COLOGNE, GERMANY — As clothes are said to make the man, so in the world of auctions and antiques, an exceptional housing or original box can sometimes influence the price of an item exponentially. Such was the case at Auction Team Breker’s marathon 900-lot November 16 auction of antique toys and technology, in which an example of the world’s first commercially made calculator by Thomas de Colmar’s Arithmomètre sold to a private French collector for $313,000.
Not only is the Arithmomètre a milestone in its own right, but this 1835 example was housed in a luxuriously appointed “Boulle” case engraved as a “Souvenir de l’Inventeur” to de Colmar’s sister-in-law, Emilie Charlotte Reynaud de Barbarin.
From calculators to computers, the sale also featured a historical 1976 Apple I computer at $330,000 from another overseas collector. In addition to an original monitor, software and peripherals in near-mint condition, the motherboard also retained its original cardboard shipping box that had been signed and authenticated by Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak.
A contemporary photograph taken in the Jobs’ family home showed a pile of identical white boxes awaiting shipment to the company’s first customer, Californian electronics chain, the Byte Shop.
Another landmark was the first officially named “Mac” computer, a rare surviving prototype of the unsuccessful “Twiggy Mac” series from 1983, which fetched $41,200.
Meanwhile a three-rotor 1944 Enigma cyphering machine and a lilliputian German watch-form Kryha-Liliput cipher device from 1924, both of which were in their original cases, brought $53,100 and $13,300 respectively.
Continuing the trend of top prices for pieces in original condition was a single-owner collection of scientific instruments whose strength was Nineteenth Century surveying apparatus. Two German transit theodolites, both with well-preserved original lacquer, by Hildebrand of Freiburg and Sartorius of Göttingen garnered particular interest, selling for many times their estimates at $10,800 each.
Casework also proved important for mechanical music instruments, which ranged in size from the mighty — a Frati & Co. pneumatic orchestrion with the vocal capacity of a small band for $10,800 to the miniature, a gem-set necessaire formed as a grand piano by Russian silversmith Konstantin Egorovitch Knyasev at $41,500.
Two French automata with an Oriental inspiration proved especially popular. The first, an early and intricate piece for the Chinese market, depicting three artisans and a musician at work in the forecourt of a stately building, fetched $25,000. The second was a large and elaborate electric advertising automaton, “The Mysterious Illusion,” whose Mandarin magician and elusive assistant had originally entertained passers-by from the windows of Midwestern businesses during the 1930s. The publicity piece, which was accompanied by period testimonials and photographs from the shops which leased it, realized $49,800.
As with the instruments, original boxes add a cache for toy collectors and can mean the difference between an average and an exceptional price. Auction Team Breker’s sale featured a fine private collection of about 400 antique tin toys which included the work of German makers Bing, Lehmann, Carette and Märklin as well as classic Japanese makers of the 1950s and 1960s. In the first category were favorites such as Lehmann’s Masuyama Rickshaw” for $5,800, Bing’s largest limousine for $15,000 and a Märklin horse-drawn coupé (lot 560) for $8,600, while among the second were elegant automobiles like ATC’s Buick for $6,750, mostly in pristine condition, many in their original boxes.
Also in its original box was a fine Jouet de Paris “Train Automobile Rénard,” produced in a short run for the luxury department store Grand Magasins du Louvre, which fetched $24,000.
A convoy of more than 70 miniature tin motorcycles inspired some of the most heated bidding of the day, with the work of William Krauss of Nuremberg fetching $12,500 and a rare Chinese tin toy cycle from the 1930s selling at $15,400, more than tenfold its estimate — just two of the exceptional prices achieved. Others included a large and near-mint Tipp & Co. motorcycle for $12,400 and a Johann Distler cyclist and female pillion for $13,200.
Aeronautical transport was represented by a selection of early biplanes, gliders and airships, including a Wright-pattern “Aerona,” which floated to a new home in a significant German toy museum for $8,900. With its roots planted firmly on the ground was a rare Märklin tree stump monkey bank illustrated — but previously unknown — in the maker’s 1910 catalog for $9,300. Creating interest among collectors in several categories, a Tipp & Co. Calculating Boy brought a surprisingly high price of $9,100, a new record price for this piece.
All prices have been converted into dollars and include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.breker.com or +49-2236-38 43 40.