Wake County

Collectible toys pique interest in New Hill estate sale

People browse Sunday in the kitchen of Blair Martin's house in New Hill during an estate sale.
People browse Sunday in the kitchen of Blair Martin's house in New Hill during an estate sale. hgargan@newsobserver.com

It was harder to find a parking spot Sunday morning in the small field next to Blair Martin’s house than in some nearby church parking lots.

Martin, a South Carolina native and longtime Cary resident, died at 77 last September, and his enormous estate was on sale this past weekend. The timber-frame home he built in New Hill was full to bursting with his many collections, including books, baseball cards, Christmas tree ornaments and fine china.

But the collection that generated the keenest public interest was a basement full of 10,000 collectible toys, many of them Star Wars-themed, and worth a total of about $60,000. The most expensive item sold was a $1,300 Lego replica of the Death Star.

Wendy Bennett, Martin’s daughter, said that her father had never been shy about his collection but that she had been unaware of its magnitude until she began organizing the sale.

“The Star Wars collection started when my brother was a child,” Bennett said. “He would buy my brother a toy, and he’d say, ‘Oh, it’s on clearance for a dollar, I’ll pick up three more and stick them in a box.’ ”

Martin was a scientist who studied air quality for the Environmental Protection Agency and held several patents. He regularly inventoried his collection and kept it in labeled boxes, which he kept elevated on shelves – to protect against floods – and next to a dehumidifier – to protect against mildew.

“The term we coined earlier this week was ‘maximalist,’ ” said Morgan Breakey, who, along with her sister, Mariah Cope, managed the sale through their franchise of Blue Moon Estate Sales. “It’s a very, very clean house, in terms of the amount of stuff here. We weren’t sneezing all week. He loved everything, and he took care of everything.”

Breakey said she was expecting the sale to gross more than $100,000 by the time the auction ends Monday.

Doors opened at 9 a.m. Friday, but by the end of the day Saturday, all the toys had been sold. A good chunk of them went Saturday night to the proprietor of a Pittsburgh chain of toy stores who had driven down the previous evening to buy up whatever was left – much to the chagrin of more casual buyers. It took a pickup truck, a trailer and a 15-foot moving truck to haul away his purchases.

The first toy, though, was bought by a man who arrived at the house at 10 a.m. Thursday and spent the night. Breakey and Cope fed him and made sure he had access to a porta-potty while he waited.

Such enthusiasm for her father’s collection evokes complicated feelings for Bennett.

“It’s kind of hard to see,” said Bennett, who grew up in and still lives in Cary. “Walking up the driveway, I passed people carrying things that belonged to my grandparents and things that were my mom and dad’s.”

Martin collected toys partly as an investment, Bennett said, but also so he could have things to give to people, whose preferences he remembered in meticulous detail.

Even the expansive house, which sits about half a mile down a dirt road, was built to accommodate Martin’s wife, Patricia Martin, who lived with multiple sclerosis but died of cancer in 2000, shortly after Martin began building the house. For a man who took pleasure in the things and walls he surrounded himself with, an estate sale can be a powerful legacy, even for complete strangers.

“It’ll be hard to see everything gone, but I’m assuming all these things are going to people who will enjoy them and want them,” Bennett said. “There’s value in that.”

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan