COLOGNE, Germany – Apple fans around the globe were watching on iPads and iPhones and MacBooks as the personal computer that started it all, an Apple I from 1976, sold for a world record 491,868 euros ($640,000 US) on Nov. 24 at Auction Team Breker. LiveAuctioneers.com provided the Internet live bidding for the sale.
Of the two hundred Apple I units produced, just 43 are thought to have survived, and of these only six in working order, according to Apple author Mike Willegal. One was sold for a then record price of $374,500 in New York in June 20. However, the example sold last week in Cologne, which retained its original period peripherals – transformer, Panasonic 2102 cassette recorder, Sony monitor and Datanetics ASCII keyboard – in addition to reprints of the original manual and schematic diagram signed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, exceeded the previous world record by nearly 70 percent.
The following lot in the auction was a MITS Altair 8800 of 1975. Noted on the front cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics magazine in the same year, the Altair 8800 was heralded as a project breakthrough – the “world’s first minicomputer kit to rival commercial models. Ist success prompted Bill Gates and Paul Allen to produce a BASIC Interpreter for the system, leading to the establishment of Microsoft Inc. in April 1975. This milestone of computer history, which can arguably be said to have paved the way for two of the world’s largest electronics companies, sold for 12,300 euros, or $16,000, to the same overseas bidder.
Among other iconic technology offered at the auction was a three-rotor Enigma Ciphering Machine (lot 18) from circa 1943. The history of the Enigma and the influence of British code-breakers at Bletchley Park on the outcome of World War II has been well documented. This example, in full working order and with scarce metal carrying case, sold for 43,000 ($ 56,000). Another invention that generated interest at the auction was a unique Swiss miniature phonograph (lot 416) by Casimir Sivan, a watch-maker from Geneva and the first Swiss motion-picture maker. Built in December 1892 as a trial-run for Sivan’s Talking Pocket Watch, the spring-driven phonograph, with a disc that announced the time, sold for 11,000 euros ($14,300).
The second part of the auction was dedicated to antique instruments of science & technology, horology, mechanical music and automata. The latter section of almost 200 lots included some of the highest-ticket items of the auction, among them an early 19th century musical gold snuff box (lot 482), which sold for 27,000 euros ($35,000), and a blue enamel musical presentation compact by Fabergé jeweler August Frederick Hollming (lot 499), which sold for 7,380 euros ($9,600). Larger and louder was a fairground organ by Berlin maker Bacigalupo (lot 405) that fetched 14,750 euros ($19,200).
Notable for its rarity was a figural Symphonion “Gambrinus” disc musical box from circa 1900, with the original polychrome-painted terracotta figure of the legendary Beer King of Flanders raising a toast from his throne – a beer barrel containing the coin-activated musical movement. The Symphonion firm of Leipzig intended these large figural musical boxes as public entertainments in train stations, hotels and inns. However, because of their fragile nature, only a handful have survived with the terracotta sculptures still intact. This example (lot 476) sold for 17,200 euros ($22,400) to another overseas buyer.
Another musical box that drew international interest was the technically ingenious Sirion from circa 1900 (lot 487). The origins of the Sirion models, which played two tunes per 22 3/4-inch (57.5 cm) steel disc (most musical boxes play only one) are somewhat mysterious, given that two firms held patents for the same design. The Sirion at the Breker auction sold for 35,600 euros ($46,300) with 29 original discs.
A wonderful selection of 19th century French automata, some picturesque, some surprising, others surreal, rounded off the mechanical music. Automata in their original costumes were particularly strong. A well-dressed lady magician (lot 510) conjured up a series of grotesque dancing men from a magic theater for 24,500 euros ($31,850) and a Parisian boy by Phalibois whistled two tunes, while pointing and winking cheekily (lot 511) for 30,700 euros ($40,000).
Several of the automata were consigned by the descendants of the maker, the historic Parisian firm Roullet et Decamps, in business for 120 years before finally closing its doors in 1995. In this category was a charming “Déjeuner du Chat,” a classic Jumeau doll feeding her pet kitten with a spoon, accompanied by mewing sound effects (lot 530), which sold for 16,000 euros ($20,800). However, the most expensive lot in the category was a spectacular Vichy acrobat on stilts (lot 521), which sold well above its upper estimate for 46,700 euros ($60,700).
The third part of the sale presented a comprehensive group of tin toys, locomotives and live-steam models, highlights of which included a large Hispano-Suiza Lanadaulet by the small-scale French firm of Eugene Pinard (lot 573) for 4,056 euros. ($5,300) and an aerounatical carousel for experimental forms of early aviation (lot 597) for 1,900 euros ($2,500). A lot that spanned several different auction categories – as a steam engine and working demonstration model as well as a superb example of mid 19th century French engineering – was a miniature James Watt-type beam engine from circa 1850 (lot 719) by Eugène Bourdon, which sold for 44,370 euros ($57,600), almost 10 times its reserve.
According to company founder Uwe Breker, the market for collectible technology and toys – both antique and vintage – remains as strong as ever.
Full details of the auction can be found at www.Breker.com.
View the fully illustrated catalog, complete with prices realized, at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE