Thursday, March 15, 2018

Trippensee tellurion/ planetarium : A collectors guide

     Why do people love tellurions....?   Well for me it's a mechanical sculpture.  Add in a dose of history, and suddenly it's a 100 plus year old  apparatus that still works, and could if desired go right back into a classroom tomorrow.   If an antique globe is holding history, then an antique tellurion is history in motion!    
     When I wrote about planetariums and tellurions back in 2014, it quickly became and still is one of my most viewed posts.  This is telling me that there is a lot of interest in the collector market surrounding them.   It is with this in mind that I write this post as a bit of market analysis, as well as a rough guide for collectors looking to acquire one.
     I keep mentioning Trippensee because they are 90 plus percent what your going to find available in the market place.   That is not to say they were alone, there were earlier devices and some competitors over the years but they dominated.  Hence my concentration.
A pre 1908 Laing/ Trippensee
in exceptional condition
     The oldest Trippensee Planetariums are actually  re-branded Laing devices. They are characterized by string pulley systems and wooden gears. Rare and expensive they are seldom seen and usually need professional attention to be functional, they all sport the same Rand McNally 1891 globe as later models.

      The oldest planetariums of Frank Trippensee's design came in 1908 and they feature the maple construction, brass, and chain drives as is seen in the picture at the top of this page, they were manufactured roughly from 1908-1925. The later maple planetariums of the 1920's had oval name plates with serial numbers stamped on.
   
Planetarium from 1925-1940
 Around 1925 and continuing until 1940 or so Trippensee planetariums were still made of wood, but now the wood was painted black, they also had oval name plates with serial numbers.  The 4th and really final iteration of The Trippensee design is the switch to Bakelite and plastic, gone are the brass, and wood of older designs in favor of newer materials, these designs are technically still made today, they are date stamped under the weighted base.
     So what should a collector consider if they want to add a planetarium to their collection.   I'll be upfront and tell you that I've been researching these devices for quite a while but I've only managed to acquire one example.    With that admission I do think I can offer some advice when it comes to finding, buying, and restoring these devices.

look for no missing parts and
an intact globe
1.  Condition is everything,  it is far more desirable to buy a tellurion in working condition than to buy one in a state of disrepair. The price difference between a tellurion in excellent condition and one in fair condition is dramatic. As much as 50-70% less if missing parts or not working!  Pay special attention to the globe, and the sun.  It is far more desirable to have an intact globe and a brass sun without dents.   That said, these are fairly simple and straightforward, all the works is exposed so troubleshooting is not impossible.  Now, a piece of missing chain....? OK that's a straightforward fix.  However if the tellurion you are considering purchasing is missing parts other than the chain I would stay away, they are just too costly to fix, and finding replacement parts is next to impossible.


2. Age, these things have been made for 120 years,  obviously the newer the tellurion the less expensive it will be to acquire.  Excellent examples from Laing, are most valuable, then very early Trippensee planetariums.  Far less valuable are the Bakelite and plastic models of the 1950's,  even less valuable are the electrified versions of the mid 1960's.  The black painted wooden planetariums certainly command more than the Bakelite ones but always seem to sell at a discount to the maple wood planetariums,  on the order of 20-40% less.

     So lets get down to it, what will it cost to add a nice early Trippensee planetarium to your collection ?  I've been researching these for years and the market is wide ranging for example the high water mark was achieved at Sotheby's NY this past December  They sold a near identical Tellurion to mine for $6800 including buyers premium,  an outlier of a price to be sure.  More down to earth  In 2016 Brunk Auctions of Asheville NC  sold an early Trippensee for $2800.   Also in December in NY  Bonhams  sold an early tellurion for only $685,  it was missing the compass and the name plate on the arm,  this shows how missing parts just destroy the value!  Incidentally I paid $2750 for my example, I think I did OK, I plan on keeping it for a long time.
Mid century tellurion, look for a
complete and functional model

     So I know what your thinking,  I don't need a really early tellurion I'd  be just as happy with a later model.  Well lately those have been landing anywhere from $500- $900 depending on condition.  I can't recommend buying a mid century tellurion unless it's in quite nice shape and completely working.  don't spend money on a project piece at this level.

     Now finding a tellurion for sale takes some time.  I can recommend starting you search with  Murray Hudson antique Maps, Prints, and Globes  He usually has a nice example Trippensee in stock and available for purchase.  Also you can try George Glazer Gallery  He oftentimes will have a nice tellurion in stock for sale as well.  After that they do turn up on eBay from time to time, as well as at large and small auction houses alike.   The difference will be a dealer will stand behind the sale 100%, whereas an auction house is always buyer beware.



***The Laing photo at the top of the page, and the 1925-40 photo are with thanks to Murray Hudson, the last photo in this post is with thanks to Dee from Upstarts***

****As always pleases don't hesitate to comment, or reach out I encourage dialogue, and if you're in the selling mood  leave a comment or send an email I'd love to hear from you ****

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