Scientific Instruments

Items relating to scientific history are a popular collecting area in which number of specialist dealers and auctioneers operate. The field overlaps into sectors such as antique tools, technology, medicine and maritime history.

Objects in this area that regularly appear on the market include microscopes, telescopes, optical devices, globes, sundials and astrolabes as well as dental, drawing and navigational instruments.


Hooker original

Botanical illustration exhibition toasts bicentenary of explorer and scientist Joseph Dalton Hooker

06 June 2017

Botanist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) is remembered for his directorship of Kew Gardens, his close friendship with Charles Darwin, and the more than 30 plants with the specific name ‘hookeri’ and ‘hookeriana’ in his honour.

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Daniel Quare barometer heats up Austrian auction

10 April 2017

Daniel Quare (1648-1724) is primarily known as a clock and watchmaker. He was, however, also an accomplished maker of portable barometers, one of which came up for sale at Dorotheum (25/22/15% buyer’s premium) in Vienna on March 29.

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Survey of the scientific sale scene

18 March 2017

Tennants’ (20/18.5/17.5% buyer’s premium) sale of Scientific and Musical Instruments, Cameras and Tools on February 17 included a rare brass altazimuth theodolite, signed by London instrument makers Heath and Wing. Estimated at just £300-400, it sold in its original box together with wooden tripod at £10,000.

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First commercially produced typewriter the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball sells at Cologne auction

12 December 2016

As you peruse this story on your computer, smartphone or tablet, take a look at the keyboard on said devices and spare a thought for the Rev Rasmus Malling-Hansen (1835-90).

Abraham Lincoln

The Presidential Selection: Abraham Lincoln

03 November 2016

In the run-up to the US election on November 8, Frances Allitt takes a look at the objects previous presidents borrowed, bought – and sometimes broke.

Gibbs SR Toothpaste advert storyboard

A moment in TV history – storyboard for the first British TV advert at auction

25 October 2016

C&T Auctioneers will hold its first sale dedicated to mechanical, music scientific instruments and technical apparatus under its newly appointed specialist Laurence Fisher on November 2.

singing bird box

Bird box to soar at County Durham autumn auction

15 September 2016

A 19th century singing bird box is a starring lot at an upcoming County Durham auction that features several animal-themed lots.

Sputnik-1 model at Bonhams

Sputnik-1 model goes into orbit at New York auction selling at 15 times estimate

21 July 2016

A full-scale test model of the satellite Sputnik-1 sold at Bonhams New York yesterday for $220,000 (£167,012), outstripping a $10,000-15,000 estimate.

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Monkey business – Swiss museum buys automaton at Bristol auction

19 January 2016

A museum in Switzerland has acquired this extraordinary monkey band automaton at an online-only auction conducted by East Bristol Auctions, in Hanham, Bristol.

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Royal Institution to sell ‘non-core’ items

28 October 2015

Scientific, medical and natural history books from the library of the Royal Institution are to be sold at Christie’s on December 1.

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Dealers bring Scott’s ‘Golden Age’ clocks back to market

24 April 2015

What is billed as “the best collection of English clocks that has come to the market in living memory” will go on sale later this year at Winchester dealers Carter Marsh.

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Timekeeper from Darwin’s Beagle voyage makes £60,000

18 July 2014

The most historically interesting entry in Bonhams’ clock sale held in their New Bond Street rooms came from the ten-lot section devoted to marine chronometers.

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Newly discovered ‘comet’ helps rare planetarium to £95,000

23 May 2014

A rare late-18th century George Adams Junior combined planetarium and tellurian that sold at Bonhams includes a reference to the ‘Georgian Planet’ engraved on the top plate. Today that planet is better known as Uranus, which was first observed by William Herschel on March 13, 1781, although he initially recorded it as a comet.

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London-made lathe takes $190,000 in Massachusetts

10 January 2013

A rare Holtzapffel & Company rose engine lathe turned a few heads at Skinner’s recent Science, Technology and Clocks sale to take $190,000 (£124,185) as the top lot of the day.

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A piece of history to raise the temperature

20 November 2012

It had previously been thought that Daniel Fahrenheit only ever made two of the original mercury thermometers he invented in 1714, both of which are in the collection of the Museum Boerhaave, in Leiden in the Netherlands.

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The world’s biggest binoculars?

18 July 2012

What could well be the largest binoculars ever produced, this one-off commission was consigned to Cirencester auctioneers Moore Allen & Innocent following a house clearance in Cheltenham.

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US bidder wins battle for £6900 stereoscope

25 May 2012

This Victorian achromatic cabinet stereoscope was one of the more unusual offerings among the 540 lots offered at Dee Atkinson & Harrison’s recent sale at Driffield and proved the stand-out seller.

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Not a flying saucer… but not far off

31 August 2010

IT looks like a flying saucer, and to those viewing it on the monastery wall in Verona where it had hung since the Middle Ages, it can have had hardly less of an impact.

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Van Leeuwenhoek microscope takes £260,000

08 May 2009

HE had received only a basic education and spoke only Dutch, but Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) is today recognised as the greatest of the pioneering microscopists of the 17th century.

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Canterbury Quadrant finds new home at BM

30 June 2008

AN historic and important medieval scientific instrument, known as the Canterbury Quadrant, has been saved for the nation. St James’s specialist dealers Trevor Philip and Sons have sold the quadrant to the British Museum for £411,250.

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