Early Tech Auction Offers
We live in an age of technology, so
it’s fitting that pieces of early technology should be high on
collector’s lists of most wanted items. Auction Team Köln,
the premier specialty auction of technical items since 1987, headed by
Auction Team Breker, held it’s quarterly Science & Technology,
Office Antiques, and Toys and Tin Toys auctions in Cologne, Germany.
The assortment of items offered in all three auctions was astounding,
but the sheer number of items–over 12,000 objects in 531 lots–shows
how technology has influenced everyday life since the late 18th century.
Auction Team Breker offered its largest number of items in its Science
and Technology Auction, 331 lots, of which three quarters sold. This
could have been because items either didn’t reach their reserves or no
one was interested in them. The Toys and Tin Toys Auction did about the
same, with 66 percent of its items selling. But the best of the day was
the Office Antiques Auction, for which Auction Breker is famous, in
which 82 percent of the lots sold. According to Uwe H. Breker, auction owner, the results are
typical of Spring sales.
Among the variety of items offered were all sorts of calculators,
early telephones and telephone equipment, typewriters, cipher machines,
surveying equipment, phonographs, even mousetraps and a Ford Model T
touring car. The common thread in all three auctions was technology, as
each object had to technically operate in some manner or have to do with
Realized prices, which included a 19.3 percent premium plus a 16
percent tax, ranged from a low of $8 for an ordinary German cast-iron
bean cutter with a crank drive for three knives to a super high of
$38,821 for an extraordinary Edison "Idelia" phonograph, Model
D, from 1907. One of the most unique phonographs made, it played two or
four-minute cylinders, had two soundboxes, a large petal metal Cygnet
Horn No. 11, all fitted into a mahogany case. The reserve on this piece
was only $8,750 with an estimate of $7,377 to $15,860. Just a week
before this auction, the same model fetched only $14,400 at a specialty
auction of phonographs in Union, Ill. Collectors fought over a 1911
Edison "Opera," which sold for $10,795.
The Science and Technology Auction showcased other phonographs and
gramophones, plus hard-to-find cylinders and discs. Playing pianolas and
orchestrions added to the mix. Music boxes, popular throughout much of
the 19th century, were the only entertainment people had for their
homes. Some, like the ornate Deluxe Disc "Symphonion Rococo,"
offered their owners beauty as well as technology. Set in a wooden box
with repousse appliques, it played 10 5/8in discs using an 84-tooth
duplex comb. With a reserve of $2.815, it sold for $5,398. A classic
gramophone, "The Monarch," circa 1915, manufactured by the
Gramophone Company Ltd., featured a light oak case and beautifully
grained wooden horn, original decals, double spring motor, and an
"HMV Exhibition" soundbox, and sold for $1,792, going slightly
over it’s high estimate of $1,500.
Besides home entertainment units, Auction Team Breker offered a
unique Swiss coin-operated, 19 by 9 by 6in music box by maker "Mermod
Frères." circa 1890. With 10 tunes of popular melodies, brass
cylinder, 41-tone comb, and original tuning sheet and directions, it had
been used as a one-cent trade stimulator on shop counters. It, too, went
over its high estimate of $3,130 to sell for $3,285. A coin-operated,
American keyboard ochestrion by Vose and Sons, circa 1920, featuring
five instruments–automatic piano, xylophone, two drums and cymbal–housed
in a decorative case, plus two long-playing rolls with 10 popular songs
each, sold for $5,973.
Among the radios, gambling machines, and electrical devices were
several clocks. The best of them was a German polyphon-style, musical
grandfather clock by Polyphone Musikwerke of Leipzig, Germany. Playing
11¼ in discs on a 54-tooth duplex comb, this 13-day pendulum clock on
the top strikes on a gong which starts the music works running. Set in a
tall oak case, it sold for $23,144, nearly $4,400 over its high
In addition to various fun items, Auction Team Breker offered a wide
variety of 59 surveying and related instruments, including 40
theodolites–instruments used for the measurement of horizontal and
vertical angles in surveying–featuring a small telescope mounted on
two graduated circles. The oldest one, an early English brass model by
J.R. Brown, circa 1790, with a 24½ in telescope, brought $8,481, going
well over its estimate of $4,270 to $6,100. A polished brass French
Graphometer, circa 1760, with a diameter of 12¼ inches, featuring a
push-on fixture with ball joint head and compass, sold for $3,700, just
about at its maximum estimate of $3,750.
A German collector bought an early brass German microscope by E.
& S. Merz from1858 $2,312. And an extremely scarce World War II
reel-to-reel tape recorder, the AEG Ton S.b.1 from 1944, used by the
German Army and complete with amplifier and accessories, made a
Famous for its auctions of office antiques, Auction Team Breker
presented a array of items that seemed to span the history of office
technology. Of the 121 lots in the office antiques auction, 48 were
typewriters. Topping this group was an Edison Mimeograph typewriter from
1894, which an East Asian private collector bought for $11,565. This
exceptionally hard-to-find upstroke machine by Thomas Edison, created
the first copies using a wax template producer. Up until 1875, when he
first invented the machine, making legible copies was difficult because
of the pressure differences in handwritten documents. So Edison
developed an inscription machine with 78 characters that printed by
pressing a key which then pressed a hammer upward against the ribbon. He
eventually sold the rights to his invention to A.B. Dick & Co.
Another scarce American typewriter, The Chicago, from 1898, with wooden
case, sold for $1,493. An American Edland typewriter by Joe E. Edland of
Brooklyn, N.Y., from 1891 brought $8,481 while a Keaton Music Typewriter
from 1947 sold for $3,392. The highly desirable German Secret &
World Typewriter "Discreet" from 1899, which was also a cipher
machine, set a new record high of $16,962.
Besides typewriters, Auction Team Breker offered a variety of early
calculators, including the Curta I from 1948, selling for $1,387. By
using a single step drum to successively actuate each digit setting
instead of an individual drum for each setting, Curt Herzstark made his
Curta calculator small enough to be handheld during operation. To
perform calculations, the drum had to be driven past each of the setting
wheels to transfer a number corresponding to the number of teeth
encountered. The Brunsviga Model I from 1892, the first of the legendary
German spoke wheel calculators, reached a high of $4,471 and 'The
from 1895, a exceptional step-drum model by Schumann & Co.,$3,700.
Even early office fans, like an original, museum-quality Edison
electric model from 1898, with brass blades and replaced cage, selling
for $5,087, excited buyers.
The Toy and Tin Toys auction also showed some surprising results. A
racing motorbike, the "Silver Racer," with sidecar by Tipp
& Co., from 1957 fetched $2,775. Made of lithographed tinplate and
clockwork-operated, it’s just 7¾ in long.
In addition to military-type toys, an assortment of cast iron
vehicles, crossword puzzles, banks, the toy auction also featured a
superb collection of 22 toy steam engines. An English steam engine,
circa 1920, brought $2,005 while a single-cylinder steam engine by
Stuart, circa 1930, sold for $2,620. A large, unique, German paper
theater "Urania" by Carl Beyer, circa 1885, sold surprisingly
high at $3,700.
From the results of this auction, it seems that technology items are
hot in today’s antique and collectible marketplace.
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