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Beer king

Beer king music machine toast of Auction Team Breker sale

Symphonion Gambrinus coin-operated beer hall music machine. Price realized: $27,300. Auction Team Breker image
Symphonion Gambrinus coin-operated beer hall music machine. Price realized: $27,300. Auction Team Breker image

 

COLOGNE, Germany – With the traditional German carnival season gearing up in Cologne, what better way to celebrate than with a 24,600 Euro (US$27,300) musical figure of the beer king Gambrinus? The Symphonion Gambrinus was one of many musical boxes that were top hits at Auction Team Brekers’s sale on Nov. 5. Absentee and Internet bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.com.

Opinions as to the origins of Gambrinus, the mythical beer monarch, differ. In 1891 New York brewer George Ehret named Duke Jan Primus of Brabant and John I of Burgundy as possible sources of the Gambrinus legend in his book Twenty-Five Years of Brewing. Others have suggested a Flemish king. Others claim the monk Brother Kellermeister, also known as Cambarius, as the inspiration behind the unofficial patron of beer and brewers.

Wherever the truth may lie, the origins of the Symphonion ‘Gambrinus’ musical box (above) in Auction Team Breker’s sale were markedly clearer. The terra-cotta figure of the drinking king on the musical barrel was a popular fixture at the Gambrinus Tavern in Leingarten in the South of Germany for over a century. Dropping a “pfennig” into the slot activates the 11 ¾-inch disc-playing musical movement, an early form of automatic music and a forerunner of the jukebox.

Though the work of the same firm, the Symphonion Musikwerke in Leipzig, the Eroica musical hall clock is a world away from its earthy cousin. Named after Beethoven’s Sinfonia Eroica (or Symphony No. 3), the Symphonion Eroica plays three discs simultaneously. Housed in a refined Baroque Revival case, adorned with carved columns, cupola and putto, the clock (below) fetched 43,000 euros (US$47,700).

 

Symphonion Eroica hall clock/music machine. Price realized: $47,700. Auction Team Breker image
Symphonion Eroica hall clock/music machine. Price realized: $47,700. Auction Team Breker image

 

Another musical box built to impress was the Kalliope Panorama, whose 25 1/2-inch musical tin discs are accompanied by a crescendo of 12 musical bells and six animated horses galloping across a painted landscape in the base of the cabinet. The Panorama rode away to a new home for 25,700 euros (US$28,500).

 

Kalliope Panorama, a disk music machine that features six animated horses galloping across a painted landscape in the base of the cabinet. Price realized: $28,500. Auction Team Breker image
Kalliope Panorama, a disk music machine that features six animated horses galloping across a painted landscape. Price realized: $28,500. Auction Team Breker image

 

Music, movement and a dash of magic were on display in a wonderful selection of antique doll automata, mechanical figures programmed to perform a cycle of gestures such as winking, shrugging, serving tea, taking snuff, drinking and falling asleep while playing the banjo.

A musician who rests while he should be working is the clown in the Sonnette de l’Entracte. Sleeping whenever he gets the chance, the ring of the intermission bell reminds the clown of his audience and finally obliges him to start playing again. Presented in unrestored, original condition, the piece (below) fetched almost 24,600 euros (US$27,300).

 

Sonnette de l'Entracte automaton, unrestored condition. Price realized: $27,300. Auction Team Breker image
Sonnette de l’Entracte automaton, unrestored condition. Price realized: $27,300. Auction Team Breker image

 

From the same historic Mexican estate came the Eccentric Clown by Gustave & Henry Vichy (Lot 520) – a curious character strumming a frying pan as though it were a banjo – whose height at over a meter tall, originality and rarity propelled him to 46,700 euros (US$51,800).

Combining pocket-sized proportions with mechanical complexity, a singing bird box by Frères Rochat of Geneva flew to nearly 24,600 euros (US$27,300), while a singing bird in a miniature piano with Vernis Martin (Lot 420) decoration rose to 9,800 euros (US$10,880).

 

Singing bird music box by Frères Rochat of Geneva. Price realized: $27,300. Auction Team Breker image
Singing bird music box by Frères Rochat of Geneva. Price realized: $27,300. Auction Team Breker image

 

A collection of early typewriters and office antiques provided the top lot of the day – an 1872 ‘Writing Ball’ designed by Reverend Rasmus Malling-Hansen of Copenhagen – at 90,200 euros (US$100,000). Malling-Hansen, principal of Denmark’s Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, designed his unique ‘Writing Ball’ in 1865 to help students to “speak with their fingers.”

 

The ‘Writing Ball’ typewriter. Price realized: Team Breker image
The ‘Writing Ball’ typewriter. Price realized: $100,000. Team Breker image

 

The machine was not only ergonomic, it was also a beautiful, almost organic, design: a perfect hemisphere with 54 type bars, each aligned at a different angle but all converging on the paper at a single point. Nor was its brilliance restricted to the layout of the type bars. Malling-Hansen’s machine displayed many of the refinements of typewriters on the market 50 years later.

 

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Beer king