COLOGNE, Germany – Auction Team Breker will be opening the toy chest again Nov. 19, 2011 with a auction featuring an array of vintage science and technology, mechanical music, automata and fine tin toys.
One of the many highlights is an extraordinary three-story, 12-room Spanish doll’s house from the mid-late 19th century (Lot 548). Fully furnished for even the most discerning family of dolls, this miniature residence boasts a faux-marbled panelled entrance, flying buttress staircase, first floor hallway, dressing room, master bedroom, family chapel, hand-made miniature books in the study and an abundantly stocked linen press in the nursery. Original curtains hang in most of the rooms, the salon retains its original silk brocade wall covering, the hallway has a set of set of gilt soft-metal furniture, the bathroom its original painted tin fittings, and the dining room a magnificently carved Art-Nouveau suite. In fact, the house has so many wonderful details that it would be hard to decide whether the signed miniature oil paintings that adorn the principal rooms, the parquetry floors (a different pattern in each room) or the painted ceilings that grace the first floor salons are its finest feature. A personal visit to this small stately home will reward the doll’s house connoisseur.
Collectors of miniature rooms should also inspect the Gottschalk red-roof stables (Lot 547), with stalls for three horses and original tin drinking troughs, and the early Rock & Graner toy kitchen (Lot 563) with painted flagstone floor, stove and a full complement of utensils.
Attention to detail is also on display in a superb Hungarian gilt-brass cage (Lot 373) decorated with seed pearls and guilloché blue enamel panels enclosing an iridescent feathered bird which flaps its wings, flutters its tails and moves its bone beak to the sound of birdsong produced by a whistle in the base.
From the 19th century Parisian maker Alexandre Nicolas Théroude comes a fine automaton scene of a tightrope artist and musical duet (Lot 422) performing in architectural setting of classical colonnades topped with giltwood urns and a working timepiece. Another fine automaton is the “Chinosie Verseuse” (Chinese Tea Server) by Leopold Lambert (Lot 425). Dressed in her original rich brocade costume, the oriental figure gently bows her Jumeau bisque character head and serves her guests with tea ‘poured’ from a painted wooden teapot. An early automaton by the same maker is the elegant “Marquis Smoker” (Lot 426) with concealed bellows in the torso to create the illusion that the figure is actually inhaling and exhaling smoke from his lighted cigarette.
The fantastical world of magicians and performing animals is also on display. An anthropomorphic cat dressed as the fairytale “Puss in Boots” (Lot 423) stands on his hind legs and nods his head, a Roullet et Decamps polar bear (Lot 421) lumbers along realistically, and a cycling French poodle by Vichy (Lot 415) accompanies his well-dressed mistress on her matching bicycle. One of the rarest pieces in the sale is a large (26-inch) Magic Theatre by Louis Renou (Lot 427), in which a lady conjuror raps with her wand on a puppet booth to reveal a different dancing figure each time the curtain rises; a knight, a professor and a green-faced man are all part of her alternating cast.
The auction also features 23 contemporary automata from a private collection. Well-known modern makers such as Michel Bertrand, Marcu and Claude Laurent are represented, in addition to pieces that were produced on special commission for the consignor. Amongst them is a musical portrait of the music hall artist Little Tich (Lot 504), the stage name for Harry Relph (1867 – 1928). Relph’s performances in 28-inch shoes that were half as long as he was tall made him a recognised personality on both sides of the Atlantic; his “Big Boot Dance” was even captured in an early sound film by Clémen-Maurice in 1900. This automaton taps each extra-long shoe alternately, rolls his eyes and then leans forwards at an unbelievable angle to offer a bouquet of flowers.
The most sophisticated piece in the collection is a very rare “Columbine” writer by Claude Laurent (Lot 523). Laurent and his wife Geneviève originally worked for J.A.F. (Jouets et Automates Françaises, the eventual successor to Vichy) before setting up their own atelier in Grenoble, France. Inspired by the 18th century androids of Jaquet-Droz, the beautiful Columbine lowers her eyelids and gently ‘breathes’ as her hand moves across the page to inscribe the words “à Pierrot” on an ever-fresh sheet of paper. The writing is accomplished by complex articulation of Columbine’s arm, allowing her to move her hand vertically, horizontally and in circles.
In addition to full-sized automatic musical instruments, there is an unique selection of well-detailed miniature models of fairground attractions in carved and painted wood. Some of the models measure up to half a metre tall and all are craftsman-built. Subjects include a Gavioli organ and classic rides such as the carousel, chairoplane, ferris wheel and steam swing-boat (Lot 524 – 541).
A breathtaking selection of transport toys includes a handsome live steam locomotive with tender and two carriages produced by Gebruder Bing for the English firm Basset-Lowke (Lot 630) during the mid ‘20s and two horizontal steam engines by Märklin (Lot 644 + Lot 645) in attractive original condition. There is a rare Laundaulette Taxi by George Carette (Lot 608) of Nuremberg, as well as a dashing nickel-plated Renault-style open touring car by Jouets Français (Lot 611) and a Parisian double-decker Berliet bus from the artisan workshop of Pinard (Lot 612). From an earlier age comes a luxurious French horse-drawn carriage (Lot 580) with pin-striped royal blue paint, original silk seats, glass lanterns, two doll passengers and a liveried driver.
Connecticut maker George Brown sketched a design for a single-team horse-drawn buggy in his 1870 notebook. Several versions of this charming toy were produced over the years, however the double-team version has remained elusive until now. A rare entry in the Breker auction is George Brown’s double-team buggy (Lot 583) with costumed driver, original vibrant red painted surface and stencilled gilt highlights reminiscent of folk art. An important toy as well as a great piece of Americana.
Collectors whose cabinets are already well-stocked have the opportunity to acquire an historical primary reference: an original trade catalogue of 71 hand-coloured folio illustrations from the German retailer Rau & Co. of Nuremberg, dated June 1850 (Lot 555). The catalogue presents a contemporary picture of the diversity of German toy production, from Erzgebirge buildings to floor trains and mechanical squeak toys, architectural blocks to Waltherhausen doll’s house furniture, and much more.
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