Vintage technology auctioneer celebrates 25th anniversary with Cabinet of Curiosities sale

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Auction Team Breker will be celebrating a quarter century of sales with its 121st specialty auction May 26, 2012, which includes some rather unusual highlights.

One of them is a complete set of 18th century French trepanning instruments in their original fitted leather case (estimate € 6,000-8,000). Trepanning, the practice of removing a small circular section of the human skull, originated in antiquity but was still practiced during the 19th century. This set, which is in particularly fine original condition, comprises ebony-handled trephine, perforators, elevators and lenticulars.

French trepanning instrumentsThis complete set of 18th century French trepanning instruments in their original fitted leather case could sell for $8,000.

Another lot with macabre associations is a 1930s coin-operated working model by London maker Charles Ahrens, titled ‘The English Execution’ (estimate € 7,000-10,000). Working models occupy a special place in the history of coin-operated automata.

A part of British popular culture, they were found on piers in various parts of the country, entertaining holiday makers with their grisly sense of humour upon the drop of a coin. Working models by Ahrens even appear in a scene of the 1947 film Brighton Rock, starring Richard Attenborough. The ‘Execution’ is one of a selection of classic amusement machines and one-armed bandits in the auction highlighted by a rare pair of original Mills figural gun-slingers from the early 1950s (estimate € 15,000-20,000 each).

Happily the auction also includes a splendid assortment of French Automata with more light-hearted themes. A Chaplinesque music-hall star from the time of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge, captured in mechanical form by Phalibois, performs a tap dance on the seat of a chair (estimate € 20,000-30,000). A Gustave Vichy monkey harpist in 18th century dress apes the fashion for human musicians to wear monkey masks while performing (estimate € 3,000-5,000) and a charming Leopold Lambert clown in traditional make-up and fine original painted silk costume beguiles his audience with a mandolin, which he plays in a sequence of eight graceful movements (estimate € 7,000-9,000).

Antique Swiss pocket watchIn addition to French automata, the auction boasts some wonderful Automatic Musical Instruments, including a very rare Sirion 22¼ -inch ‘disc-shifting’ musical box that plays two tunes on each steel disc (estimate € 20,000-30,000) and a deluxe Edison Opera Phonograph complete with mahogany goose-neck horn (estimate € 4,000-5,000). There is a lively choice of pneumatic instruments, not least a fabulous Gebr. Richter fairground organ facade (estimate € 2,500-3,500), a Decap dance organ (estimate € 5,000-8,000) and a 1910 street barrel organ by H. Pettersen of Copenhagen (estimate € 4,000-6,000).

Collectors of smaller (and quieter) forms of mechanical music will find an exquisite selection of objets de vertu. A miniature gold vinaigrette from the early 19th century, with chased turquoise-set lid and shell-pierced grille intended to hold a scented sponge, conceals a tiny barrilet musical movement (estimate € 12,000-15,000). A Swiss pocket watch marks the hours with music and automata (estimate € 1,200-1,800), while from the workshop of Bruguier comes a fine fusee-driven singing bird in silver-gilt case with painted enamel lid (estimate € 18,000-25,000).

This unusual Black Forest automaton flute clock is expected to sell for up to $6,000.

A strong section of Antique Horology offers clocks and timepieces for most tastes (and many budgets), ranging from early steeple clocks to a handsome English bracket clock in carved walnut case (estimate € 2,800-3,500), a Black Forest automaton flute clock (estimate € 4,500-6,000) and a musical Comtoise Clock (estimate € 3,000-4,000).

The celebrated Swiss horologist Pierre Jaquet Droz perfected a series of singing bird boxes during the second half of the 18th century, but is best known for his three remarkable ‘Android’ automata in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire Neuchâtel. In the 20th century, another member of the Droz family, Josué Droz from La Chaux-de-Fonds, created a different kind of masterpiece: the most detailed and extensive model railway system known at the time.

Modeled on the Schweizer Bundesbahn (S.B.B.) to a 1:30 scale, the system included three locomotives, thirty passenger and freight cars, a main station, depot, signal tower and engine house that were all precision-built by hand over a period of eleven years. And yet the assembled layout, which covers 96 square metres ( = 1,033 square feet), was exhibited only once, for fourteen days in 1936 , before being packed away in custom-made crates and stored at the home of its creator, where it remained until discovered by Auction Team Breker. Now the layout will be on display for a second time during the auction preview on 25 – 26th May, (estimate € 50,000-100,000).

Other Antique Toys include an early hand-painted 0 Gauge 1020 locomotive by Märklin (estimate € 2,000-2,500) and an imposing ¼ scale live steam model Burrel traction engine from the 1920s (estimate € 8,000-10,000). A rare No. 1273 tin limousine by Karl Bub of Nuremberg offers a more luxurious mode of transport (estimate € 4,500-7,000). At 21 inches, this attractive two-tone automobile was spacious when new and is still notable now for being one of the largest tin toy cars ever made.

A “Boutique Français” presents extremely rare tin toy cars by Jouet Français, e.g. DeDion: Vis-à-Vis, c. 1900 (estimate € 5;000-7;000), Renault Phaeton, c. 1905 (estimate € 4,800-6,000), as well as Roadster Sport Alfonso XIII by Pinard, Paris, 1914 (estimate € 6,000-8,000) and Salmson Racer by Pinard, Paris, 1920 (estimate € 6.000-8.000).

From one kind of model to another, an impressive life-sized carved wooden Ferrari ‘Cavallino Rampante’ horse (estimate € 6,000-9,000) would be an unusual addition for the car collector who has everything.

pharmaceutical collectionAnother highlight is the extensive collection of classical pharmaceutical and medical collector’s items dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Finally, because no Breker auction would be complete without early Office Antiques, there are some rare first model typewriters: an Olivetti M1 from 1911 (estimate € 5,000-8,000) and a Hammonia from 1882 (estimate € 10,000-15,000), Germany’s very 1st typewriter produced in series. An example of the legendary second world war Enigma three-rotor ciphering machine (estimate € 15,000-25,000) rounds off what promises to be one of the most exciting sales of the season worldwide.

For further highlights, visit www.breker.com.

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