Breker offering ‘living dolls’ automata in online auction

The Everything Online Auctions Book is an inside look at how to buy or sell anything on eBay and other notable online auction sites. Learn more at

COLOGNE, Germany — Magicians and musicians, cyclists, contortionists and conjurers, soldiers and beautiful ladies will be amongst the attendees at a very special toy sale at Auction Team Breker in Cologne, Germany, Nov. 20, 2010. The auction showcases several remarkable collections of tin toys and automata, the result of many years of careful collecting and thoughtful appreciation.

Classic models by all five makers of the French ‘golden age’ of automata are represented. One of the most unusual portrays a dashing soldier poised, trumpet in hand, on a papier-mâché fort that conceals a Lioret cylinder phonograph (estimate $13,916-$20,874). The same motor controls the animation and the sound, producing the illusion of an actual bugle call when the soldier brings the instrument to his lips. Recorded sound was an innovative feature in a small number of automata produced by Henry Vichy.

Though he advertised that any of the firm’s models could be customized with a Lioret phonograph, the design proved too expensive and unreliable to make these Vichy-Lioret automata a commercial success, and only a few surviving examples are known.

Also by Vichy is a charming pair of black musicians, a boy playing a banjo while his female companion plays an accordion (estimate $13,916-$20,874). There is a smoking soldier by Roullet et Decamps with a rare Jumeau portrait head, whose leather bellow ‘lungs’ enable him to inhale and exhale when a lighted cigarette is placed in his hand (estimate $11,134-$16,702), and a charming circus équilibriste by Jean Phalibois who juggles a hoop in one hand while keeping a barrel spinning on the tip of his toe (estimate $6,956-$11,134).

The work of Leopold Lambert is especially well represented by a selection of mechanical bébés with bisque heads by Jumeau and the luxurious original costumes for which the firm became famous; one, a Polichinelle with cymbals, is still preserved in near-mint condition in its original box (estimate $6,956-$11,134).

While Lambert excelled at the picturesque, Louis Renou brought a whimsical sense of humour to his automata, which sometimes included a tongue-in-cheek reference to modern technology. An exceedingly rare example in Breker’s auction depicts the electro-therapy treatment of an old woman by a doctor in necromantic robes; the patient convulses in time to the music, a terminal in each hand and an ecstatic look upon her face (estimate $5,565-$9,737).

Another newly-fashionable pursuit is celebrated by a scarce automaton titled “Coquette Cycliste” in the Roullet et Decamps catalog; the bisque-headed lady in modish cycling costume lets her gaze wonder from the road which is rolling along automatically as she pedals (estimate $8,345-$12,519). Another lady cyclist, attributed to Vichy, likes to bike accompanied by her pet dog, not in a basket, but riding alongside on a miniature version of her own machine (estimate $5,565-$8,345).

An intriguing entry in the auction is an automaton depicting the Lost Expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1845 (estimate $8,345-$12,519). The English press began a century-long fascination with the mysterious fate of Franklin and his crew, when their ships became icebound in the last un-navigated section of the Northwest Passage of the Canadian Arctic. Speculation revived when explorer John Rae discovered relics of the Franklin Expedition in 1854, leading to another search in 1859 and a scientific investigation in 1981. The automaton shows one of Franklin’s lifeboats that has run aground on the ice, one crew member defends himself with an ice-pick, while a third clambers up a ladder pursued by a bear.

A type of transport better suited to inhospitable landscapes is a fine early painted tin sleigh by German maker Rock & Graner (estimate $8,345-$12,519), while a selection of early automotive toys includes a cavalier by Alexandre Théroude who fires his pistol with audible report (estimate $3,478-$6,263), and miniature French Delage torpedo car with driver by Eugène Pinard (estimate $2,782-$5,565).

Further highlights can be viewed at ?


Great books, CDs, price guides & more

Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2011 Price Guide

Interact with other antique collectors in Antique Trader’s online forum

Get up-to-date pricing for tens of thousands of antiques & collectibles on – FREE for 1 year – when you join the Collecting Insider Club!

Browse (or place your own) FREE online classified ads

Sign up for your FREE email newsletters

For more columns and features for antique dealers, restorers and collectors, get your own subscription to Antique Trader magazine