Breker auction Oct. 30-31 follows the science

ESA Hermes Spaceplane and European Space Station (ESS) model, circa 1987. Estimate: €20,000-€40,000 ($23,570-$47,150). Breker image

COLOGNE, Germany – Auction Team Breker’s autumn extravaganza on Oct. 30-31 explores 200 years of science, technology and the mechanical arts. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

One of the most remarkable entries in the auction is the only remaining original 1:35 scale model from the study phase of the ESA – the European Space Agency: the Hermes Spaceplane (above). This ambitious French project to build a craft for manned missions soon drew Germany, Italy and other European Countries of the ESA into its orbit. The test launch was planned for 1998 but the project was abandoned unbuilt amid political differences and skyrocketing costs in 1992.

This mechanical model of a different sort is a fine planetarium clock (below) to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth and the moon. Commissioned by the Technical Institute of Cambridge in 1925, the clock has a 24-hour dial as well as scales for the days of the week, the date, month and houses of the zodiac.

Planetarium clock by William Perkins, London, for the Technical Institute of Cambridge, 1925.
Estimate: €3.500-€5,000 ($4,125-$5,890). Breker image

The themes of travel and exploration make for an exciting sale. Leading the vanguard is a fully rigged late 19th century maritime model with a planked hull, carved deck fittings and conical wood masts, while a faithful replica of Daniel Quare’s portable pillar barometer of 1695 recalls the great age of European exploration.

Closer to home is an excellent assortment of early office antiques, including classic collectible typewriters such as the English “Lambert” (below) and the American “Caligraph.”

Lambert Model 1 typewriter, 1896, Gramophone & Typewriter Ltd., London, Paris and Berlin
Estimate: €700-€1,000 ($790-$1,140). Breker image

A century later, Californian entrepreneurs Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were pioneering home computing with the Apple I of 1976 and the Apple II the following year. Less successful was the Apple III of 1980, which coupled a sound text-based “SOS” operating system with an attractive, but flawed, design. The sales quota at inception was poor and surviving models today are correspondingly rare.

Apple III Computer, 1980. Estimate: €1,200-€1,400 ($1,415-$1,650). Breker image

From home computing to home entertainment, Breker’s auction presents a harmonious group of automatic musical instruments from the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the earliest and most elegant is a musical salon clock in an architectural mahogany case associated with Christian Ernst Kleemeyer, royal clockmaker to Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. The example on offer is notable for its musical accompaniment of eight intricate airs played every hour on a 24-note dulcimer.

Another timepiece with a fascinating historical background is a Viennese picture clock depicting  “The Surrender at Világos” on Aug. 13, 1849, the decisive final point in the Hungarian Revolution. The scene shows Hungarian troops gathered on the outskirts of the village (today Șiria in Romania) after their defeat by Austrian and Russian forces.

The act of painting is depicted in a musical automaton clock of a monkey artist at work on a portrait. The deportment of the anthropomorphic monkey in his silk costume apes the attitudes of the aristocracy who appeared as less dignified members of the animal kingdom in caricatures of the period.

No less aristocratic is a French automaton of a young marquis in splendid original costume, complete with a tricorn hat, lorgnette and cane. His pendant, the marquise, applies powder and admires the results in a glass.

Where musical clocks and automata set the tone for intimate accompaniment in the salon, larger and louder instruments amused the public. Breker’s auction presents two splendid examples of the so-called “station musical box” which first  diverted rail passengers on the Jura-Simplon Railways during the golden age of steam.

Cameras and optical toys provide diversion as well as the opportunity for serious study. The “Thaumatrope” demonstrated the persistence of the vision principle and the retentive power of the retina. Images printed on opposing sides of a card disc appeared as one when the disc whirled around. In his educational work “Philosophy in Sport.” John Ayrton Paris described the device as “a  toy that performs wonders by turning around” and noted the stoical motto below one picture: “The next card presented a laughing face, which on being turned round, was instantly changed into a weeping one. The motto – the sweetest things turn sour.”

Émile Reynard’s praxinoscope of 1879 was an improvement upon the “Zoetrope,” with a series of mirrors with prism-like effect to create moving images without the typical flicker associated with persistence of vision devices. His moving picture strips were among the very first examples of animated cartoons.

Stereo Field Camera, France, circa 1870-1880. Estimate: €400-$700 ($470-$825). Breker image

No photographic auction would be complete without the cameras themselves and Breker’s sale showcases many fine examples, from elegant Victorian field cameras and ingenious technical innovations, such as the 360-degree panoramic Cirkut outfit, to the stylish monochrome models of the postwar years.

 

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