Discover what the butler saw down at the end of the pier
NEARLY A HUNDRED LOTS FROM REMARKABLE PENNY ARCADIA COLLECTION GO UNDER THE HAMMER
ONCE upon a time you could pick up a Mutoscope for nothing and I do mean pick up – unwanted machines were dumped, sometimes off the end of the piers where after decades of service they were dismissed as out-dated, unwanted and even a bit sleazy.
But just exactly what is a Mutoscope? Today these early motion picture devices are more commonly known as ‘What the Butler Saw’ viewers because that is how these technically innovative machines were very quickly put to work and how they would continue to be used in amusement arcades for the next three quarters of a century.
Invented in America in 1894, the Mutoscope operates on the same principle as the flipbook, which is to say if a series of slightly different drawings or photographs is run through at a steady pace the scene appears to move. Mutoscope reels usually have around 850 photographic cards attached to a central core, rather like a Rolodex, and that provides a viewing time of about a minute in the handcranked machine.
In this country Mutoscopes remained part of the offering of seaside amusement arcades until the early 1970s when new machines were making them look old fashioned and currency decimalisation forced the issue of conversion. The machines were scrapped by the thousand and, as the rumour has it, in some cases just dumped over the side of the pier.
The result is that antique Mutoscope machines are today very rare – and can be worth thousands of pounds. The cast iron ‘Clamshell’ model that we will be putting under the hammer on Friday, April 23 is one of the earliest types, manufactured by the American Mutoscope Company of New England, and it is the first example that I have ever auctioned.
The machine is just one of almost a hundred lots in next week’s auction that have come from the Penny Arcadia collection, a remarkable private museum created by John Gresham, a self-trained fire-eater, escapologist and magician who worked music halls, circuses, fairgrounds for several years before returning to Hull to join, and eventually run, his family’s Humber-based timber importing company.
In the 1970s he amassed the most important collection of historic arcade machines in the country, a collection that outgrew his home, at which point he bought the Ritz Cinema in the Market Place at Pocklington and turned it into the famous Penny Arcadia.
The museum closed after Mr Gresham’s death in 1994 and parts of the collection were sold at that time but many items were retained by the family.
The lots we’re putting under the hammer include historic arcade machines, automatons, fairground stalls, escapology memorabilia, sideshow attractions and collectables. Additionally Mr. Gresham had a great interest in fine historical musical boxes – he was the President of the Musical Box Society of Great Britain – and the auction also includes almost 20, all of which will make hundreds of pounds and some of which will make thousands. Elsewhere the auction has an entry of 50 lots of studio pottery, including the work of some of the 20th centuries big names in the field such as Takeshi Yasuda, Carol McNicholl and others. Meanwhile the paintings include four works by the one time Beverley Station porter turned artist Walter Goodin. The section also includes two signed Lowry prints: ‘Deal’, a sketch, that we think could make £1,500 and a particularly fine copy of ‘The Beach’ that is expected to go for £2,500.
The full catalogue is available onliner at www.spicersauctioneers.com. The viewing sessions are by appointment at our new saleroom at Dutch River Side, Old Goole, 10am to 4pm Monday to Thursday. Friday’s auction will be webcast live online via thesaleroom.com and at easylive auctions.com