German antique technological antique auction sets records for telephones, automata

COLOGNE, Germany – Auction Team Breker’s May 28 science and technology auction brought many strong prices – and not a few surprises – across the board. Highlights from the collection of the late Jan Westas, consigned to the German auctioneers by the Swedish government, included an outstanding group of rare early telephones. The top price in the category was paid for the “Kongliga Telegrafverkets Apparater” of 1894, an elegant floor-standing model on a cast-iron base designed to grace the interiors of Swedish royal castles, which sold for$52,750.

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Another rare model was an 1895 “L.M. Ericsson export” telephone known to collectors as the “coffee grinder” because of its circular tin case and colourful lithography, which sold for $30,000. An “Ericsson skeleton” telephone sold for $12,700 and a deluxe ‘butter stamp’ receiver by the same maker, with gilt-tooled leather covering, sold for $17,600. Not only Swedish, but also American telephones attracted interest from both sides of the Atlantic. An 1876 wall telephone manufactured by Charles Williams Jr. of Boston for the National Bell Telephone Co. reached almost ten times its reserve at $39,900.

From the same collection came a group of seven vintage cars and motorcycles, one of which, a 1920 three-seater “Puppchen” touring car by Wanderer Werke in Chemnitz, brought the highest price of the day at $56,270. Of the motorcycles, a 1912 Belgian four-cylinder “FN,” a barn find in unrestored condition, sold for $52,750, a 1902 Belgian “Minerva” for $28,135, and an unmarked 1905 motorcycle (lot 249) for € 12.300/US$ 17,600. An 1895 “Kayser” gentlemen’s pedal bicycle, humorously described in the catalogue as being in ‘ready to start’ condition, sold for ten times its estimate at $9,150.

The section of “Office Antiques” featured three exceptional writing machines. A well-presented example of James Watt’s copying press of 1780, world’s first patented apparatus of its type. The Englishman is better known as the inventor of the steam engine. His design for a portable duplicating press housed in a box that resembled a small writing desk came about as a result of Watt’s difficulties corresponding with his business partner while travelling in Cornwall. His invention used a special copying paper moistened with well water, a roller and a felt-covered copying plate. Though somewhat complicated to use, the press proved to be a great commercial success if the list of its patrons – Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – is to be believed. The machine sold for a healthy $22,880. The “Thürey” typewriter of 1909, a rare German typewheel machine built by the Thürey Schreibmaschinen Gesellschaft in local Cologne-Deutz, sold for $29,900, while an attractive example of the popular American pioneer of typewriters, “The Crandall” of 1879 fetched $19,950.
From a group of early pocket sundials and timepieces, a circa 1710 signed Augsburg dial by Johann Martin, of unusual circular form fetched $8,450, and a circa 1610 compass sundial signed ‘Charles Whitwell’ brought $11,800. Though re-gilded and in need of restoration, the fine underside pictorial engraving and dedication to Bernhard of Saxony-Weimar was still impressive. Dating from two centuries later was a fine gold quarter-repeat pocket watch with jacquemart automata for $14,000 and a gold chronometer with sur-plateau musical movement for $16,300. Another notable object of vertue was an exquisite miniature gold snuff box with sectional-comb musical movement at $24,600. A 20th century Griesbaum singing bird box decorated with enamelled scenes of putti and fruit attracted strong international bidding at $11,800.

The superb selection of Swiss cylinder musical boxes included a ‘Nicole Frères Longue-Marche interchangeable’ with thirteen cylinders in their original packing cases for $15,800 and an ‘interchangeable organoclëide’ with nine bells, six cylinders, inlaid rosewood case and matching table for $14,000. Two unconventionally houses musical boxes were a large ‘Paillard’ in carved walnut case covered with game and flowers in relief which sold for $8,800 and an exhibition-standard mandolin box in serpentine ebonised case with boulle inlay for $7,950. Amongst the disc musical boxes, a German longcase clock with ‘Symphonion’ movement that played on the hour and a “Regina automatic disc-changer” in bow-fronted mahogany case, which sold for $16,700 and $19,350 respectively. The disc-playing orchestrion by “Paul Lochmann” of Leipzig represented a fusion of musical box and mechanical band. Accompanied by piano, glockenspiel, cymbal and drum, this weight-driven instrument in wonderful original condition sold for $16,700. Even louder was an early 20th century Berlin street barrel organ by “Adolf Holl” with three barrels, which sold for $33,400.
Some of the strongest international bidding was generated by a collection of privately-consigned 19th century French automata. Smokers, musicians, ladies, animals and acrobats represented over 35 lots in the auction. The highest price, $20,000, was paid for a large singing bird bocage with ‘Japy Frères’ clock – A ‘Renou’ lady with parasol in exceptional original costume sold for $15,000. Also in full original costume was a “Marquis Smoker” by Roullet et Decamps for $8,800. Leaning nonchalantly upon his cane, the figure was designed to inhale and exhale smoke from a lighted cigarette via leather bellows in the base. Adding a touch of the unexpected was Leopold Lambert’s “Surprise Flower Seller” who raised a pyramid of roses to reveal a tiny dancing doll and sold for $9,700. A shapely ‘polichinelle lady’ with Jumeau bisque head beat time on drum and cymbal for $9,700, while an imposing ‘black soldier in French uniform’ performed a drum roll and moved his mouth as though calling marching orders for $12,300.
Clockwork toys by the French manufacturer ‘Fernand Martin’ also performed very well; a “Boy with Diabolo” from 1907 and a “Jeune Ecuyer” school boy sold for $2,500 each. A “lady feeding hens” attributed to the German maker Günthermann climbed to seven times its presale estimate for the same amount, and an Ives’ “Creeping Baby” in original box sold for four times its estimate at $7,000.
Popular transportation toys included a Gebrüder Bing two-seater “Dion Bouton” runabout in cool cream japanned tin with red pinstriping for $3,860, a “Bing” fire engine with three-man crew for $4,500 and a George Levy lithographed tin motorcyclist for $5,280.
The final section of the sale was devoted to live steam toys and models. A 1:11 scale model of the 1928 industrial Hanomag locomotive, “Emma,” sold for $6,150 and a professionally built English model showman’s engine from 1968 sold for $4,500. A turn-of-the-century model of “James Watt’s steam engine” fetched $6,150. Built to a larger scale, a German detailed demonstration model of a steam plant, with a working history in England, France and North Africa, brought $15,000. However, by far the most unusual was a model of a four-room machine shop for $4,500. Arranged over two floors, the crank-drive model incorporated functioning drilling, sawing and grinding machines, a cutting press and even an elevator … in fact everything but the kitchen sink! And one of the rarest and largest steam engines by “Märklin” sold for impressive $38,700
For a complete list of results and dates of future auctions, please see

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