Stephenson's is wooing holiday shoppers Friday with a sale at its Southampton gallery of toys - at highly affordable prices - featuring that most appealing of decorations for the Christmas tree, toy trains to run under it.
And for those who dream of Yuletide surprise packages, word was disclosed this week of one surprise that outfoxed the auctioneer himself.
Of the nearly 300 lots to be offered at the Stephenson sale, beginning at 2 p.m. at the gallery at 1005 Industrial Blvd., at least 100 involve model trains. Nearly all came from three multigenerational estates in the Philadelphia area, according to Stephenson's. And they offer the opportunity to review the changes during the last 80 years in the popular hobby of model railroading.
Most are Lionel, although there are a few others, including American Flyer and Bachmann. Almost all are expected to bring modest three-figure prices, according to presale estimates in the online auction catalog at www.LiveAuctioneers.com, where bidding is also possible.
The exceptions are two pre-World War II Standard Gauge lots: a segment of a No. 444 roundhouse and a 400E steam locomotive. The roundhouse segment, made in Italy (and probably one segment of three), and the steam engine, with two drive wheels, a two-axle pilot truck and a two-axle trailer truck and a tender with two three-axle trucks, are each expected to sell for $600 to $1,200.
Prewar and postwar World War II is the big dividing line in vintage model trains. Trains made before then generally draw the top prices at auction, whether they are old Standard Gauge models, built to a scale of one-half inch to the foot, or the early one-quarter inch to the foot O-Gauge models. (A large O-Gauge layout is on display during the holidays at the Brandywine River Museum.)
After the war, Lionel introduced a cheaper, slightly smaller "027" line, possibly to attract buyers with less space at their disposal. It featured tracks that ran on a circle 27 inches in diameter.
Stephenson's sale offers a number of lots from this era, which also was marked by an emphasis on novelty items, such as motorized accessories and brightly painted rolling stock advertising brand names. A No. 282 Lionel Portal gantry crane in its original box with controls and inserts, for instance, is expected to bring $100 to $200.
Lionel's 027 venture was followed by another development in the model train industry, the domination of HO models. Theoretically, HO was half the size of O but it was a European scale and was actually 3.5 millimeters to the foot, not quite one-eighth of an inch.
For at least a generation, HO dominated U.S. model railroading. One of the biggest HO train makers was in Gloucester County, operating under the name Mantua and owned by a family named Tyler, which evolved into the ill-fated conglomerate Tyco. Stephenson's has only a small number of HO items, but they include a grouping of HO trains and Tyco freight cars ($40 to $80).
The notion of still smaller scale trains led to N Gauge, which was almost half the size of HO. (HO works out to a scale of about 1:87; N is 1:148 to 1:160, depending on the manufacturer.) There are still smaller scales, Z scale at 1:220 and T scale at 1:450 or 1:480, but they pose problems of misalignments and derailments.
If anything, the trend nowadays is for the larger so-called G Gauge or garden scale train (approximately 1:22.5) sets that began around 1968 with the German LGB and now are made by other manufacturers, including the Philadelphia-based Bachmann.
Stephenson's sale offers two Bachmann G Gauge train sets, each with presale estimates of $60 to $120; a Baltimore and Ohio Royal Blue passenger set of locomotive and tender, baggage car, and observation car; and a Denver and Rio Grande Line freight train, including locomotive and tender, boxcar and caboose, plus four pieces of straight track. (Garden scale trains are on display for the holidays at the Morris Arboretum).
The auction opens with 60 lots of dolls, almost all of which should bring low three-figure prices, the top presale estimate being $200 to $400 for a Schoenhut wooden socket head child character. The sale also offers cast iron vehicles, British toy soldiers, action figures, slot cars, Steiff figures, and some banks.
Preview is noon to sale time. For further information call 215-322-6182 or go to www.stephensonsauction.com.
Lalique fox sets record The outfoxed auctioneer was Ted Wiederseim, whose Thanksgiving Weekend auction at the Ludwig's Corner firehouses included items from the late John E. Du Pont's Newtown Square estate, Foxcatcher Farm.
Publishing auction results can be a tricky business because auctioneers are tempted to promote themselves by trumpeting higher than expected prices and omitting results on items that did not sell.
Wiederseim had mentioned last week in casual conversation that a Lalique glass hood ornament from the Du Pont estate had done unusually well. But the full story came out in the current issue of Antiques and Auction News: The ornament, a frosted glass statue of a fox, had sold for more than 1,000 times its presale estimate.
Because the piece was not signed and was among hundreds of decorative foxes from the estate, it was grouped with four other foxes and cataloged as a single lot expected to bring $100 to $150, according to Wiederseim's wife, Jill, who supplied the information for the news article. She explained this week that she was familiar with such ornaments, sometimes called car mascots, but was cautious about identifying it as a genuine Lalique.
About 10 days before the sale, the Wiederseims were contacted by www.RLalique.com, which monitors Lalique sales all over the world: It was indeed the rarest of Lalique hood ornaments, she was told, and produced only briefly in the late 1920s. The catalog description was altered, she said, but the modest presale estimate was not.
At sale time Wiederseim had two bidders in the room, a few online - and seven phone bidders from the United Kingdom and the United States. The fox finally sold to one of the English phone bidders, for $204,750, a world record.