COLOGNE, Germany — Office antiques were once again the highlight of a successful sale of vintage technology at Auction Team Breker in Cologne, Germany. Diversity is something of a trademark at Breker’s sales. There is one auction, but many audiences, making the preview a relaxed and sociable event for collectors, with the opportunity to see (and hear) more than six hundred lots of typewriters, telegraphs, telephones, microscopes, musical boxes and mechanical toys. The auction was conducted bilingually in English and German by Marco Kroeger. All prices are listed in U.S. dollars.
The day’s top lot was a historically important 10-rotor Enigma ciphering machine (lot 33), which sold to an American bidder for $51,300. Continuing in the theme of encoded messages, an attractive Edison stock ticker telegraph (lot 39) fetched $5,870, and a rare French ciphering machine, the Ideal Codigraph (lot 30), brought $4,200.
The auction was also memorable for being the final installment of the world famous Remington Typewriter Museum and the LC Smith & Corona Collection. Typewriter enthusiasts worldwide have been following the five consecutive auctions of this important museum deaccession since it was announced in 2007. Many international collectors flew in for the sale from America and the rest of the world to attend the sale, while the telephones and Internet assured a worldwide presence.
Four machines attracted particular interest:
The "Sholes & Glidden" of 1873 is regarded as the first commercially successful typewriter, as well as one of the most attractive, as its black-japanned frame is decorated with trailing ferns and hand-painted flowers. Breker’s auction featured two; the first (lot 120), a full-sized model, sold for $24,555, while the second (lot 188), the only known Baby Sholes produced in a smaller format for the traveler, sold for $45,800, despite being the lesser of the pair in terms of condition and decoration.
Another surprise was the 1910 Noco-Blick (lot 187), a rare but relatively plain typewriter with a "musical note" keyboard, which almost doubled its low estimate, selling for $22,000 to applause from the audience. The 1903 "Polygraph" (lot 186) is a writing machine with musical connections of a different kind. A rare product of the famous Polyphon Musikwerke of Leipzig, a company better known for its musical box arrangements than for the sound of tapping keys, it was bought by an American collector in the room for $18,300.
Though the prices of disc musical boxes may have dipped in recent years, cylinder boxes and pneumatic instruments remain popular, especially in Europe where early instruments are particularly sought after. A petite key-wind Lecoultre box (lot 421), with restrained rosewood case and an unusual single-composer program of four airs by Verdi, brought $2,950. At the other end of the scale when it came to size and volume, a late 19th century Gasparini fairground organ (lot 410) with elaborate polychrome-painted facade featuring five semi-articulated figures fetched $22,900, while a well-preserved long case flute-clock movement from the early 19th century (lot 413) brought $14,700.
In another surprising result, a Black Forest picture clock with cuckoo automaton and dog and cat with moving metal eyes (lot 362), was propelled to $8,000, more than 20 times its presale estimate, by an Internet bidder. An attractive magician automaton by Renou (lot 423) sold for $20,150, while a 22 1/2-inch upright Polyphon disc musical box with saucer bells (lot 437) brought $10,630.
Phonographs also faired well. The evolution of the Lioret système is an interesting example of the confluence of two separate industries. Henri Lioret was a French clockmaker who entered the phonograph market by accident at the age of 45. It was the Parisian doll-maker Jumeau’s request that Lioret produce a speaking mechanism for his bébés that inspired him to take out his preliminary patents for a phonograph in 1893. Lioret’s smallest model, Le Merveilleux, appeared as a talking machine in its own right in 1895, the dolls having proved too expensive and unreliable to sell in large numbers. Since Lioret phonographs rarely come up for sale, it was a double bonus for collectors to find not only a Lioret No. 2 in Cologne, but one that was in near-mint condition (lot 414). Presented in the factory traveling case, still with its card horn and four celluloid cylinders in their cartons, it sold for $20,800.
Classic scientific instruments appeal to a different kind of audience, and Breker’s auction contained the characteristic assortment of viewing devices, navigational tools and laboratory demonstration apparatus to draw-in the buyers. The top-seller in the category was a fine chest-type microscope compendium (lot 276) signed Tiedemann, Stuttgart, which realized $22,000. The extensive accessories included six objectives, a magnifier, Lieberkuhn, cross-table, bone specimen-holders, forceps and numerous early microscopic preparations preserved in their original green paper-covered boxes.
The afternoon session continued with antique and collectable toys, including a comprehensive group of L.G.B. (Lehmann Gross Bahn) locomotives and rolling stock. Two early tin automotive toys are worth mentioning, as much for their presentation as their scarcity. Lot 502 was an early production by the German firm Rock & Graner, a fine hand-painted horse-drawn sled with two well-dressed passengers and attendant postillion, which brought $3,665. The second (lot 504), a whimsical airship carousel by Nuremberg-based Müller & Kaderer, featuring gilt-striped gondolas with rotating propellers suspended from balloons, fetched $10,075.
The auction was rounded off by a line-up of vintage photographica and film equipment, ranging from mid-19th century wooden cameras such as Knight’s No. 3 sliding-box design (lot 715), which sold for $2,750, to iconic 20th century black-and-chrome 35mm production. Highlights included a Leica IIIb camera customized for the German military (lot 639), which sold for $3,020, and a commemorative Hasselblad 503CW Gold Supreme reflex (lot 630), which sold for $3,665. Demonstrating that condition is to cameras what location is to property, two mint models from the Zeiss Ikon Contax range (lots 609 and 610) caught the attention of a pair of phone bidders, who drove the competition from modest presale estimates to $2,565.
The full results of the technology auction can be viewed online at www.Breker.com.
The next auctions take place on March 20 (Photographica & Film) and May 29 (Science &Technology, Mechanical Music and rare Tin Toys, the latter with a spectacular 250-lot collection of high quality live steam models and accessories). The closing dates for consignments are Feb. 15 and March 30, respectively.
Photos courtesy Auction Team Breker.
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