Published: August 23, 2016
Review and On-Site Photos by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Westport Auction
WESTPORT, CONN. — A sizable collection of nautical instruments crossed the block at Westport Auction on August 14 as Travis Worrell brought to sale the horde of a turn-of-the-century Manhattan watch and nautical instrument repair shop. The collection was consigned by the family behind the M. Low Company, a business that had operated on Pearl Street in Manhattan from 1848 through the mid-Twentieth Century. The repair shop serviced watches and ships’ instruments at a time when travel by sea was the primary mode of transport.
As ships would pull into port, their instruments would need to be repaired and serviced as their insurance companies required. The M. Low Company would travel onto the ships to repair, test and certify chronometers, binnacles and other nautical instruments as necessary when the boats came into the Manhattan harbor. In addition to servicing commercial ships, the company was also awarded government contracts.
In 1962, the M. Low Company bought the Negus Company, a prolific American nautical instrument manufacturer that also operated out of Manhattan, adding to the collection that came to be.
Travis Worrell, the owner and auctioneer of Westport Auction, said, “We were extremely pleased with the results of the sale and were excited to find some diamonds in the collection. There were some lots, particularly the log books and chronometer box, that had true historical value.”
The Negus log books were sold as four separate lots with four books in each, attaining $500 to $800 per lot. The books were bought by a collector who plans to catalog them for their historical references to ships coming into the Manhattan port.
The top lot of the day was a small wooden chronometer box with brass inlay, which brought $12,000. The story behind the small box is more interesting than the object would lead on, as it was made by one of the most sought-after horologists in the history of the field, Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet was born in Switzerland in the Eighteenth Century but completed much of his career in France as a watchmaker. Breguet’s work was commissioned by the highest nobility throughout Europe, including many of the kings and queens of the time. The box offered at Westport Auction was made for a, then, newly designed double barreled chronometer that Breguet made for the French Navy. Purportedly, the buyer on the floor knows exactly where to find the piece that fit inside and will reunite the two.
The nearly 799 lot sale grossed more than $192,000 and brought forth plenty of group lots that included boxes, parts, keys, clocks and other instruments.
A set of 33 World War II US Navy Waltham military aircraft clocks sold for $1,600 to a buyer who should never be late again, no matter what part of the house they are in. A large grouping of brass chronometer keys in varying shapes and sizes attained $1,440.
Plenty of binnacles crossed the block, the best one made by Negus brought $1,680 with a bright brass case over the finders bar, soft iron spheres and a nicely grained wood body with other brass fittings.
For additional information, www.westportauction.com or 203-222-3448.
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