Early typewriter is key lot at Auction Team Breker, March 26
COLOGNE, Germany – Auction Team Breker opens its spring 2022 season on Saturday, March 26 with the Jim Rauen collection of typewriters and office antiques. Landmarks from the dawn of telecommunications will be offered alongside early calculating machines, postage scales and writing antiques. Highlighting the collection is one of America’s most comprehensive groups of antique typewriters, led by an 1873 Sholes & Glidden. Regarded as the first commercially successful writing machine, it is estimated at €18,000-€22,000. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Throughout the American Civil War, firearms manufacturer E. Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York supplied Union soldiers with its New Model Army percussion revolver. After the war ended in 1865, Remington needed to diversify its production and provide work for its 6,000 employees. The firm had already introduced a line of sewing machines and saw a niche in the market with the 1868 patent of a “Type-Writer” granted to Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule. Production started on March 1, 1873. Although the Sholes & Glidden included several new features that are still familiar, such as the QWERTY keyboard and the lever-operated carriage return, the revolutionary technology met with a slow start.
Remington tried to market their new machine to international businesses with wordy slogans that pointed out the merits of the Type-Writer in comparison to handwriting, which differs in style from country to country and continent to continent. Yet, when the orders did eventually come in, office clerks were reluctant to accept the new, noisy mechanical writing machines that smelled of oil and inking ribbons and, worse, had the potential to elevate any layman to the position of a copywriter. Professional copywriters of the mid-19th century were skilled employees who could command a handsome wage – the neater their handwriting, the higher their standing with their employer. Charles Dickens’ 1852 novel Bleak House even features a law-writer (a clerk who makes fair copies of legal documents) whose handwriting is so distinct that it is eventually used to solve a paternity case.
Remington had to look for a new marketing strategy and turned its attention to women who were mostly at home and not involved in any professional job. Not only could the company draw on its experience with the sewing machine by customizing the Sholes & Glidden in a choice of colors, floral designs and vignettes aimed at a female clientele, it also established business schools to train young women in typing. Remington began to offer its Type-Writer complete with a rented female secretary, reducing costs for businesses and creating a new profession for women outside the traditional spheres of domestic service, cottage industries and weaving. Always with an eye on the marketing opportunities, Remington also sold a more utilitarian undecorated model of the Sholes & Glidden, presumably with male secretaries in mind.
Shifting from letters to numbers, the March 26 auction includes a working replica of Blaise Pascal’s Arithmatique adding machine from the IBM collection, estimated at €12,000-€15,000. Blaise is credited with inventing the first calculator in the world capable of addition and subtraction when he was just 19. His father, Etienne Pascal, was a tax court judge who had assumed a new position as commissioner for Upper Normandy in 1639. France had declared war with Spain four years earlier, and Etienne was called upon to keep accurate accounts of the rising war levies with only the help of counting boards until his son designed a machine that would simplify his work. As a journalist wrote in Le Figaro Litteraire in 1947, “the calculating machine was born of a filial love flying to the rescue of the tax man”. Researchers estimate that no more than 20 examples were built, of which nine are known today. Pascale’s Arithmatique was a historic achievement, not least for demonstrating “that an apparently intellectual process like arithmetic could be performed by a machine.”
Breker’s auction is not all work and no play. The sale also includes a selection of mechanical music instruments, carousel figures and end-of-pier entertainments. The largest and loudest is a rare Helios orchestral piano by Ludwig Hupfeld AG of Leipzig. Built around 1925, the coin-activated mechanical piano is accompanied by violin-cello pipes, bells, drums and a mandolin and possesses the capacity and repertoire of a small orchestra. Also of Leipzig manufacture is an imposing Polyphon Mikado 241⁄2in disc musical box with its original storage cabinet, turned gallery, pediment and a selection of titles. It carries an estimate of €12,000-€15,000.
Another device that would have entertained guests at the drop of a coin is a so-called “station musical box,” estimated at €11,000-€15,000. Although its name is derived from a series of musical machines built to while away the minutes in the waiting rooms of the Jura-Simplon railway during the golden age of steam travel, this genre of musical box with audio-visual effects, such as clashing bells and dancing dolls, was also found in cafes and hotels across Europe.
A special feature of the upcoming auction is a single-owner collection of live-steam engineering models. Put together during a period of more than 40 years, the collection showcases not only railway locomotives but also working models of the steamrollers, lorries and showman’s engines that were once a regular sight on streets, farms and fairgrounds throughout the British Isles.
The current rate of exchange is €1 = $1.10.
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