Collectors tune into Diss sale for mechanical music delights

Nicole Frères lever-wind musical box – £26,000 at TW Gaze.

Best-seller and one of the biggest surprises at the white-glove sale of a mechanical music collection was a musical box, the catalogue entry of which could be summarised as ‘famous name, doesn’t work’.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Terence Ryle

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Part of the Richard Bartram Collection offered in 112 lots and totalling £118,000 at the Diss rooms of TW Gaze (18% buyer’s premium), it was a lever-wind Nicole Frères Piano Forte Overture cylinder music box.

In a 2ft 4in (71cm) wide rosewood case lavishly inlaid in brass and painted enamel inlay, with engraved silver tune sheet, it was a luxury piece when the famous French maker produced it in c.1850, but not, said auctioneer Elizabeth Talbot, especially rare.

Thus, given that the 16½in (42cm) long, 230-teeth cylinder had slipped in its housing and needed expensive professional disassembly and re-assembly to get it working, the box was estimated at £4000-6000. It sold to a German collector at £26,000.

“There seemed genuine surprise in the room and then chatter among specialists and collectors, calculating what margin might be left after commission and restoration costs have been taken into consideration,” said Talbot.

With a mix of buyers from across the country including museums, members of the Music Box Society and specialist dealers, many of whom had stayed overnight at local hotels to be there, the sale, added Talbot, was “just like the old days of auctions”.

Affordable collectables

Much of it comprised affordable collectables including novelties such as a gold musical seal fob with Barillet movement at £550 and a c.1898 Jurghans Symphonium disc-playing alarm clock at £600.

Polyphon Autochange – £14,000 at TW Gaze.

One of the rarest offerings was a Polyphon Autochange, a limited number of which were produced by the Leipzig firm in the 1890s.

In its original case with a restored mechanism on a reproduction base, it came with a selection of original and newly commissioned 19 5/8in discs and sold just shy of top estimate at £14,000.