A rare Dodo bone and elephant bird egg lead natural history works offered at Christie's in April
Date: 28 Mar 2013 | | Views: 1572
LONDON - Christie’s presents a rare fragment of a dodo bone femur, in the Travel, Science and Natural History sale at South Kensington on 24 April (estimate: £10,000-15,000). This is believed to be the first dodo bone to come to auction since 1934. First recorded by Dutch sailors in 1598 on the remote island of Mauritius (see illustration below), the dodo was driven to extinction in the late 17th century, less than a hundred years after its discovery. This femur bone was almost certainly excavated in 1865 at Mare aux Songes, in the South-East of Mauritius during the famous dig by George Clark (1807-1873), a natural history enthusiast. Comprising over 260 lots, the auction features a wide array of works, including curiosities of natural history, globes, scientific instruments, rare books and maps, alongside paintings and works of art from the ages of exploration.
James Hyslop, Head of Travel, Science and Natural History, Christie's South Kensington commented: “As an icon of extinction, the dodo is second to none. From its appearance in Alice in Wonderland to the expression „dead as dodo‟, the bird has cemented its place in our cultural heritage. This exciting discovery is one of the few pieces of dodo material in private hands, and it is a privilege, and humbling experience, to have been entrusted with the bone. It is a reminder of the effect humans have on the natural world, and presents a rare opportunity to engage with this now lost and most enigmatic bird.”
Another marvel of the natural world is a very rare and complete sub-fossilised Elephant Bird egg (Aepyornis maximus), pre-17th century (estimate: £20,000-30,000). This egg measuring over 100 times the average size of a chicken egg stands at 8¾ inches (21cm) in diameter and 12 inches (30cm) in height. The extinct Elephant Bird, a native of Madagascar, was the largest bird ever to have lived. Resembling a heavily-built ostrich with long legs and talons, it grew to around 11 to 10 feet in height and is thought to have been hunted to extinction in Madagascar between the 14th and 17th centuries. Fragments of eggs can be found in the Southern part of the island, but whole examples such as the present lot are extremely rare.
Travel highlights include a fine view of Port Louis, Mauritius, a lost work by William Hodges R.A., which was recently discovered (estimate: £70,000-100,000). The early view was taken from around a mile out at sea, illustrating the shipping off Port Louis and the familiar profile of the Moka range of mountains, with the distinctive shapes of La Pouce and the peak of Pieter Both. William Hodges was the official artist on Captain Cook’s second voyage around the world during the 1770s and is famous for his paintings of Tahiti and the Polynesian islands. This lost Mauritius painting probably dates from his voyage home from Hodges tour of India in 1785.
Following the world record price for an enigma machine at auction achieved at Christie's London, September 2011 - this sale presents a German three-rotor Enigma cipher machine, circa 1939 (estimate: £40,000-60,000). Widely used during World War II to encrypt and decode messages sent between the German military and their commanders. It was designed with a complex, interchangeable series of three rotors bearing the 26-character alphabet, a ‘reflector’ and a plug-board with movable connecting cords that connected pairs of letters. The Enigma machine made a total of 15 billion billion possible readings for each character. This was considered too complex to be broken, but due to the efforts of Alan Turing and an elite team of cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park, the coding mechanism was solved, enabling the allies to read all secure messages, which some commentators have said shortened the war by two years.
Unlike the Enigma, the Schluesselgeraet 41 or SG-41Z, circa 1944, remained a secure cipher device, which was never solved by the cryptanalysis (estimate: £10,000-15,000). The present, restored, example consists of a numeric keyboard used for weather service communications by the German air-force. Based on designs by Boris Hagelin (1892-1983) the SG-41 was introduced too late and in too few numbers to make a difference to the outcome of the war. A now declassified report from 1946 by the American Security Agency states that 11,000 machines were ordered but only a small quantity had been manufactured and put to use.