

BSQ: What other toys besides mechanical banks do you consider ‘timeless’?

DM: Marbles, robots and tin wind-up's!

Lot 1136, J. & E. Stevens Magician Cast Iron Mechanical Bank with Original Box; Estimate $25,000-$50,000

BSQ: Which lot in the upcoming auction are you most excited about?

DM: I am excited about the Magician Mechanical Bank. It is considered to be one of if not the best example known. There will be a lot of action on this example.

BSQ: What was your most memorable auction moment in all of your years of auctioning Toys?

DM: One great moment was when we sold a Hubley Motorcycale for a consignor, here, from Lancaster. The owner worked for Hubley and they gave it to him as a Christmas gift - he offered to sell it to me for $7,500. I told him to put it in auction instead and that he would get much more for it.  The owner, who really needed the money, was beside himself as he sat and watched it sell for $40,000!

BSQ: What advice do you have for people looking to consign Toys - what do you look for?

DM: Ask the auction house you are looking to use to provide past consignors to call and check on their experience with that auction house.

Bidding online in Morphy's 2-day Sale, on March 13-14 will be available on Bidsquare. Click here to browse Toy, Doll & Figural Cast Iron Day 1 and here to browse Toy, Doll & Figural Cast Iron Day 2.

Read more about the upcoming sale in Morphy's full press release.

Dan Morphy

President & Founder of Morphy Auctions

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