Opie, probably Britain’s best-known expert on the subject, joined C&T along with antique dolls and fine toys specialist Leigh Gotch two years ago when Bonhams closed the Oxford collecting department.
A name as well-known to collectors is that of Jenny Burley who, since 1976, has worked alongside major figures in the toys world and was a go-to dealer in her own right before retirement.
“It was amazing to find what she couldn’t bear to part with,” said Opie, who was called in to handle the sale of her collection. “One example was a Britains’ Roundabout, the most perfect example I have had the pleasure to twirl.
“I think she kept it to be one up on her best American client whose example wasn’t nearly so good. The box even had the receipt from Harrods dated July 29, 1936.”
At the 443-lot auction held at Tunbridge Wells on October 10, 95% got away raising £95,000.
Leading the way was the rare Roundabout toy. In excellent condition, it was estimated at £2000-4000 and sold to an American collector at £5800.
The roundabout was driven by a spinning gyroscopic wheel, a throwback to some of Britains’ earliest toys including the 1885 production of Don Quixote charging at a windmill.
In good condition, with some flaking paint to the windmill sails, it also went to the US at £4200.
A third top-seller heading Stateside was an 1885 toy, the Walking Elephant, with a moustachioed rajah atop the caparisoned animal. Three of the wheels hidden beneath the feet were missing but it more than doubled the estimate at £3400.
As might be expected of pieces consigned by specialists and catalogued by experts, most of the lots – which included soldiers, farm scenes and railway pieces – sold around estimate.
“Many were esoteric and interesting but not expensive allowing collectors to bet on what further research may prove to be valuable additions to known portfolios,” said Opie.
The one real surprise of the day was the bidding on a c.1900 set of six British Camel Corps soldiers made by Krause. The German firm was established before Britains and continued to produce high-quality models until going out of business before the Second World War.
The animals and soldiers had condition problems and were estimated at £200-300, but sold to a German collector at £4000.