Collectibles

Historical scientific treats up for auction at Bonhams

Historical scientific treats u...
The Curta is considered the first pocket-sized mechanical calculator. This Type 1 mid-20th is expected to sell for at least US$610 at a Bonhams auction in London on May 19
The Curta is considered the first pocket-sized mechanical calculator. This Type 1 mid-20th is expected to sell for at least US$610 at a Bonhams auction in London on May 19
View 34 Images
This combined tellurium and planetarium from early 19th century England features models of the Sun, Moon and Earth and sits on paper printed with calendar, zodiac and compass points
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This combined tellurium and planetarium from early 19th century England features models of the Sun, Moon and Earth and sits on paper printed with calendar, zodiac and compass points
This small brass armillary planetarium from mid-18th century is expected to sell for at least US$30,000
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This small brass armillary planetarium from mid-18th century is expected to sell for at least US$30,000
This ivory anatomical model of a pregnant woman was used in Germany in the late 17th century was used to in lectures to medical students. It is expected to sell for at least US$5,300
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This ivory anatomical model of a pregnant woman was used in Germany in the late 17th century was used to in lectures to medical students. It is expected to sell for at least US$5,300
A collection of ocular prosthesis from late 19th century England. The glass eyes are expected to sell for at least US$3,674
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A collection of ocular prosthesis from late 19th century England. The glass eyes are expected to sell for at least US$3,674
This combined tellurium and planetarium from early 19th century England features models of the Sun, Moon and Earth and sits on paper printed with calendar, zodiac and compass points. It is expected to sell for at least US$22,000
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This combined tellurium and planetarium from early 19th century England features models of the Sun, Moon and Earth and sits on paper printed with calendar, zodiac and compass points. It is expected to sell for at least US$22,000
This ivory anatomical model of a pregnant woman was used in Germany in the late 17th century was used to in lectures to medical students. It is expected to sell for at least US$5,300
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This ivory anatomical model of a pregnant woman was used in Germany in the late 17th century was used to in lectures to medical students. It is expected to sell for at least US$5,300
This vertical gilt brass sundial dates back to 16th century Germany and also functioned as an astrolabe, a tool used by astronomers and navigators to determine locations of the Sun, Moon, planet and stars. It is expected to sell for US$160,000
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This vertical gilt brass sundial dates back to 16th century Germany and also functioned as an astrolabe, a tool used by astronomers and navigators to determine locations of the Sun, Moon, planet and stars. It is expected to sell for US$160,000
This Nicole Feres four overture Grand Format cylinder music box is from Switzerland circa 1860 and is expected to yield at least US$12,000
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This Nicole Feres four overture Grand Format cylinder music box is from Switzerland circa 1860 and is expected to yield at least US$12,000
This Nicole Feres four overture Grand Format cylinder music box is from Switzerland circa 1860 and is expected to yield at least US$12,000
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This Nicole Feres four overture Grand Format cylinder music box is from Switzerland circa 1860 and is expected to yield at least US$12,000
A Pistor mahogany organ and clock combo from mid-18th century England is expected to sell for at least US$14,800
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A Pistor mahogany organ and clock combo from mid-18th century England is expected to sell for at least US$14,800
A Pistor mahogany organ and clock combo from mid-18th century England is expected to sell for at least US$14,800
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A Pistor mahogany organ and clock combo from mid-18th century England is expected to sell for at least US$14,800
This 17.5 inch Polyphon disc music box from Germany circa 1900 comes complete with winding handle and 17 metal discs
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This 17.5 inch Polyphon disc music box from Germany circa 1900 comes complete with winding handle and 17 metal discs
A 24.5-inch Polyphon disc musical box from early 20th century Germany complete with 13 metal discs is expected to sell for at least US$7,600
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A 24.5-inch Polyphon disc musical box from early 20th century Germany complete with 13 metal discs is expected to sell for at least US$7,600
A 24.5-inch Polyphon disc musical box from early 20th century Germany complete with 13 metal discs is expected to sell for at least US$7,600
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A 24.5-inch Polyphon disc musical box from early 20th century Germany complete with 13 metal discs is expected to sell for at least US$7,600
The 1954 Leica IIIf was the company's first camera to feature built-in flash synchronization. This model is expected to sell for at least US$30,000
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The 1954 Leica IIIf was the company's first camera to feature built-in flash synchronization. This model is expected to sell for at least US$30,000
A 1954-1955 Leica 72 is expected to yield at least US$18,000
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A 1954-1955 Leica 72 is expected to yield at least US$18,000
This Charles Bruguier silver and silver-gilt singing bird box is expected to sell for at least US$24,000
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This Charles Bruguier silver and silver-gilt singing bird box is expected to sell for at least US$24,000
A 1954-1955 Leica 72 is expected to yield at least US$18,000
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A 1954-1955 Leica 72 is expected to yield at least US$18,000
The 1954 Leica IIIf was the company's first camera to feature built-in flash synchronization. This model is expected to sell for at least US$30,000
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The 1954 Leica IIIf was the company's first camera to feature built-in flash synchronization. This model is expected to sell for at least US$30,000
This rare Newton Co Ives-patent Lantern Photochromoscope is expected to sell for at least US$4,500
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This rare Newton Co Ives-patent Lantern Photochromoscope is expected to sell for at least US$4,500
An automated singing bird cage complete with feathered bird and wing and tail movements from late 19th century France is expected to sell for at least US$4,500
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An automated singing bird cage complete with feathered bird and wing and tail movements from late 19th century France is expected to sell for at least US$4,500
Thought to be English, this amputating saw is from mid-18th century and is expected to sell for at least US$1,095
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Thought to be English, this amputating saw is from mid-18th century and is expected to sell for at least US$1,095
This European amputating saw from the early 18th century is expected to sell for at least US$760
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This European amputating saw from the early 18th century is expected to sell for at least US$760
This J.B Dancer stick barometer is expected to sell for US$1,100
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This J.B Dancer stick barometer is expected to sell for US$1,100
This circa 1870 mahogany-cased dial telegraph is the handiwork of Charles Wheatstone, the English physicist and inventor best known for inventing the electric telegraph. It is expected to sell for at least US$2,8000
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This circa 1870 mahogany-cased dial telegraph is the handiwork of Charles Wheatstone, the English physicist and inventor best known for inventing the electric telegraph. It is expected to sell for at least US$2,8000
This drawing set made up of rulers, a protractor, pens dividers and a compass is said to have belonged to early 19th century astronomer William Parsons
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This drawing set made up of rulers, a protractor, pens dividers and a compass is said to have belonged to early 19th century astronomer William Parsons
This large brass triangulation theodolite from circa 1860 England is expected to sell fort US$1,600
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This large brass triangulation theodolite from circa 1860 England is expected to sell fort US$1,600
An 1865 compound monocular microscope is expected to attract a price of at least US$6,100
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An 1865 compound monocular microscope is expected to attract a price of at least US$6,100
This early 18th century graphometer in its original leather case is expected to sell for at least US$4,900
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This early 18th century graphometer in its original leather case is expected to sell for at least US$4,900
Diptych sundials like this one, where a vertical and horizontal dial are hinged together in a pocket-sized package, were fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries.model is expected to sell for at least US$6,100
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Diptych sundials like this one, where a vertical and horizontal dial are hinged together in a pocket-sized package, were fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries.model is expected to sell for at least US$6,100
Diptych sundials like this one, where a vertical and horizontal dial are hinged together in a pocket-sized package, were fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries.model is expected to sell for at least US$6,100
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Diptych sundials like this one, where a vertical and horizontal dial are hinged together in a pocket-sized package, were fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries.model is expected to sell for at least US$6,100
This 18.5-inch terrestrial globe from Vincenzo Coronelli is expected to sell for at least US$93,000
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This 18.5-inch terrestrial globe from Vincenzo Coronelli is expected to sell for at least US$93,000
This mid-18th century armillary planetarium is expected to attract bids in excess of US$30,000
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This mid-18th century armillary planetarium is expected to attract bids in excess of US$30,000
The Curta is considered the first pocket-sized mechanical calculator. This Type 1 mid-20th is expected to sell for at least US$610 at a Bonhams auction in London on May 19
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The Curta is considered the first pocket-sized mechanical calculator. This Type 1 mid-20th is expected to sell for at least US$610 at a Bonhams auction in London on May 19
View gallery - 34 images

In science, things can move quickly and once-vaunted instruments are often left by the wayside. Bonhams auction houses around the world regularly scoop 'em up and dust 'em off, inviting the technologically curious to take a little stroll through the history of scientific achievement and invest in what we've previously argued is one of the most undervalued collectibles marketplaces. Bonhams' upcoming Scientific, Technological and Mechanical Musical Instrument auction in London will showcase a range of rare and unique collectibles, with amputating saws and hand-cranked mechanical calculators all part of the mix.

Up until 1948, if you were somebody who needed to solve complex maths problems on the run you didn't have a whole lot of options. Sure, mechanical calculators had been around for a few centuries, but these machines were not what you might call mobile.

Enter the handiwork of Austrian-born engineer Curt Herzstark. He first imagined a portable mechanical calculator in the late 1930s, but the invasion of the German army put these aspirations on hold, particularly once he was hurled into a concentration camp. But the Nazi's were privy to his technical savvy, and offered him a reprieve by way of a position in a slave-labor factory building precision parts for secret military projects.

The Nazi's then caught wind of Herzstark's ambitions to build a small calculator. They took him aside and told him if he was able to produce a working version, they would afford him the honor of gifting his project to the Führer. Herzstark and his fellow prisoners would be freed in 1945, by which point the engineer had drawn up detailed designs. He took these to a German factory where machinists were able to produce three working prototypes of what is considered to be the first mechanical calculator small enough to fit in a pocket.

The Curta calculator looks much like a pepper grinder. Users enter digits by adjusting the vertical sliders on its side. This figure can then be multiplied, added to, subtracted from or divided by making changes to a rotating band at the top and then turning the lever. The calculator then cranks out the answer and displays it in a circle of digits on its top surface.

A marvel of engineering and hugely practical for its time, an estimated 150,000 Curta calculators were made before the emergence of electronic calculators in the 1970s. The Type 1 was sold for US$125. At next month's auction it is expected to yield between $615 and $950.

Another offering to pique our interest was a pair of handsaws dating back to the 1700s. Those needing a limb amputated today can count on modern day medical equipment and highly trained surgeons to minimize complications. Back in 18th century Europe, the procedure was a little more, well, rough around the edges.

This European amputating saw from the early 18th century is expected to sell for at least US$760
This European amputating saw from the early 18th century is expected to sell for at least US$760

Fully conscious patients with severe infections and deformities had no choice but to grit their teeth as the jagged edges of large amputating saws cut through their skin, muscle and bone. These tools were often adorned with decorative features such as ebony handles and extravagant curves, which may have been aesthetically pleasing for a fleeting moment but, were harder to sterilize and did little to curb the spread of bacteria.

These savage reminders of early amputation techniques are expensive, but won't cost you an arm and a leg (unless you insist on checking to see if it's still functional). Two 18th century saws, one from Europe and one from England, are set to go under the hammer and are expected to attract bids of US$750 to $1400.

A total of 141 scientific instruments will be on offer at the Bonhams Scientific, Technological and Mechanical Musical Instruments auction in London on May 19. Among these are singing bird cages from late 19th century France, a $125,000 sundial, refracting and reflecting telescopes and a collection of 144 glass eyes neatly arranged inside a handy carry tray.

Click through to our gallery to see more picks from the collection.

Source: Bonhams

View gallery - 34 images
1 comment
RichardMcDowell
In the mid '60s I knew several avid rallyist is the SCCA that used Curtas to compute time/distance. It was the absolute best "toy" available after twin chronographs.