Date: Fri 02-Apr-1999
Skinner's Science & Technology Auction In Bolton, Massachusetts
with 9 cuts
By Dick Friz
BOLTON, MASS. -- Skinner's showed a hot hand recently, dealing aces back to
back with two outstanding sales. The first, conducted February 28, featured
American Furniture and Decorative Arts, and the second, a Science and
Technology outing, took place a week later on March 6.
The latter sale, a techno-collector's delight, encompassed 400 lots of music
boxes, radios, gramophones, coin-ops, telescopes, weather instruments,
telescopes and medical instruments, automatons, salesman's samples, and Magic
Lanterns, as well as a cavalcade of rescued, almost surreal electrical
appliances long since obsolete. The auction grossed $344,344 (including 15
percent buyers premium) over an estimated high of $329,050, with 86 percent of
lots finding buyers.
Skinner's new science and technology director, George Glastris, made his
auction debut with the event. Glastris is also a recently appointed
co-director of Toys and Dolls with Mildred Ewing.
Tunnel Vision or Trade Savvy?
Anyone who interprets the science and technology genre as a tunnel vision
pursuit or passing fancy might take notice of the following show stoppers: A
striking Art Nouveau design Regina Style-2 hall clock, with automatic disc
changing movement, in mahogany and Saturday's final lot, was the ultimate show
stopper at $31,050; a Fortuna "Marvel" 26«-inch disc music box, with 14-note
organ drum and triangle accompaniment, pulled out all the stops at $25,300;
and a Rube Goldberg-like electric pen, No. 6737, invented by Thomas A. Edison,
The pen had subsequently become obsolete with the arrival of such typewriters
as the Franklin No. 7, purchased at the sale for $920; the Hall No. 8791
model, which rang up $488.75; and the People's No. 2519 model, which fetched
$632.50 -- all preceding the pen in the auction. Although 60,000 Edison pens
reportedly sold worldwide, there are obviously few survivors. This intriguing
specimen was housed in its original wood box.
A cast-iron Ladies' Companion sewing machine manufactured by Pratt, a Boston
firm in the 1860s, embellished with acacia leaf decoration, really put the
treadle to the metal at $14,950.
Even those who were understandably bewildered by the operation of an American
Davis-Pattern backstaff nautical instrument made by Benjamin King in Newport,
R.I., in 1768, might well find appeal in its handsome rosewood lines.
Functional or folksy, it brought a strong $6,325.
"This is not a spectacle crowd," quipped auctioneer Stuart Slavid, as one by
one Nineteenth Century steel and iron framed eyeglasses and ophthalmic
instruments languished and were passed. A lot of funky banjo and
trumpet-shaped hearing aids and conversation tubes, conversely, exacted a
$373.75 top bid, while an 1890s Shoe-Fly pattern electric fan, perhaps
inspired by palm fronds wafted by Nubians to "cool off" Cleopatra on her Nile
cruise, stirred up $460.
Symphoniums, Music Boxes and Gramophones
Few were caught sitting on their paddles when a diverse selection of
symphoniums, music boxes and gramophones took center stage. A scarce Columbia
type AE gramophone introduced in 1897, with Bell-Tainter pattern electric
motor, was soon discontinued because a larger pulley was required. This
particular AE example, one of three known, got strong play at $4,600.
Also hammered down at $4,600 was an Edison Eighteenth Century English Art
Model Disc phonograph, in a mahogany console cabinet with painted classical
lady, pearls, foliate, flowers and gilt fittings, plus five diamond discs. It
can be safely assumed that only a dozen or two of these extravagant units were
A number of categories attracted cross-over collectors of toys and dolls.
Particularly engaging was a quartet of 1870s Marottes (from the French
referring to a court jester) dolls, bisque-headed figures on wooden handles
with music boxes in their torsos that play music. A baby Marotte in silken
finery playing the "Recessional" was rated a fine buy at $230; a Harlequin
Marotte, with multi-colored costume and bells, rang in at $862.50; and a
version with "Unis" bisque head and brocaded green costume added $575.
The real buy, however, may have been a Marotte version with replaced clothes,
lotted with a pair of modern musical dolls, and a reproduction automaton of a
girl on swing. It played out at $184.
The favorite among musical automatons was a group of family musicians,
12‹-inches high, with the wife at the piano, the father playing violin, and
the daughter dancing spritely to a waltz (Strauss perhaps?). This intricate
multi-action toy brought $3,105.
Janet Fead Collection
Many in the crowd and on the phones eagerly awaited the elegant and diverting
music boxes from the collection of the late Janet Fead, a Detroit music
teacher whose assemblage was renowned on both sides of the Atlantic for
Her musical silver birdcages at Skinners trilled such high notes as $2,070 for
a Bontemps pattern version. A sum of $1,840 was paid for a cast silver and
blue enamel by Griesbaum, and a silver singing bird cigarette case, also
Griesbaum, circa 1950, soared to $3,565. Topping them all, a singing bird box
by Rochet, No. 438, in gold case with brightly plumed bird, more than doubled
the high estimate at $14,950.
A musical necessaire (cosmetic case) in the form of a sleigh with painted
floral spray and bone handled instruments excelled at $1,265, nearly doubling
its estimate. Another more elaborate musical necessaire of burr maple, with
complete tray of mother-of-pearl implements with gold mounts, and a movement
that dated the piece at circa 1815, went at $7,187, almost six times Skinner's
A Scottish musical lead-lined snuffbox, circa 1820, and perhaps one of the
earliest examples, was embellished with a Mauclin-ware decoration of a hunting
scene. It played several tunes, including "God Save The King," and rated a
number of bidding encores up to $5,405.