COLOGNE, Germany – “I’ve never seen one of those before” is a comment frequently uttered in the antiques and collectibles trade. It’s more often heard when someone views a catalog from Auction Team Breker, which will conduct an online auction of office machines and photographica on Saturday, April 4. Hundreds of rare instruments and devices from the past will be offered. Bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers.
Manual typewriters have been rediscovered by writers and collectors, but one model that you won’t likely find at a flea market is the “Taurus”-type vest-pocket typewriter (above) that was manufactured by the Torrani company in Milan, Italy in 1908. The little device, just 2¾ inches in diameter, has the outward appearance of a pocket watch, except for its typewheel dial having 45 characters (capitals only). It contains two ink rollers that print type on narrow paper strips that were then glued onto paper to create the appearance of a telegram. Auction Team Breker knows of only nine examples in existence worldwide. It carries a €6,000-€9,000/$6,512-$9,768 estimate.
Another rare device from the workplace of yesteryear is the Dart Marking Machine made by the John M. Fairfield of Hartford, Conn., in 1890. This cast-iron machine was designed to type letters onto shipping crates and boxes, a task often accomplished with stencils and paint. The Model 1 offered in the auction is marked serial no. 130. It prints 1-inch-tall letters using a printing wheel and self-inking system (est. €5,000-€7,000/$5,425-$7,594).
More than two dozen antique cash registers will be offered. One hard-to-find model going up for bid was made by the United States Cash Register Co. in Detroit, Mich. It features an ornately embossed nickeled metal case that is branded “US” below its double row of 23 push-down keys from 1 cent to five dollars (est. €2,000-€4,000/$2,171-$4,342).
Not all of the items in the auction were intended for the office. An extraordinary decorative piece is a rare “Hide-A-Phone” telephone cover from 1915. It is a plaster composition figure of a woman holding a cherub by the hand and dancing around the globe. The two-piece hinged cover was designed to disguise a telephone, which was considered unattractive at the time. It is marked, “Copyright by L.C. Mayer.” Its symbolism is fascinating: The relatively new medium of the telephone reaches around the globe and connects people of all ages. An antique candlestick telephone is included (est. €1,500-€2,000/$1,629-$2,171).
The photography segment of the action is complemented by several related porcelain groups, one of which is a KPM scene depicting a peep-show presentation after French painter François Boucher (1703-70). The piece is marked with a blue scepter trademark under the glaze and “L140/411.” In excellent condition, is has an estimate of €500-€800/$543-$869).
The Auction Team Breker sale will begin Saturday, April 4, at 4 a.m. Eastern U.S. time.