Memorial Day weekend will again offer a variety of country sales, with at least one getting in the holiday spirit of nostalgia: The liquidation of a collection of A.C. Gilbert Erector sets. It is one of two sales during the next two weeks that will revive almost-forgotten mechanical diversions.
The Erector sets and related toy-construction kits will be offered by Ron Gilligan Auctioneering beginning at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at 4209 Scotch Valley Rd. in Hollidaysburg, near Altoona. They were collected by Hollidaysburg resident Alton Sternagle, a Gilbert specialist who cowrote Greenberg's Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets 1913-1932.
The A.C. Gilbert Co. was founded in 1909 as a provider of magicians' supplies by Alfred Carlton Gilbert, who, in 1911, began Erector, a construction-toy set similar to the European Meccano. Sternagle's collection also includes Meccano and related construction sets, such as Maerklin, that also will be auctioned.
Gilbert added several sophisticated elements to its Erector sets, notably fluted miniature steel girders that increased the stability of the structures they could be used to build. The sets themselves varied in complexity, designated oddly enough with a number ending in ½. The largest was the 12½, which included an electric motor along with its array of half-inch-wide girders of varying lengths, nuts and bolts, wheels, gears, and instructions on how to make Ferris wheels and parachute jumps.
Gilbert continued to make Erector sets - and, later, chemistry sets and American Flyer model trains - until the mid-1960s, when it went out of business.
Online, a few Erector sets are offered. The popular 8½ model (with enough parts for a Ferris wheel) has been recently offered on eBay with a starting bid of $175, and a 6½, capable of building an electric crane, had a bid of $9.99. According to auctioneers Ron J. and R.S. Gilligan, some of the better sets to be offered could sell in the $400 to $500 range, while lesser sets should bring around $50.
Preview is from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Sunday. For further information, call 814-237-0189.
Music boxes, phonographs. Another sale of nostalgic mechanical diversions will take place June 7 in Chadds Ford, where William H. Bunch Auctions and Appraisals will include nearly 100 music boxes, early Victrolas, cylinder phonographs, and accessories as part of its multi-estate catalog auction beginning at noon. The auction catalog with presale price estimates is accessible online at www.williambunchauctions.com.
The music boxes in Bunch's sale are from a single West Grove collector who, according to Bunch, tried to acquire some that Bunch was selling earlier this year, found out how costly they were, and decided to sell the ones he already had. Among them are a German-made enameled sterling silver musical bird box with a pop-up feathered bird that sings ($2,500 to $3,500), and a Swiss cylinder "Mandarin" music box that plays six tunes on bells and drum with a Chinese figure operating the bell hammers ($3,000 to $3,500).
The early phonographs generally should bring three-figure prices. An Edison Model A cylinder phonograph has a presale estimate of $500 to $800; a Victor Model 50 portable mahogany phonograph should bring $100 to $150.
A diminutive German-made "Nifty Nirona" child's phonograph with decal decoration should bring $250 to $450. And an upright disc phonograph with cabinet made by the furniture manufacturer Heywood Wakefield out of wicker (perhaps for summer use on a porch) has a presale estimate of $500 to $800.
Higher prices are expected for a large Victor IV disc record player with a mahogany case ($2,500 to $3,500), a rare Bluebird roll-top desk phonograph ($1,200 to $2,000), and a limited-edition Paul Baker handblown glass horn shaded cobalt blue ($800 to $1,200).
The horn was often the most decorative part of those early sound systems. There are several others in the sale, including a 32-inch flower-decorated Edison model ($300 to $400), a nickel horn for Columbia gramophones ($200 to $300), and a 30-inch green "searchlight horn" ($150 to $200).
Other top items in the 450-lot auction include an inlaid mahogany Hepplewhite-style sideboard ($4,000 to $8,000), a carved marble bust of George Washington labeled "Bloomingdale's Paris," a reference to a Bloomingdale buying office established there in 1886 ($2,000 to $3,000), and a three-part carved marble fountain topped with a bathing nude figure about 84 inches high and 52 wide ($8,000 to $15,000).
Previews are from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday and next Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 6, and 9 a.m. to sale time June 7 at the gallery at One Hillmand Drive. For further information, call 610-558-1800.