SOUTH KENSINGTON.- The bi-annual auction of Travel, Science and Natural History at Christie’s
South Kensington held on 29 September 2011 realized a total of £2,018,650 / $3,153,131 / €2,313,373, selling 78% by lot and 93% by value. This result is the highest total ever achieved for this category at Christie’s South Kensington saleroom; the sale was estimated to realize between £997,650 and £1,495,250. Bidders hailed from more than 30 countries, and 27% of lots were bought or directly underbid online. Once again proving the increasing popularity of Christie's Live, a new client to Christie’s chose to bid online for his first bidding experience and bought one of the top 3 lots; a George III portable orrery, W. Jones, circa 1787 for £97,250.
The sale of Travel, Science and Natural History saw very strong results achieved across all sections of this diverse auction category, including topographical pictures, scientific instruments, and books and manuscripts. Items representing important moments in history and scientific discoveries from around the globe generated bids from over 30 countries, making it a truly International affair. Several items caused a bidding frenzy in the saleroom, with many world records being smashed.
Highlights from the sale included:
*A three-rotor Enigma cypher machine in its original box, dated circa 1939 and in excellent working condition, achieved the world record price of £133,250 / $208,137 / €152,705. This particular example was used in the 2001 film Enigma. Three anonymous telephone bidders battled to own the historic piece. The previous world record price for an Enigma machine sold at auction was £67,250, achieved at Christie's London in November 2010.
*A Huntley & Palmers biscuit found in the hut at the base used on the Nimrod Expedition (1907-1909) and still fully intact sold for £1,250 / $1,953 / €1,433. The biscuit was sold by a Private Collector, and was bought by an anonymous absentee bidder. Christie’s holds the world record price of £7,638 for a biscuit sold at auction, which was achieved at Christie's London in September 2001.
*A pocket diary, once owned by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO (6 June 1868 – c. 29 March 1912) sold for £27,500 / $42,955 / €31,515 – far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of £6,000-10,000. Detailing Scott’s last month’s spent in England ahead of his fateful Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, the diary includes a reference to his meeting with the Directors from the biscuit-makers, Huntley & Palmers regarding sustenance ahead of the expedition, as well as an audience with H.M. The King. The diary was sold by the family of Captain Scott and several bidders on the telephone, online and in the room battled it out in the auction room, with the winning bid coming from the telephone.
*A rare album of 105 photographs recording two royal voyages made by H.R.H. Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh around the world, and H.R.H. Edward Prince of Wales's to India sold for £82,850 / $129,412 / €94,946. This was the first time that the any member of the British Royal family visited Australia and included an assassination attempt on the second son of Queen Victoria. The Indian tour was made by the Prince of Wales in celebration of his mother’s ascension to Empress of India. The album included very rare and early views of Sydney, Perth and Western Australia.
*A presentation penicillin sample, probably from the original culture, far exceeded the pre-sale estimate of £3,000-5,000, and sold for the world record price of £39,650 / $61,933 / €45,439. This example was given to the vendor’s father by Robert Fleming, son of Alexander Fleming. He was an employee of J and R Fleming Ltd., and was presented with the gift following his significant service with the company.