On May 30, 2015 Auction Team Breker of Cologne, Germany, will be featuring fine toys and automata. Here we present the highlights in their historical context alongside today’s auction estimates.
Figure 1. Girl with Theatre Musical Automaton by Gustave Vichy, circa 1895, estimate: $ 20,000 – 27,000
“It is common knowledge that toys do not not amuse in proportion to their price”. So begins Chapter VII of Léo Claretie’s book Les Jouets, Histoire-Fabrication published in around 1894 by Librairies-Imprimeries Réunies in Paris. The chapter provides an unusual insight into the way automata, arguably the most luxurious of all toys, struck a 19th century observer.
The cost of musical toys varied from 5 – 10 Francs for a simple figure with a hand-turned mechanism such as the German-made Organ Grinder (Figure 2, estimate: $2,000 – 3,000) to 290 Francs for the Girl with Theatre by Gustave Vichy advertised in the catalogue of Parisian department store Au Louvre.
This automaton embodies many of Vichy’s hallmarks, from the girl’s couturier costume to her magical props which seem to take on a life of their own when the mechanism is wound with a key stamped “G.V.”