Windup toys, automata on the move in Breker auction Nov. 9

Walking vintager automaton by Gustave Vichy, c. 1880. Estimate: €6,000-€8,000/$6,800- $9,100. Auction Team Breker image

COLOGNE, Germany – Breker’s auction on Nov. 9 is a playful affair with a carousel of Victorian parlor entertainment, curious technology and toys. The toy section highlights a nostalgic single-owner collection of mid-20th century tin toys, many in their original boxes with the bold technicolor graphics of the era. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

An unusual entry is an archive of Shuco prototypes. Designs like the yoyo rabbit, the somersaulting monkey (below) and the water pistol monkey offer a first-hand glimpse of the wit and ingenuity of the famous Nuremberg factory.

Somersaulting monkey prototype by Schuco, c. 1935. Estimate: €300-€500/$400-$570. Auction Team Breker image

Equally witty and ingenious were the luxury Parisian parlor toys of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The construction of these complex pieces supported a coterie of industries and artisans – the gear-cutter, mold maker, wig maker, decorator and sculptor – as well as creating new ones, such as the animator. Bisque heads were supplied from French and German doll makers while, in the early days of the industry, glass eyes were purchased from England.

The luxury mechanical toys in Breker’s sale span 50 years of production, from Gustave Vichy’s delicate walking vintager of the 1880s to large and elaborate figures like the luxuriant narghile smoker in the exotic fashion of the 1920s.

Skilled European horologists created all manner of mechanical avian life, from the tiny birds found in silver boxes to life-sized examples in cages and bowers, several of which are presented in the auction.

Singing bird jardiniere automaton by Bontems, c. 1890. Estimate: €6,000-€8,000/$6,800- $9,100. Auction Team Breker image

A rare entry in the annals of mechanical music was the so-called “Piece à Oiseau,” a combination of music box and singing bird, which, due to its complexity and costly nature, was produced in strictly limited numbers.

Rare ‘Piece à Oiseau’ music box, c. 1890. Estimate: €24,000–€28,000/$27,100–$31,900. Auction Team Breker image

The Swiss firm Gueissaz Frères created a magnificent example for the Shah of Persia at a princely sum in 1896. Though more modest, the piece offered by Breker perhaps resonated more with a domestic audience. The automaton bird, flanked by a pair of dancing dolls, turns, sings and flutters in a miniature garden replete with ferns, flowers and a reflecting glass pool. The motifs of music and flowers are continued through the inlaid vignettes on the front and lid.

The auction will begin on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 3 a.m. Eastern time.