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Vintage lathe, tools are sold at Skinner auction
By Susan Emerson Nutter

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. — Who knew tools could cause such a ruckus? The early December auction presented by Skinner, Inc. featuring items having a scientific or technology bent as well as fantastic timepieces were up for grabs, and the response was tremendous.

Robert C. Cheney, Director of the Science, Technology & Clocks for Skinner, Inc. said it best, “I am the luckiest guy to be able to handle such wonderful items.”

The top lot of the sale, a Holtzapffel & Co. Rose Engine Lathe No. 1636 that sold with a cabinet of accessories, from London, circa 1838, “more than doubled the world record price of any such item sold before,” according to Cheney.

Topping out at $288,000 (prices include a 20 percent buyer’s premium), this item was comprised of a mahogany bench with a six-inch center lathe and a two-part traversing mandrel fitted with 18 rosettes and index ring. It ran via a brass drive pulley and side-mounted cast iron drive wheel, wooden treadle and overhead “Evans type” motion. It is the most complex and fully-featured rose engine lathe that Holtzapffel ever made.

“This piece of equipment went way beyond making plain turnings,” Cheney said. “The design and decoration done with this lathe was very elaborate.” And of course, the name Holtzapffel is golden where such pieces are concerned.

Founded by German immigrant, John Jacob Holtzapffel, the Holtzapffel & Co. was a tool and lathe making company established in London in 1793. Known for building specialized lathes that created ornamental turnings, it is interesting to note that doing such work was a popular past-time for men of wealth, and the lathes crafted by Holtzapffel & Co. were considered the best.

Skinner’s catalog included extensive background information on this particular lathe, stating, “Two years in the making, this lathe was first sold for a price reportedly in excess of 1,500 pounds sterling, Dec. 20, 1838, to London civil engineer and elected Fellow of the Royal Society, John Taylor Esquire (1779-1863). Warren Greene Ogden Jr. traces the history of the rose engine through six owners to his personal custody in 1954, then to Richard I. Miller, Tucson, Ariz., in 1985. John Jacob Holtzapffel II wrote to owner W.J.E. Rooke on Oct. 21, 1886 that Holtzapffel Rose Engine Lathe No. 1636 is ’one of three, the last and best we have made.’”

Another Holtzapffel lathe; a less elaborate example also was offered at this event. The Holtzapffel & Co. ornamental turning lathe No. 1994 and accessories made in London, circa 1852 and marked on the headstock Holtzapffel & Co./64 Charing Cross/1994 made $11,700. Also consisting of a mahogany bench with a flywheel, this lathe had a foot treadle and four-drawer accessory cabinet.

A set of Holtzapffel exhibition ivory-handle turning tools, London, circa 1850, was well received when it brought $43,200. Consisting of 64 fluted ivory-handled turning tools of varying patterns, the tools featured engine-turned silver ferrules and cast threaded rosettes for blade attachments.

All of the tools were stamped Holtzapffel on the hardened steel blades, and the set was displayed in a double-door mahogany cabinet. Skinner thought it is likely that these were exhibition tools, shown by Holtzapffel in 1851 at the London Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.

The scientific aspect of this December Skinner event included the selling of a George Tiemann and Company exhibition surgical set (New York, 1876) for $85,200. The implements all sported ruby-set mother-of-pearl handles and included both a large and small bone saw, four surgical knives, a capillary hook, nippers and tweezers-forceps all stamped with the maker’s name. Also housed in the felt-lined, rosewood carrying case was a tourniquet, needles and wire sutures.

Skinner’s catalog read that “Tiemann & Co. was a prominent exhibitor in 1876 at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. An extract from the General Report of the Judges states in part, ’The largest collection of instruments was exhibited by Messrs. Tiemann & Co., of New York. It embraced almost every instrument used by the surgeon in general or special practice, and some entirely new. In material, workmanship and exquisite finish, they could not be excelled.’”

Not only was this set on display during the entire Exposition, May 10 through Nov. 10, 1876 (this being the first World’s Fair held in the United States), this is the only set Tiemann & Company ever created to celebrate both the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the 50th anniversary of George Tiemann & Co.

Numerous timepieces were brought before buyers and many sold well beyond their pre-sale estimates. An E. Howard & Company No. 23 ninety-day astronomical regulator, from Boston, circa 1870 realized $150,000. Having a walnut “drum head” case with glazed dial door hinged at 12 o’clock, this clock also sported a 16 1/2 inch silvered brass astronomical dial marked E. Howard & Co. Makers/Boston.

A Barrauds enamel and pearl-set open face gold watch, made in Cornhill, London, circa 1813, no. 9141, brought $67,650. The hallmarked gold case had seed pearls on the pendant and front and rear bezels. The front, decorated with crystal, opens to a Roman numeral porcelain dial marked 9141. Stunning.

A bid of $61,500 was needed to win a Dent ebonized quarter-chiming table clock from London, circa 1870. Marked no. 13262, this timepiece came with a 5-inch porcelain Roman numeral dial marked Dent/London. This piece destroyed its pre-sale high estimate of $8,000.

The sale total was just shy of $2 million with the sold rate being quite high with very few buy-ins or passed items. “It was a rare sale in that the consignors’ estimates were conservative, but the market took over from there resulting in strong final bids,” Cheney stated.

“People were very pleased with the watches offered,” he added, “and the ornamental turning equipment was truly special.” Cheney noted that vintage science and mechanical pieces right now are weak unless those being offered are highbrow items. “We were fortunate to offer some wonderful highbrow pieces at our December auction and their selling prices just reinforces the mantra that ’junk is junk and never sells; but great pieces will bring great prices.”

Contact: Robert C. Cheney

Science, Technology & Clocks

Director, Skinner, Inc.

(508) 970-3244

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