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Model Trains Among $10 Million in Sotheby’s 27,000 Antique Toys

Antique Toy Trains
The Jerni Collection of antique toy trains and stations is part of more than 27,000 toys made between 1850 and 1940. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A pristine toy train station made in 1905 shines in an exhibition of 3,500 antique locomotives and railroad buildings at Sotheby’s in New York.

The group is part of the Jerni Collection, which includes more than 27,000 toys made between 1850 and 1940.

The auction house is offering the entire collection as a single lot in a private sale estimated to bring more than $10 million. Other experts put the value much higher.

“I think $40 million to $50 million is a very comfortable number for that collection,” said Noel Barrett, an appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” and president of Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions.

Thomas the Tank Engine has got nothing on these gleaming locomotives of mostly European lineage.

Displayed on the fourth floor at Sotheby’s through February are also hand-painted station houses, bridges, barges, carousels, Ferris wheels and hundreds of figurines in 19th-century garb and Prussian army uniforms.

“I think they are beautiful,” said Jerry Greene, 67, a Pennsylvania-based music executive who owns the collection. “They survived both world wars. For me it’s part of history.”

Half of the collection was made by Maerklin, one of the top toy manufacturers at the turn of the 20th century. The German company made about 150 colorful tin train stations that are delightful to look at.

Some are outfitted with working fountains and clocks; many are replicas of the actual buildings in Europe.

A highlight is an elevated train platform from 1895 with two curved staircases parting like a curtain at the center.

“He has every Maerklin station,” Barrett said “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

Little Women

Animating the machinery and architecture are little women in floor-sweeping dresses waiting for trains, an accordion player here, a stray dog there. Red-wheeled carts are stocked with fish, fruit and bottles of lemonade. Trains haul horses, coal, hay and arms.

Greene, whose father was a toy-train dealer, began collecting at the age of 18 by putting a sign in the window of his record store in Philadelphia. He went on to acquire more than 1,600 sets of trains, 10,000 figures and 700 stations, buying at fairs, auctions and flea markets, but never traveling more than 100 miles from his home.

Not Crazy

Very few people have seen the collection.

“My friends come over. They look at the trains and they look at me like I am crazy,” said Greene. “To me they are works of art.”

So why sell now?

“I collected everything I could collect,” said Greene. “The fun is in the search. I want to sell it, so that I have a clean basement. After this, I will collect something else.”

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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