Store Displays

The Saga of the Marx Store Display Auction

Updated 31 Jan, 2008

This story starts in the sleepy medium town of Gaithersburg, MD where I used to live. On Saturday, February 28, 2005 the mail man delivered the current issue of Antique Week. As I normally do, I went through the paper looking for upcoming auctions in my area. I usually will drive about 2 hours to an auction with a lot of toys in it that I'm interested in.

An ad from Randy Clark Auctions for an auction on 4-5 March, caught my eye (before I knew they were all the way over in Ohio). The first line of ad read: "MARX STORE DISPLAYS from Harrison Warren Estate, lg MARX Johnny West display w/ 12 characters/5 horses also, (10) Johnny West store displays w/ 4 character/2 horses in box never opened. "

I couldn't believe my eyes - does it say 10 (TEN) displays? That must be a type O. So off to the computer I go to check out the online ad. Sure 'nuff! 10 Mint in box JWA small displays. My mouth started watering and my heart raced as I jumped over to Map Quest to find out where in the world Dexter City, Ohio was….As it turns out, Dexter City is on the eastern edge of Ohio. A quick click to give me driving directions to Dexter City from Gaithersburg reveals about a 320 mile trip - one way…. Hmmm, Am I willing to drive for 5 hours to get to this auction? Since the 6th is my birthday, my loving wife said, ok…. If you must - but consider that you're birthday present.

Yippee! I can go, I can go... Just like a kid going to Disneyland! But should I go...?

I called the auction house to see if they had received any other interest in the displays. No one else but me had inquired about them. I talked to the auctioneer and his helpers and even gave them a suggestion not to open all the boxes. (they were going to do that). So I pondered it and thought that I could at least get 3 or 4 of them. One for my collection and a couple to sell on ebay to get my travel money back.. The store displays were going to be auctioned first thing on Saturday, March 5th. I decided to go.

I took Friday the 4th off work and made hotel reservations. I waited anxiously until Friday, trying to find any information about how much these items were really worth. No real luck, just some speculation for anywhere from 200-600 apiece. Now, since I had a few days to ponder this, my overactive imagination kicked into overdrive. By Thursday night I was convinced that I could get all ten for about $200 a piece and set up my retirement home with my profits from ebay!

Friday finally came and I jumped in my car at 8:00 am to make the drive. 320 miles and 6 hours later I pull into my hotel to check in before going over to the auction house.

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I drove over to the auction house in Dexter City. Now, for those of you who don't know the area (I didn't) it is very rural. A couple of larger cities (Cambridge, OH and Parkersburg, WV) are within 20-40 miles. But Dexter City is tiny. No stop lights or signs. Really a small bump in the road. In fact the auction was being held in the old school gym that had obviously closed many years ago. As I was driving over, I saw many abandoned houses and rusty car relics in the yards. I mention all this because it fueled my fantasy that no one who came to this auction would have the slightest idea or interest in Marx toys. Also there was a huge Cambridge Glass auction on Saturday in Cambridge, so all the half hearted buyers should be there.

I strode into the auction house and went immediately to the auction staff to introduce myself and thank them for answering all my questions. I also asked if any one else was interested. Still no. So rubbing my hands like a greedy banker I walked over to the displays to check them out…

Here's what I saw:

The large BOTW display was pretty beat up. The back was a little separated and the big cardboard BOTW sign was missing from the top. The figures were dirty / dusty and some of the hard accessories were busted. But it still looked pretty fair. I estimated it's value at about $400-500 based on what I've seen on ebay.

The small JWA displays were a different story! They were Mint. The auctioneer only unpacked one for display and pictures. I carefully examined this displayed one. It had a shipping date label of 9/14/1976 from some distributor in Pittsburgh, PA. It seems that Mr. Harrison Warren bought these from the distributor and kept them stored in his house for 29 years! He passed away last year and his widow was selling the items (still may be more to find so check out Randy's site from time to time).

The display is the Johnny West Adventure Display number 606C. It contains Thunderbolt, Storm Cloud, JWA Jane West, JWA Geronimo with correct accessories and non- quick draw Sam Cobra with non- QD accessories. This is noted because the label under his feet clearly says "Sam Cobra w/ Quick Draw" but this was not the QD figure. But of real interest was Johnny. Labeled as Johnny West w/ Quick Draw this was not the QD figure. But he was molded in the light blue and had white rivets! Woo Hoo - More rare than snow in the Sahara - I thought - Man, I've struck it rich! For more info on this rarity check out Tom Heaton' s 'Module 1: The Johnny West Adventure Series' to his "The Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures" both available now at his site The Vintage Toy Room.

I was psyched! If I only ended up with 3 or 4 of these it would make my collecting year! So I went back to the hotel to wait out the night in true Christmas Eve anticipation!

Saturday morning came and I was up with the roosters. Had breakfast and killed a couple of nervous hours before the auction which started at 10:00 am. I showed up at the auction house at 8:30 and again checked in with the staff. It appeared that the displays were getting more interest. A couple of folks had left absentee bids… Hmmm, I thought, 'That's OK, they probably aren't real serious' I asked if they were bidding on all of them or just a couple… The woman laughed, All of them?! Gosh No! I was relieved, and went and got my bidders number.

Side note: These JWA displays were going to be sold as a 'Choice' auction. Meaning that the high bidder got their choice of which ones or all of them they wanted at the winning bid price. So if I won the bid at $100 I could get all ten for $1000 total.

As I was sitting in the audience trying to read a book, I kept noticing folks looking at the displays. Most just appeared to be 'window' shopping but a couple of men were interested enough to look them over carefully. I was starting to think that my fantasy would not come true - but I beat those defeatist thoughts down and hoped for the best.

Just before the auction was to start I noticed a familiar face in the crowd... Oh No! Francis Turner of the Official Marx Toy Museum was here! ARRRRGH! There goes the neighborhood - Just kidding Francis! I went up to him to talk over his plans for the auction. He was of a like mind to me - we wanted to get one or two for our personal collection and if they went for a really low price then we'd get more for resale. Well, I thought, with ten of them there's still enough for us to share. So I wished him good luck and went back to my seat.

The auction started promptly and we had to sit through a few lots of dishes.. Then the Large BOTW display came up... drum roll please.

The bidding started low $50 but quickly gained momentum - a minute later it was sold for $825. Francis and I bid on it but dropped out well before this! Again, my optimistic side said, 'It's a large piece and it was on display' the JWA's should go under half that. So I'll just get a couple and see what happens.' My bidding card in hand I waited.

Up comes the JWA display choice lot. Bidding started a little higher, $75 and several of us bid up to about $500. Then there were just a couple of folks left and the hammer fell at $1000.00. Wow! I was thinking 'that person sure doesn't know the value of these - but let's hurry up and get yours so we can bid on the remaining 9.

The auctioneer asked them to come up and pick the one they wanted. To my surprise, a woman of about 50-60 years of age slowly made her way up to the shelves. In fact it took her so long that they started to auction other things so there wouldn't be 'dead - air' Auctioneers hate dead air. I was sitting there, nervously tapping my leg - saying to myself, 'come-on, come-on' . The woman finally made it up and was talking to the attendant. They were obviously discussing which one she wanted and then the attendant and winning bidder went away from the display. The attendant walked over to another table and started doing some paperwork... Hey, just a minute, I thought… Do the paperwork later, tell the auctioneer which one she got and get on with the other ones!....

Time seemed to stretch. No move was made to auction off the other ones. Hmmm, this doesn't look good - but surely she couldn't, wouldn't have gotten all ten - That would be $10,000 (ten thousand dollars!). That's more money than Dexter City looks to be worth!

More time went by... I couldn't stand it anymore, so I went up to the attendant and asked how many did she get and when would they start on the others? "Oh no" she said "The winning bidder took all of them". WHAT!!!!! Oh my God... Are you sure!!!???? Sure 'nuff. This sweet older lady bought all ten of them for twice what they are worth (in my estimate).

I was crushed. Francis saw me talking to the attendant and came up to me and asked - She bought all ten, I said - WHAT!!! You're kidding. So we talked a little more with the obvious question stated many ways - What is she going to do with them - They won't sell to any knowledgeable collector for that amount... Will they???

So I packed up my bag, got in my van and faced a bitter 5 hour drive back home. So, I'm home now and decided it would be good therapy to right this saga. It helped - I'm still disappointed and amazed - but that's life - I think I'll go play with my Johnny's now and take my mind off of it - I've got more than I could ever ask for - So on to other things!

Thanks for the read.
Scott Stewart.

Lessons relearned today:
Still don't judge a book by it's cover
Don't drive 5 hours to an auction
Don't count them chickens until they're in your frying pan!


1. On March 6th, the first of these displays went up for auction on eBay. The seller is jmpandjsp from South Park, Pennsylvania. The highest bid was $660 on 13 March, 2005 when the auction ended. This did not meet the unknown reserve...

2. The item was relisted 8 min and 14 seconds later with an minimum opening bid of $1300.00 and a Buy it Now price of $1400.00

Note: This minimum bid is probably pretty close to what these sets ended up costing the buyer as they had to pay a 5% buyers premium and possibly sales tax at the auction house. Also, their cost per item will continue to grow as they have to pay listing fees on ebay of $4.80 each time and a final value fee of $32.67 (if it ever sells for $1300). So I'm betting these sets will never sell on ebay for anywhere near what the buyer paid for them, I just wonder what will happen to them then???!!!

3. 19 March. In the 21 March, 2005 edition of Antique Week there is an article titled "Lone Buyer lassos West sets". It goes on to tell the tale of the auction and the 'surprise' of the auctioneer that this lady bought all ten. The real meat of the article states: 'Since that auction, Clark noted that the widow whose estate these came from has found 15 more of the smaller sets - all new in their boxes.' Woo - Hoo! May be worth another trip! They plan to sell these at their next auction in April - Still nothing new on their website, though.

4. End of the Saga:
At about the end of April 2005, after the widow found the other fifteen, the same auction house put them up for sale. Fearing the same experience, I called in and left an absentee bid on 3 displays. I think my Max bid was $500 for one and then down to $400 on the last two.

On the day of the auction, after the sale time, I contacted the auctioneer and learned that I had won 2 of the sets. I asked if the original buyer bid on any and was told that no, all went to new buyers.

So I arranged / paid for shipping and the buyers premium. A couple of weeks went by and I got the displays. I knew I was going to sell one and open/display the other. So I had to try to choose which one to open (they were both sealed/stapled shut). I eventually picked one based on the condition of the shipping box and opened it up - in hindsight I should have filmed it like Rusty Kerns does when they open up a sealed playset ;-). When I finally pulled it up out of the box I was a little disappointed as it did have some damage. Cracks in horses feet and some mildew spots on the paper background but overall it was in pretty good shape so I was happy - I finally had my first display and it sits proudly in my collection.

I'm not sure who got the others but it was not just one buyer. I've seen them on ebay since then. Most with reasonable starting bids/reserves.

The other one I got I brought to Wheeling that year and sold it to another collector. I later learned that it was in the same condition as mine but that collector has taken the time to 'restore' it to much better condition. So there endth the Saga. I keep my eye out for the orginial 10 on ebay but I don't think she's sold any yet....