Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Mr. Donovan’s automata collection had formed the basis of the York Museum of autonoma, which is now housed in Japan. The pieces offered here were part of his private collection of musical boxes from his Notting Hill house.

The market for this field is fairly small, but provenance counts and so the auctioneers were pleased with the results, with 90 per cent of the lots finding buyers. The pieces included musical novelties, such as a cigarette lighter in the form of a 1950s television set, which brought £150, and a gilt bronze ink stand with automated milkmaid, which made £780. At the other end of the scale in both size and price was a Symphonion triple-disc Eroica musical box c.1900, which led this section at an upper estimate £25,000. It was housed in an ornately carved walnut longcase-style case with domed top, standing 51/2ft (1.68m) high. The two train Lenzkirch striking clock movement activated the dual motor musical movement, with the three discs each playing on two combs, and with a further 24 discs.

Cuckoo clocks tend to come rather low in the horological pecking order, thanks to the ubiquitous modern tourist souvenirs, but early examples are increasingly sought-after, and a walnut Black Forest shelf standing example, dated 1880, doubled its lower estimate to £6000. It had a twin fusee movement with music at the hour and half-hour and, unusually, calendar apertures in the case.

Pictured top left are a selection of novelty musical boxes from the late Jack Donovan’s collection that featured in Sotheby’s sale. Left to right: two musical drinks cabinet c.1910 the largest 12in (30cm) high opening to reveal decanters and glasses – £620; a musical bookcase drinks cabinet c.1910, 15in (38cm) high containing two decanters and eight glasses – £750; a gilt bronze inkstand playing two airs with an associated automaton milkmaid churning milk, probably French late 19th century – £780 and a 15in (38cm) high spelter clock fashioned as a stage with dancer and entertainer, French c.1900 – £1050.