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Little Things Mean a Lot—Big Things Bring More

Mark Sisco | June 21st, 2013


This is the fortune telling Esmeralda machine that brought $43,845.


The Mutoscope Multiscope allows several viewers to watch the show. It brought $34,020.


This Western Union Automatic Self-Winding Ticker was probably used as late as the 1940’s to report stock quotes, and later on reported news and sports information. Standing on an Art Deco pedestal and with its original glass dome, it closed strongly at $15,405 against an $8500/9500 estimate.


The two-sided die-cut flange sign in tin for Heath and Milligan Paints shows a Victorian home decked out in soft green Heath and Milligan paints. One of the partners was Monroe Heath (1827-1894), who was born in Grafton, New Hampshire, and at age 22 was lured to California, where he found gold. He left California in 1851 and founded Heath and Milligan, which was destroyed twice by fire (in 1870 and in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). He became the 23rd mayor of Chicago and served from 1876 to 1879. Bidders chased the sign well past the $600/1200 estimate, all the way to $7702.50.

James D. Julia, Inc., Fairfield, Maine

Photos courtesy James D. Julia

On June 21 James D. Julia’s toy, doll, and advertising auction in Fairfield, Maine, crossed the million-dollar threshold, finishing with a total of about $1.2 million. That’s pretty spiffy for a one-day sale. Only about 32 of the over 600 lots didn’t find new homes, making for an impressive 95% buy-through rate.

It seemed that the items that most consistently met or topped their estimates were among the smallest (the patent models and salesman’s samples). Nearly mint original paint and operating condition pushed a rake and reaper salesman’s sample model to $11,850 (includes buyer’s premium). The red-painted surfaces were pinstriped in white and black, and stenciled lettering read “Walter A. Wood/ Self-Rake Reaper/ Hoosick Falls, N. Y.” One source I located suggested that the Wood reaper, introduced in 1860, was the first to enable a single operator to perform the combined functions of hay or grain reaping and raking. The model worked well, with geared mechanisms that showed the movements from grabbing the hay to loading it into an accompanying wagon.

Apparently dozens, maybe even hundreds, of Koken Barbers’ Supply Company barbers’ chairs are still around, and there is a thriving market for their parts. But there are precious few fully functioning Koken salesman’s sample miniature chairs still extant. With leather, nickel, and porcelain surfaces, and a working hydraulic pump in the pedestal, it didn’t disappoint, bringing $35,550 (est. $16,000/20,000).

Arriving at the auction at virtually the last minute, a salesman’s sample of a fire escape ladder wagon proved to be a winner. It consisted of a miniature horse-drawn wagon in red, black, and gold paint and supporting a rotating six-segment stair-step fire escape structure. A metal plaque at the rear read “J. F. Werner/ Model Maker/ 62 Centre Street, N. Y.” It was invented by John Phippard, a great-uncle of the consignor. Accompanied by the apparently original wooden box and still needing some work to be fully operative, it closed at $13,627.50 (est. $5000/15,000).

Yet it was the physically largest items that provided the day’s top prices. Not only could the amazing Esmeralda tell your fortune, but at this auction she earned the consignor a small fortune as well. No one knew for sure who made it, but this version of a gypsy fortune teller machine came with the original Edison cylinders. Speaking from a Bedouin-style tent, the automaton would wave her right hand over an array of tarot cards, bow her head, and speak her mystical pronouncements into a set of headphones. All apparently functional and intact, Esmeralda was the top money earner of the sale, finishing just over the high estimate for $43,845.

The catalog suggested that a highly unusual Mutoscope Multiscope was probably made for a fair or exposition. A Mutoscope was an early motion picture device, patented in 1894, which operated on the flipbook principle and allowed a presentation to only one viewer at a time. The working components consisted of four square fisheye lenses, through which the viewer could watch a typical Mutoscope reel. The use of the multiple lenses allowed more than one viewer to watch the show. The belt drive needed some work, and the images of the Hindenburg explosion were of more recent vintage, but viewers were sufficiently impressed with its condition and rarity to chase it to more than four times the high estimate, closing it at $34,020. It was consigned by the FASNY Museum of Firefighting of Hudson, New York.

For more information visit Julia’s Web site (www.jamesdjulia.com) or call (207) 453-7125.

Among the top sellers was this Mills Violano Virtuoso music machine in a quartersawn oak veneer case. Inside could be viewed a violin and piano that would play a tune via a multiple tune roll. The instruments could be seen behind four beveled glass doors, illuminated from within. Upgraded to run on DC current, it sold just a whisker shy of the high estimate for $29,625.

Apparently one of the main attractions of this Sturditoy American Railway Express truck was its peculiar color, which is sort of a dark sea-foam green. With two working doors, nickel-plated bumpers, front headlights, and minimal wear to the paint, it brought $7702.50 (est. $2000/3000).

Buyers put a lot of stock in original boxes. Without the box, this mechanical Linemar Popeye Air-O-Plane wouldn’t have brought nearly the $11,257.50 that it did. The lithographed colors were virtually intact; the mechanism was working; and the box suffered only some minor wear. All of that brought the 1960 toy well past the $2500/4000 estimate.

This Koken barber chair salesman’s sample brought $35,550.


Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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