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Edison ‘Electromotograph’ dials up $40K

An “Electromotograph” telephone receiver, invented by Thomas Edison, soared to $40,000 before the gavel fell during a spring auction at Auction Team Breker. Plus, a collection of about 300 self-playing musical instruments captivated bidders.

COLOGNE, Germany — Auction Team Breker of Cologne, Germany, held its Spring extravaganza, a 750-lot sale featuring typewriters, telegraphs, automata,

Edison's electromotograph

Edison's 'Electromotograph'

chronometers, and Thomas Edison's rarely-seen 'Electromotograph', all under the heading of antique toys and technology.

Each area attracted its own set of specialist collectors, with the instruments of surveying and navigation garnering especial interest. The top lot in this section was an early sea quadrant, which dated back to 1751. Built for taking the altitude of the sun and the latitude at sea, the rosewood instrument had a signed boxwood scale, original box with maker’s label, and sailed to twice its presale estimate, finishing at $24,250.

Additional top earners were:

• Brass octant by Jan Cornelius von Voer, circa 1760, an A-form frame, supporting pinhole sight and two shades, fetched $5,900.

• Unusually large tellurium, circa 1890, designed to demonstrate the orbit of the earth and moon around the sun, measuring more than 60 inches, rocketed to $12,000.

An invention by Thomas Edison also graced the auction block, in the 1877 “Electromotograph” telephone receiver, which was Edison’s participation in the race to patent a telephone. The seldom-viewed machine commanded $40,000 during the auction.

A category captivating bidder attention was the nearly 300 lots of self-playing musical instruments. Among the lots was the day’s highest-selling item, an orchestral musical desk, featuring 26-inch pinned brass cylinders and a reed organ, bells, snare drum and castanets, which realized $42,000.


Other highlights from this section included a Swiss “station” music box, circa 1890, a large coin-activated music box, originally serving as attractions in hotels, restaurants and station waiting areas, which rose to $38,000 before changing hands.

To learn more about upcoming auctions (September 20 – Photographica & Film and November 15 ­– Science, Technology & Toys), visit or email