Moule patent earth closet – £320 at Clarke & Simpson.

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Running his vicarage like a commune, complete with vegetable garden and livestock, in 1859 he invented the first composting toilet.

Moule (pronounced Mole) was conscious of the need to prevent the spread of disease, but he also disapproved of the water closet on theological grounds as he felt it polluted God’s rivers and seas and was a waste of nutrients which should be returned to the soil.

More than a century ahead of his time, he published several works on this subject, the first being Advantages of the Dry Earth System in 1868, and set up the Moule Patent Earth Closet Co Ltd which manufactured and sold earth closets.

A sale of Rural and Domestic Bygones at Clarke & Simpson (18% buyer’s premium) in Framlington, Suffolk, on February 5 featured one of his later patents: a 1873 version with its mahogany box and cast-iron frame. Dry earth or peat is put into the hopper at the back of the seat and deposited via a lever into a bucket placed below. Estimated at £100- 200, it took £320.

Moule’s ideas did prove influential. In India, in particular, the system was used in many public buildings while in 1868 The Lancet reported that 148 of his dry earth closets were used by 2000 men at an army volunteer camp in Wimbledon “without the slightest annoyance to sight or smell”.

Corking example


Hipkins patent corkscrew c.1879 – £1650 at Laidlaw.

The task of removing a cork from a bottle with minimum effort and distress was another that vexed many Victorian inventors and spawned numerous different patent designs based on simple mechanics.

The model offered for sale at Laidlaw (18% buyer’s premium) in Carlisle on February 5 with a guide of just £30-40, but sold at £1650, was marked No. 3167 and Patent GF Hipkins & Son Lever-Rack.

George Frederick Hipkins of Birmingham was the maker of steel eyebrow corkscrews and a number of other Victorian ‘mechanical’ corkscrews including the Lund’s and the Hiram Codd patents but this model was patented by his son William Edward Hipkins in 1879. Composed of a framed rack with a central hinge, the cork is removed by a single concave lever.

The estimate was certainly modest for a corkscrew that has long been recognised among the most desirable Victorian patents.

The Hipkins is mentioned in both Mechanical Corkscrews: Their Evolution, Actions, And Patents (1999) by Ferd Peters and British Corkscrew Patents from 1795 (1997) by Fletcher Wallis, while other examples have sold at auction for £1500-3000 in the past decade.