COLOGNE, Germany – Auction Team Breker’s busy Autumn extravaganza on Nov. 11 was a fascinating study of market dynamics. Of the two-dozen collectible categories on offer, computing and calculation came out on top. The highest price of the day was an Apple Lisa-1 personal computer, Apple Inc.’s ill-starred attempt to introduce a mouse-controlled user interface. It sold at auction for at €43,000 / $50,300. Absentee and Internet bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
Soon after her launch in 1983, it became clear that Lisa-1 would prove to be a problem child. Her specially designed Twiggy drives were apt to fail, leading Apple to withdraw and recall its youngest daughter.
Nevertheless, Lisa-1 can still claim a place in PC history for introducing the overlapping windows, pull-down menus and the beloved recycle bin that we still rely on today.
Before the days of the computer, accountants had to rely on complex mechanical calculators for even the simplest of tasks. Breker’s auction served up a feast. From the roll-top Saxonia at €35,660 / $41,700 (Lot 44), to the stylish Berliner Mercedes “Gauss” at €22,000 / $25,700 (below) and the 1907 “Adsumudi” at €10,450 / $12,200 (Lot 62), the rarest machines multiplied their estimates by two, three and four-fold.
Another area that garnered great international interest was a menagerie of figural penny arcade machines, including the “Electric Sailor” of Leipzig who delivered a jolting handshake for €4,550 / $5,300 (Lot 428), significantly more than the old English penny it cost to make his eyes light up. Yet more macabre was the “Shocking Swine” from Paris at €20,600 / $24,100 (below).
Built with a gentler, fairy-tale humor were the life-sized MUM GmbH “Storch Automat,” laying tiny chocolate dolls in lithographed tin eggs, for €39,300 / $ 46,000 (Lot 422) and the cast-iron “Elephant Grip Test,” complete with howdah and mystical divine, for €16,000 / $18,700 (Lot 426).
Unusual talking machines continue to do well, with an Edison “Opera” phonograph, top-of-the-line in 1910, bringing €4,900 / $5,700 (Lot 459) and a surreal EMG “Expert Junior”, with a papier-mâché horn straight from the pages of Dr. Seuss, €5,400 / $6,300 (Lot 499).
Music boxes were the biggest surprise of the day. For many years regarded as the Rolls Royce of mechanical music, so-called “overture” musical boxes – with their complex scores and as many as 300 tuned steel teeth – are no longer top of the playlist. Though fine instruments like the four-air Paillard model (Lot 553) still command the interest of connoisseurs at €6,400 / $7,500 and upwards, they have been overtaken by their louder younger cousins.
Drums, bells, dancing dolls and nodding mandarins create an impressive audio-visual effect in orchestral musical boxes, long relegated to the second shelf, but now enjoying a renaissance with a new wave of collectors. Highlights from Breker’s auction included a refined instrument playing Carl von Weber’s opera Freyschutz at €12,900 / $15,100 (Lot 556), two Swiss “station” musical boxes at €24,600 /$28,800 (Lot 558) and € 27,000 / $31,600 (below) and a wonderfully bizarre “Kalliston-Panakon” one-man band at €17,200 / $ 20,100 (Lot 435).
For more information contact Auction Team Breker via email at Auction@Breker.com or telephone 02236/38 43 40.