Published: November 10, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Sinner Inc
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – In what can only be described as a cabinet of curiosities, Skinner’s twice-annual online Clocks, Watches and Scientific Instruments sale was a sight for sore digital eyes and minds that thirst for the uncommon. The auction that closed for bidding on October 27 had fine and rare timepieces, historic clocks and two collections of early medical instruments that inspired both awe and empathy.
Sale director Jonathan Dowling said, “It’s been a while since we had offerings like the early medical tools and cases, and in regards to watches, the nice thing about my sale is that we have vintage pieces you can purchase at all levels, from $150 to at times $150,000.”
Indeed the high end of the sale was dominated by fine timepieces, with two Tornek-Rayville examples selling among the top three lots.
“At the upper level with these collectors, it’s not just about the rarity of the piece anymore,” Dowling said. “I’m finding that provenance is a key issue with these. People aren’t just collecting objects, they’re collecting stories. They are very particular and conscious. They want one owner watches with a good clear provenance.”
Selling for $75,000 was a Tornek-Rayville TR-900 dive watch, circa 1964, that a US Army veteran had given his son, the consignor. The model was produced for the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team, now known as the Navy SEALs, with the assistance from importer Allen V. Tornek Co. of New York.
With fewer than 1,000 made, and some estimates that place the remaining population at around 50 total, Torneks have risen in the ranks among the finest watches on the market with quality movements and a desirable history. Skinner set an auction record with a $123,000 result in 2017 for the same model.
Taking $32,400 was a Tornek-Rayville TR-900 “Sterile Dial” dive watch, which was an aftersale. The piece was consigned by a retired US Navy explosive ordnance disposal technician and diver, given to him by a fellow technician to whom the piece was issued.
A single-owner Rolex Daytona Cosmograph “Sigma” dial wristwatch sold for $62,500. In a stainless steel case, the circa 1973 watch was given to the consignor that same year as a sailor in need of a waterproof watch for navigational purposes. Two Patek Philippe examples rounded out the top examples in the watch category, a single owner two-tone Nautilus in 18K gold and stainless steel brought $23,750, while an 18K gold Annual Calendar sold for the same.
Selling for $21,250 was one of the earliest clocks that Dowling has ever handled, a basket-top pull quarter-repeat ebonized timepiece by London-maker Benjamin Bell that dated to the late Seventeenth Century. While he opens nearly every piece in his sale, Dowling said that looking through this example was a treat.
“As soon as it came through the door, I remarked that it was a special piece,” he said. “I had several people come take a look at this in person, one person studied it for 2½ hours. The condition of the case was superb, the movement was nice, the basket top had no splits, cracks or losses.”
It sold to an American buyer.
Highest priced among the historic case clocks was a Simon Willard inlaid mahogany tall clock with an Isaiah Thomas Jr printed label and a case attributed to Thomas Seymour. It sold for $28,750 to a private collector. Skinner noted that the label Thomas Jr made for the clock was printed on “Old No. 1,” a London press made in 1747 and a favorite of the printer. The British labeled Thomas Jr’s Worcester, Mass., press a “sedition factory” and that press is extant today in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass.
A Walter Durfee lyre or harp pattern wall clock was a surprise when it sold for $11,250 to a private collector in the Northeast. Dowling said only a handful were made in the early Twentieth Century.
Medical instruments were led by a $6,875 result for an Eighteenth Century trepanning set in sharkskin case with fitted interior for the stainless steel and turned-wood handled tools. Trepanning, or cutting out a round piece of bone from a patient’s skull, began in ancient times as a way to clean fragments related to head injuries or in order to relieve pressure, among other reasons. Sometimes the removed bone would be worn as a talisman.
Dowling said many of the medical instruments were chased and acquired by doctors who collect the material, with the trade underbidding much of it.
“I was quite happy and surprised on the early medical material,” Dowling said. “I wasn’t sure of that market; we hadn’t offered it in such a long time. But it gives me confidence that there are still people out there collecting these early pieces.”
Selling for $5,938 was a an Eighteenth Century English surgical or amputation set. A French example from H. Galante, circa 1850, sold for $2,375, while an example from Philadelphia maker Charles Lentz & Sons, also from the Nineteenth Century, brought $563.
There were more enema pumps than you had likely ever seen in one place: seven lots that contained them in various forms. With a more artful presence was a set of two porcelain examples from Nineteenth Century France, one by Egusier with a phoenix decoration and the other by Piston P Gifford with a blue seal to it. They sold for $483.
Into the other side of things was a French urological traveling set, circa 1860, in a fitted case with three separate trays of instruments numbering to approximately 30 long and bent probes. That brought $4,375.
Selling for $875, near its top estimate, was a 13-inch-high mummified veal specimen on base with an old Nineteenth Century label to the bottom.
Dowling’s next sale is expected in April 2021. For more information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3000.
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