When it was made by the Rock & Graner factory in Göppingen in the 1860s this would have counted as a luxury toy and it remains so. Estimated at £600-800, it took £23,000 (plus 22% buyer’s premium).
Rock & Graner (1813-1904), the premier toy maker of the period, made many different omnibuses for different world cities which were remarkably accurate depictions of the real thing. The 1875 catalogue shows a structurally identical London horse drawn omnibus with a different route and livery.
The destinations painted to the sides of Sworders’ 16in (39cm) long toy include Brompton, Kew Gardens, Chelsea and Sloane Street.
A label to a period (but not original) card box provided a clue to its ownership history. It had been posted in 1901 – when the model was already more than 30 years old – by a French lady in Manchester to a Miss JB Wright in Biggleswade with the box inscribed Not to be opened. The local vendor had no idea it was valuable.
The horses, made in carved wood with gesso, had suffered over the years with detached and missing limbs. Several figures are also missing from the complete set and there are minor losses to the railings around the carriage.
However, it was deemed a remarkable survivor, with the original paint preserved beneath a thick layer of nicotine. The buyer, a London dealer/collector, said it will require minor “conservation rather than restoration”.