Antique technology found new appreciation at Auction Team Breker sale

 

Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, No. A974, $24,020

Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, No. A974, $24,020. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

COLOGNE, Germany – Auction Team Breker’s second outing into the world of antique and collectable technology this spring, which came in the form of a sale held on May 14, highlighted the extensive antique typewriter collection of retired San Jose teacher James “Jim” Rauen.

Though Rauen taught mathematics and published textbooks on the subject, letters – not numbers – were the passion of his private life. Rauen, a member of the Early Typewriter Collectors Association, enjoyed sharing his knowledge and was a regular contributor to the society magazine ETCetera.

“One of the nice things is it’s not an expensive hobby”, he told an interviewer for the Los Angeles Times in 1988. Times have changed and, as typewriters have become (almost) mainstream in the realm of antique collecting, prices have kept pace. Today, historic writing machines can be found in the collections of the Science Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, No. A1337, $24,020. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, No. A1337, $24,020. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Strong performers in the May 14 sale included an 1874 Sholes and Glidden Type Writer, made by Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York. Though it was not the first commercially produced writing machine, the model can rightly lay claim to being the first commercially successful one. The keyboard introduced the now-standard QWERTY layout, initially with only capitals; lower case letters made their debut with the model released in 1878. Like its rival, the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, the Sholes & Glidden machine had its fair share of famous patrons, not all of whom were fans. The author Mark Twain documented his first attempts at mechanical writing in a letter to his brother on December 9, 1874:

“I AM TRYING T TO GET THE HANG OF THIS NEW F FANGLED WRITING MACHINE, BUT AM NOT MAKING A SHINING SUCCESS OF IT.”

The Tom Sawyer author went on to add – with fewer typos – that the machine cost $125 and had several virtues, but “one chiefly needs swiftness in banging the keys.” Though Remington & Sons were aiming their new technology at a mass market, the Type Writer still carried the price tag of a premium laptop, costing around $3,200 in today’s money. The market value of a Sholes & Glidden typewriter at auction is now markedly higher. Both the examples on offer at Auction Team Breker, in contrasting colors but otherwise of identical construction, sold above their asking prices for identical sums of €23,097 / $ 24,020.

Other machines from the Rauen collection did equally well. Notable highlights included the 1879 Crandall with its shell-like silhouette; the schematic Viktoria, built in Germany to a British patent from John Gardner; and the robust Fitch Type Writer. This last sold for €30,797 / $32,029.

Circa-1891 Fitch Type Writer, $32,029. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Circa-1891 Fitch Type Writer, $32,029. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Breker’s May 14 auction also showcased some fine examples of early sundials and time-keeping devices from the Bavarian centers of instrument-making, Augsburg and Nuremberg. These included an exquisite silver perpetual calendar that earned €2,849 / $2,963 and a paper-covered cube sundial by David Beringer that achieved €3,208 / $3,336.

Circa-1800 cube sundial by David Beringer of Nuremberg, $3,336. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Circa-1800 cube sundial with compass by David Beringer of Nuremberg, $3,336. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Playing to a different audience was a select assembly of automatic music machines, including musical boxes, barrel organs and gramophones. Of note (pun not intended) were two late 19th-century instruments of German manufacture: a barrel organ by John Cocchi of Berlin, which achieved €5,698 / $5,926; and a disc musical box by Polyphon Musikwerke of Leipzig with its original stand, which sold for €9,445 / $9,823.

Circa-1899 Polyphon-style 105-disc musical box, Polyphon Musikwerke of Leipzig, $9,823. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Circa-1899 Polyphon-style 105-disc musical box, Polyphon Musikwerke of Leipzig, $9,823. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

The construction of fabulously detailed steam engines in miniature is a peculiarly British pastime. Though highly-prized Victorian models produced in small engineering workshops appear occasionally, the majority of pieces on the market have been bench-built by skilled hobbyists during the past 50 years, often from commercially published plans. Even so, live-steam locomotives are seldom seen at European auctions, where stationary engines and steam plants tend to be more popular.

Live-steam model of British Midland Railway locomotive No. 60 with tender, $5,106. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Live-steam model of British Midland Railway locomotive No. 60 with tender, $5,106. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

Highlights of the single-owner collection of 70 machines at Breker’s recent sale included Katharine, a 1:6 scale model of a Fowler showman’s traction engine, which sold for €6,734 / $7,003; and a well-engineered 1:11 scale model of a Midland Railway passenger train, which realized €4,991 / $5,106.

 

The current rate of exchange is €1 = $1.04.

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