Toy vehicles still a hit among collectors

  • By Terry Kovel
February 2, 2013
Double-decker buses are still used, but this tin toy bus was made in the 1930s and looks old-fashioned. The 9 1/2-inch German toy auctioned for $2,006 at Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J.

Children like to play with toys that are replicas of things used in everyday life. They also like toys that move and make noise, so for centuries toymakers have created transportation toys. There are very old toys shaped like chariots, stagecoaches and canoes.

But by the late 1800s and early 1900s, new developments like trains, cars, buses, motorcycles and bikes, as well as airplanes, balloons, blimps, helicopters and imaginary flying saucers and spaceships, became favorites. Gunthermann was a German company that manufactured toys from 1877 to 1965. It made many of the toy vehicles wanted by today’s collectors. In September 2012, a tin double-decker toy bus made in the 1930s – a copy of a full-size bus of the day – sold at a Bertoia auction in New Jersey. It has an ad for “Ford’s Automobile” on the top, a street name, “High Street,” on the front, and “General,” the name of the bus company, on the sides and front.

The orange and red combination of colors may be a bit imaginative, but the bus has realistic parts, a rear stairwell, upper-deck bench seating and a driver. It moves by a wind-up clockwork mechanism. The 9 1/2-inch toy, part of a well-known collection, sold for $2,006.

Q. I’m considering buying an oak roll-top desk made by Grand Rapids Desk Co. It had been painted black but has been restored to its original oak finish. The hardware is not original, except for the lock that’s marked “1887, Grand Rapids Desk Co.” The desk is 41 inches high, 40 inches wide and 18 inches deep. The asking price is $600. Is that too much?

A. So many furniture companies were based in Grand Rapids, Mich., by the 1920s that the city was called “The Furniture Capital of America.” It also has been called “Furniture City” because it has been a center of furniture-making since the late 1800s. The Grand Rapids Desk Co. was founded in Grand Rapids in 1893. It moved to Muskegon, Mich., in 1898 after a factory fire, and desks made after 1898 list Muskegon as the city of manufacture. The company changed owners a few times before closing in 1931. A retail price of $600 is fair for a roll-top desk in good condition. Some sell for more.

Q. Many years ago, I was given a battery-operated toy monkey holding a cymbal in each hand. When it’s turned on, the monkey claps the cymbals together, and when it’s tapped on the head, it stops clapping and makes a squealing noise.

Then it goes back to clapping the cymbals again. It’s about 10 inches high. How old is it and is it worth anything?

A. Your cymbal-playing monkey was made in Japan from the 1950s into the ‘70s by a company named “C-K.” The toy is called “Musical Jolly Chimp.” It was a popular toy and similar versions were made by other companies. The cymbal-playing monkey even appeared in the movie “Toy Story 3.” The value of your toy is $150 to $300, depending on its condition. The original box adds value.

Q. I just read your column about vintage slot machines. I own a similar countertop machine that’s still in its original box. The silver-colored metal nameplate on the front of the blue machine states it’s an “Atom Ball Gum Vendor.” Embossed on the top are the words, “Win a carton, 10 packs of cigarettes, line up 3 of a kind.”

If you insert a dime, the three small windows on the top show spinning images of cigarette brands. If the three line up with the same brand, a customer won a box of cigarettes. If they didn’t line up, all you got was a gumball. My dad placed machines like this in bars and nightclubs in Iowa. The machines were bolted to countertops, and every so often I would go with him to refill the gumballs and remove the dimes. When the gambling machines were outlawed, he had to get rid of them so he dumped them in the river. But I hid this one in the attic. What is it worth?

A. Your “trade stimulator” was made in 1949 by Groetchen Tool & Manufacturing Co. of Chicago. It’s exactly like the company’s Imp machine, introduced in 1940. But the dawn of the atomic age after World War II meant that a lot of things were renamed “Atom” or “Atomic.” Trade stimulators, which made money for shop owners, were banned in many states even before the federal ban in 1951. But vintage machines can be legally bought and sold in many states now.

Just be sure to check your own state’s laws before you sell. Your Atom machine is valued at about $165. But with the original box, it could sell for much more.

Tip: Andirons get tarnished and covered with resin from smoke, so they should be regularly cleaned with liquid metal polish and 0000- grade steel wool.

Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

• Cracker Jack toy clown, tilter, face changes, $12.

• Toby jug, seated man holding mug, brown salt glaze, England c. 1860, 12 inches, $236.

• Buster Brown card game, circus characters, animals, Yellow Kid, Billy Bear, Topsy, box, c. 1904, 5 3/4 x 7 1/2 inches, $269.

• Cupboard, chimney, pine, poplar, red and yellow paint, stepped cornice, 61 x 25 inches, $482.

• Alabaster bust, Egyptian man, ebonized base, 13 1/4 inches, $492.

• Brass spittoon, figural crab, jewel eyes, 15 x 12 inches, $715.

• Saloon door, oak, leaded glass window, arched top, 54 x 65 inches, $770.

• Grueby vase, green matte glaze, linear leaves, cylindrical, stamped, 15 1/2 inches, $3,186.

• Belleek figurine, draped, seminude maiden standing at well, pitcher at feet, c. 1890, 15 inches, $7,620.

Write to Kovels, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019



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