COLOGNE, Germany — Vintage Technology auctions have been an institution in Cologne for nearly 25 years, ever since founders Uwe and Astrid Breker saw the need among collectors for an auction house specializing in all types of collectable toys, photographica, mechanical music, scientific instruments and office antiques, and formed Auction Team Breker. Probably nowhere else in the world could you find a catalog with an Altair 8800 (for non-afficianados, the first commercial personal computer) alongside a German ‘Enigma’ ciphering machine. The customers are equally international. Buyers and sellers May 29 came from Britain, America, Asia, continental Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
The day’s top lot was a 1909 Märklin “Hexenhäuschen.” Modelled as the witch’s gingerbread cottage in Grimm’s folk tale Hänsel & Gretel, this house concealed a secret — not an oven or a cauldron, but a turntable and a magic mirror for creating kaleidoscopic effects from a series of original colored paper scraps, transparent celluloid chips and snippets of lace still contained in a drawer in the base. Believed to be the only example, this fragile toy, which has survived a century in near-mint condition, sold for Euros 44,270 ($54,450 U.S.) to a European collector.
Consigned by a different collector was a series of tin toys celebrating landmark journeys of speed and endurance. A Heinrich Fischer monoplane of 1910 inspired by Louis Bleriot’s cross-channel flight (lot 531) brought Euros 2,830 ($3,480. U.S.). An Aeronautical Carousel by Nüremberg firm Müller and Kadeder, featuring an airship and a hot-air balloon that automatically turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction after each revolution, (lot 532) was propelled to Euros 6,395 ($7,865 U.S.) by enthusiastic bidding between two telephone bidders.
The collection of the late Georg Köhl accounted for more than 200 lots in the toy sale. For many years the auctioneer’s resident steam expert, Köhl was an original steam enthusiast who began his working life repairing full-size harvesting steam engines at the age of 19. His remarkable collection was noteworthy as much for its quality as the variety of steam and beam engines, marine engines, tractors and traction engines in miniature form by nearly all the major toy makers of the period. Excellent prices were achieved by the most beautifully built precision models in the collection – a 1919 Märklin model of a marine engine (lot 713) for Euros 5,900 ($7,260 U.S.), a 1 1/2-inch scale model of the Allchin traction engine Royal Chester (lot 596) for Euros 6,395 ($7,865 U.S.), and a demonstration model of August Borsig’s locomotive Borussia (lot 767) for Euros 7,750 ($9,530 U.S.) – but it was some of the less spectacular pieces that provided the biggest surprises.
A 1902 steam ship by French manufacturer Radiguet et Massiot (lot 623) more than doubled its Euros 2,000 to 3,000 presale estimate, selling for Euros 6,150 ($7,565 U.S.).
Spare parts found ready buyers amongst the audience and on the telephone and Internet. An assortment of 60 steam funnels (lot 659) attracted a final bid of Euros 1,967 ($2,415 U.S.) against a Euros 300 to 500 presale estimate, while another restorer’s lot (654), a collection of metal insignia plaques for steam toys, fetched Euros 676 ($830 U.S.).
But top seller of the steam engines was lot 728, a rare Stationary Traction Engine by Märklin (No. 22434/5) of 1906 which skyrocketed to Euro 17,215 ($21,175 U.S.)!
In addition to the many miniature vehicles, Breker’s auction contained one full-sized one: a late 19th century royal horse-drawn hearse (lot 292), whose last official outing was for the burial of a bishop in Silesia in 1980. Extensively embellished with carvings and cut-glass decoration, this funeral coach for honorable bereavements rolled away to a commission bidder in South East Asia at Euros 11,070 ($13,620 U.S.).
The auction opened with a single-owner collection of early adding machines and calculators, a field that attracts new and experienced collectors alike, since many of the classic late 19th century instruments can still be obtained on a modest budget. An attractive cylindrical slide rule, patented by Edwin Thacher in 1881 and produced by New York instrument maker Keuffel & Esser, with original case and printed manual (lot 3), fetched Euros 614 ($750 U.S.). An example of a later cylindrical calculator, a 1948 Curta Type II, designed by Viennese engineer Curt Herzstark, (lot 10) fetched Euros 737 ($900 U.S.).
Two forms of the Arithmometer, the world’s first serially produced calculator, drew particular attention. An “Arithmomètre” by L. Payen of Paris, successor to the instrument’s inventor Thomas de Colmar (lot 72), with lacquered-brass display and polished oak case sold for Euros 4,920 ($6,050), while a rare Russian version by Swedish pioneer Willgodt T. Odhner (lot 79) sold for Euros 6,150 ($7,565 U.S.).
Also notable amongst the calculators was a device combining the attributes of an instrument and a toy, the circa 1913 “Calculating Boy” by German firm Tipp & Co (lot 76). The toy depicts a school boy pointing a baton at a blackboard on which are written the answers to four sums. Originally supplied with a selection of different plates, each with a different mathematical problem, that slot onto the board, the student will point to the right answer every time. The toy sold for Euros 1,970 ($2,425 U.S.).
Designed with more serious purposes in mind, a 1939 four-rotor “Enigma K-model” ciphering machine for the Swiss army (lot 86), with scarce additional lamp panel and original oak attaché case, sold for Euros 16,000 ($19,700 U.S.) to an overseas bidder.
A cylindrical musical box by the French maker L’Epée, whose plain rosewood case concealed a superbly-arranged movement that played the overtures to Norma, Leonora, La Somnambula and Rienzi, sold to a European collector for $7,550. Samuel Troll’s table model with six cylinders (a total of 42 titles) sold for $9,080, and disc musical boxes like the Regina Style 33 “Autochanger,” with a 12-disc magazine that changes itself after each revolution, sold for $26,470. An 1894 “Libellion,” a German-made machine that plays from neither cylinders nor discs, but paper books, allowing even extended pieces of music to be reproduced in full, sold for $9,225.
The next sale of this kind will take place Nov. 20. More information is available at www.breker.com or by calling Lee Richmond at 703-796-5544. ?
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