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During its February 22-24 sale series, Mehlis in Plauen is selling all pieces without reserve. The museum closed after the owner’s death.

Another potential star expected to set the room humming is a so-called glass armonica from the end of the 18th century.

This type of instrument was invented by the multi-talented Benjamin Franklin in 1761. It is basically the mechanised version of the wet finger around the rim of a wine glass. The oak case, now stained black, houses 30 glass bowls of decreasing size mounted on an iron rod, which can be played with the help of a dampened finger: each glass resonates at a different note.

Famous composers, among them Mozart, Beethoven and Donizetti, wrote compositions for the armonica, but some observers were convinced that the instrument could damage the nerves and, according to the German musicologist Ferdinand Roechlitz, even cause madness.

Musical marvel

Also in February, toy specialist Ladenburg Spielzeugauktion is branching out and holding a sale of musical instruments.

The 1000 pieces from all over the world come from various collections. Particularly well represented are woodwind instruments, and among the most distinctive is a serpent from c.1820, made of walnut covered in leather.

It has six finger-holes and seven keys and is in the catalogue at €780 for this sale near Heidelberg.

The serpent was a late 16th century invention as a substantial bass instrument, measuring up to 8ft (2.4m). It was often used to accompany Gregorian chanting and later secured its place in 18th century military bands.

Nineteenth century aficionados praised its rich tone and dynamic range, but at the same time it had numerous detractors.

Composer Hector Berlioz, for instance, said “the barbaric timbre of this instrument would have been far more appropriate to the ceremonies of the bloody cult of the Druids than to those of the Catholic religion”.