Skip to main content

'Toto' and 'Tata' clockwork dolls may walk away with top lot

A pair of clockwork walking dolls, "Toto" and "Tata," based on illustrations of French children orphaned as a result of the Great War of 1914-1918 may lead the May 24 auction offered by Auction Team Brekker.

GERMANY — A selection of mechanical toys and automata will be presented by Auction Team Breker's Spring sale of Mechanical Music, Antique Toys and Technology on May 24, 2014.

Amongst the featured pieces are an all-original Leopold Lambert "Espagnole" automaton

Tata doll

'Tata' turns her head as she rocks from side to side with celluloid baby in her arms, dressed in cotton print costume, satchel and white leather boots with upturned toes, height 14 ½ in., and a presale estimate of $1,300 to $2,000. (Photo courtesy Auction Team Brekker)

with Jumeau bisque head and a rare advertising automaton in the form of a black dancer by the same maker. The figure was designed to stand on a shop counter and rotate gently, powered by a long-duration spring that runs for 15 minutes on a single winding. The business card of the grand magasin he 'worked' for would have been displayed in the brass holder in the automaton’s left hand.

Childhood is also celebrated in the pair of clockwork walking dolls "Toto" and "Tata" based on the illustrations of French draughtsman Francisque Poulbot (1879-1946) who sketched French children orphaned by the Great War of 1914-1918. Poulbot’s illustrations inspired the toy and automata maker Gaston Decamps, as well as the doll-maker Société Français de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets, to bring his work to life in sculptural form. This rare pair comes from the collection of the Decamps family.

Also by Decamps is an automaton "Cake-Walk Dancer" with black composition character head, articulated eyelids, lower lip, arms, hips and knees. His lively dance is a nod to the Cake-Walk competitions held by black plantation workers in the Southern states before being absorbed into popular culture during the early 20th century.

In addition to the Eugene Pinard coupé and the elegantly-lithographed Carette limousine from the cover, the auction also includes a good selection of classic tin toys, such as a mint Tipp & Co. remote-controlled "Elektrik Panzer" in its original box. This late 1930s toy must have been a treasured possession for its first owner, as even the instruction sheet has been preserved. With its firing sound effects and pristine paintwork, it still puts on an impressive show today.

The two-tone blue Ventura "Alfa Romeo 1900 SS" is a large (1:8) scale model by a small manufacturer, with a remote control that resembles a car's dashboard. One of only 200 units produced, this example saw little use when new and still retains its original box with illustrated lid.

From the early days of air travel come a Tipp & Co. "Graf Zeppelin DLZ 127" and a spectacular aeronautical carousel, with six zeppelins carrying very proper passengers in pinstriped gondolas, by Müller & Kadeder.

Zeppelin toy

Tipp & Co Airship Graf Zeppelin DLZ 127, circa 1935, lithographed tin, clockwork toy, may sell for $4,800 to $8,200. (Photo courtesy Auction Team Brekker)

The auction presents the first part of one of the largest and oldest privately-owned mechanical music collections. With over 300 instruments, including cylinder and disc musical boxes, singing birds and automatic pianos, the collection was started during the 1950s, when the sound of mechanical music in the home was still to be heard. This installment ranges from musical boxes of historic interest due to their design or originality – like the early Ducommun-Girod fusee cylinder movement from the 1830s and the Mira "Grand" disc musical box with its rare transfer-decorated case – to those built to impress, such as the monumental Heller interchangeable, with its 26-inch cylinders and ormolu-mounted escritoire.

Not sound quality, but rather volume, was an issue for Thomas Edison's "Electromotograph" telephone receiver introduced in Britain in Summer 1877 as part of the ongoing patent 'war' between the American inventor and the Scottish-Canadian scientist Alexander Graham Bell. Edison's receiver, which employed a rotating chalk drum moistened with potassium iodide, had to be operated with a crank while it was in use and apparently produced enough sound to fill a small hall.

To preview other new highlights, such as early office antiques as Arithmometer, scarce typewriters and even early Personal Computers etc., please visit and The full catalog is available online at or by contacting