Friday, April 25, 2014

Antique Black Forest clock with figure playing the trumpet

Many beautiful clocks where produced in the Black Forest region of Germany. The good folks over at J. Miller & Sons Antiques are offering one such example made around the turn of the century. I love this clock.

From the clock description page:

The trumpeter figure is carved from wood and retains its original paint. He has a trumpet in his mouth and a keg of beer over his shoulder. He calls at the full and half hours for another round of refreshment.

Here is where you can learn more about this Black Forest Shelf 3 Horn Trumpeter Clock.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Two great antique automata collections in the United States

Here is a video on automata by CNN. In it you will meet Charles Penniman and the famous Maillardet automaton housed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Mr. Penniman has been looking after this precious automaton for over 40 years. I had the pleasure of meeting both back in 2009, and am fond of both the man and the machine. I even got to wind the machine -- not something that every visitor gets to do. Here's a blog post about my visit to see the Maillardet automaton in 2009.

You will also get to meet Jeremy Ryder of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey where he looks after the Murtogh D. Guinness collection of automata. If you have a chance, this collection is worth a visit. Ryder's expertise is a rare thing.

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Friday, January 03, 2014

The repair and restoration repair of an automaton bear by Brittany Cox

Check out this fascinating blog entry in which we see the various steps that Brittany Cox took to repair and restore a clockwork automaton bear. I would never have expected Tyvek to be involved!

Here is where you can read the post titled Sir Kingslydale the Automaton Bear.

[ Thanks Kim and Brittany! ]

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Book: Automatic Pleasures: - The History of the Coin Machine

book cover

I was just alerted to the fact that there is a new edition of this very interesting book on the history of coin-operated machines!

From the description:

The book established many new facts and destroyed many of the myths that had arisen in the gaming industry during the 20th century. Originally an ancient Greek invention the advent of the coin machine in the 19th century heralded a Victorian revolution which sought to establish a fully automated society. The visionaries of the past are the direct forbears of the all pervasive computer industries -- without the gaming and coin machine industries it is doubtful as to whether today's computer dominated age would have ever happened.

There are some really wonderful images and diagrams in this book. Be sure to use the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon to see what I mean!

Here is where you can buy Automatic Pleasures: - The History of the Coin Machine

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Film documenting The Museum of Automata once located in York

Image of automaton

Here's a wonderful film about The Museum of Automata in York, England.

Sadly, the Museum closed in 1996, and the collection is now in Japan. At least we have this 30 minute documentary to get a glimpse at what it once contained.

In the film, you will see a wonderful variety of automata including everything from fine antique examples to contemporary makers such as Frank Nelson and Jan Zalud.

This video comes to us by way of automaton enthusiast Sergio Pinese who obtained the film from the late artist Frank Nelson.

[ Thanks Sergio! ]

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Douglas Fisher now offering Golden Age automata, singing birds, and musical boxes

The firm of Douglas Fisher of London has launched a new web site which offers Golden Age automata, fine singing bird boxes and cages, and unusual cylinder musical boxes.

The list of offerings features many examples from the most renowned makers: Vichy, Roullet-Decamps, Griesbaum, Bontems, Phallibois, and others. Every piece they offer is shown in static images, video with sound, and in a 360-degree view. According to their web site, the majority of thier pieces can be viewed at their gallery at 75 Portobello Road in London. They will also be exhibiting at various fairs in Europe, USA and Asia.

Here is the web site for Douglas Fisher Antique Automata Ltd.

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Friday, February 08, 2013

Clown Illusionist automaton by Phalibois performs bizarre decapitation routine

Back in December I posted about magician Pierre Mayer's new clown automaton. In the post, I explained that the illusion is a venerable one and made reference to a similar piece by Phalibois. Here is the Phalibois automaton in question.

Like Mayer's piece, this automaton depicts a clown doing a famous decapitation illusion. Because it is a much large piece, it incorporates a music box which also served to drive the mechanism. There are also a few other added surprises in store for the viewer. The automaton was made in Paris by either Henri or Jean Phalibois somewhere between 1890 and 1900. The entire things measures 33-1/2" high by 15-3/4" wide by 19-1/8" deep.

This delightful pieces is located at The Morris Museum, part of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Automatic Musical Instruments & Automata housed there.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Britain's best collector of bizarre, weird and unusual devices and gadgets

I posted yesterday about the book Ingenious Gadgets. No sooner had I posted than I heard from the expert on all things mechanical and kinetic, Falk Keuten, who writes the excellent Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik blog. Herr Keuten was kind enough to inform me that the author of the book was featured in the video you see above. It's great to see pictures, but even better to see these antique contraptions on film! I was also made aware of the author Maurice Collins's associated web site called The site describes itself as "A collection of bizarre, weird and unusual manufactured devices and gadgets, used in everyday life between the years of the Great exhibition of 1851 to the Festival of Britain 1951."

I should also point out that Maurice Collins is also the author of a similar book called Eccentric Contraptions: And Amazing Gadgets, Gizmos and Thingamabobs. Like the book mentioned above, this one shows you 100 bizarre and ingenious gadgets from the collection of Maurice Collins.

Here is an article on Maurice Collins by Esra Magazine. The article explains how Collins became a collector of weird, eccentric, and everyday gadgets from the past.

Here is a post about Maurice Collins from 2011 on the Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik blog.

[ Thanks Falk! ]

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ingenious Gadgets book challenges you to guess the purpose of 100 obscure contraptions from the past

book cover for Ingenious Gadgets

Over the course of 224 pages, author Maurice Collins challenges the reader to guess the purpose of 100 mysterious gadgets from the past. A brief description on page accompanies a large color photograph of the strange, silly, and clever contraptions on the adjoining page. Chapters cover gadgets for:

  • The Working Day
  • Domestic Economy
  • The Stuff of Life
  • Out and About
  • Body and Soul

From the book description:

Marvel at the ingenuity of the cuff holder which, as legend has it, was used by cardsharps at the poker table to hide the ace up their sleeves; find out how to make the perfect camping cuppa 1920s style; and decide whether the 1920s electric comb really could prevent hair loss. If you thought that phone cameras were a great invention find out more about the watch camera of the 1900s; if you've always found shaving too taxing, there is an automatic shaving cream filler and brush in the collection which allowed you to save time in that early morning rush to work - who knows why this never took off?

One of my favorite weekend pastimes is hunting around antique stores searching for old tools and other items. Trying to figure out the purpose of mysterious items is also a big part of the fun. It's interesting to see the huge number of ideas that have been brought to market over the years, as well as which ones never really took off. This book is like wandering through one of those antique stores, but you can do it from the comfort of your living room or nearest coffee shop. This book makes a nice gift for the gadget lover and history buff.

Here is where you can get Ingenious Gadgets: Guess the Obscure Purpose of Over 100 Eccentric Contraptions

Here is Maurice Collins's associated web site: Victorian

[ Thanks Falk! ]

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Roentgens' Berlin Secretary Cabinet - Even the secret compartments have secret compartments!

Image of Secretary Cabinet

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is featuring the works of Abraham Roentgen (1711–1793) and his son David (1743–1807) in an exhibit titled Extravagant Inventions. The Roentgens were know for their innovative designs, which often incorporated sophisticated and surprising mechanical devices into the lavish furniture styles of the period.

From the exhibit web page:

Some sixty to sixty-five pieces of furniture and clocks—several of which have never before been lent for exhibition—are complemented by paintings and prints that depict these unrivaled masterpieces in contemporary interiors. The most complicated mechanical devices are illustrated through virtual animations. Working drawings, portraits of the cabinetmakers, their family, and important patrons, as well as a series of documents owned by the Metropolitan Museum and originating from the Roentgen estate, underline the long-overlooked significance and legacy of the Roentgens as Europe's principal cabinetmakers of the ancien régime.

If there is any chance you can see this exhibit, you have until January 27, 2013 to make it happen.

Extravagant Inventions - The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10028-0198
Phone: 212-535-7710

October 30, 2012 to January 27, 2013

[ Thanks Kevin and Falk! ]

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Half Ounce automaton by Nick Rayburn

I posted a while back about this fascinating automaton by Nick Rayburn titled Half Ounce. The beautifully crafted wood and brass sculpture also incorporates a unique assemblage of found objects including an antique letter balance, spirit bubble level, feathers, and a bird skull! Now that is something you can't find just anywhere.

The piece is currently available on eBay. Here is where you can see more photos and/or bid on the Half Ounce automaton by Nick Rayburn.

You might also be interested in checking out his version of the classic tapping fingers automaton titled The Waiting Hand (shown in the video below). As is typical of Nick Rayburn, the craftsmanship is superb! Should you buy one of these limited edition pieces, you will be in good company. Other purchasers include Guillermo del Torro (director of Pan's Labyrinth), Ron Kalin (founder of Etsy), Adam Savage of Mythbusters and the English writer Anthony Horowitz!

Here is the eBay listing for The Waiting Hand automaton by Nick Rayburn.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Black & white film from 1950 featuring musical automata

Check out this preview clip provided by The British Pathé Film Archive featuring a number of automata filmed in 1950. Among the automata shown are a gorgeous watch-sized music box, a whistling figure, banjo player, musical birds, a monkey playing the harp, a tight rope walker, and a smoking cavalier figure puffing away on a real cigarette!

[ Thanks Michael! ]

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

The tiny Fairy Ship automaton music box

This tiny mechanical marvel is brought to us by Michael Start from The House of Automata. The tiny ship not only moves, but at one time also played a tune -- probably rising and falling notes coordinated with the ship's movement. The mechanism, dating to around 1830, would have been mounted in a case with a piece of paper or cloth serving as the rolling sea.

See more incredible antique automata at The House of Automata web site.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mechanical Wonders: The Sandoz Collection

Currently on display at ALVR is a rare loan exhibition of pieces from the Sandoz collection of automata. This is the first time many of these automata have been displayed in the The United States!

About the collection:

The exhibition features early 19th century Swiss gold and enamel automaton snuff boxes, watches, magicians, and animals, the Imperial Swan Egg of 1906 and the Imperial Peacock Egg of 1908 by Fabergé, as well as contemporary interpretations by Parmigiani of watches in the Sandoz Collection. In addition, the catalogue raisonné of the collection is presented for the first time.

Mechanical Wonders: The Sandoz Collection

And here is a beautiful video montage of some of the collection:

What: The Sandoz Collection World Premiere Exhibition
When: October 26 - November 26, 2011
Where: A La Vieille Russie, 781 Fifth Ave at 59th Street, New York, NY

[ Thanks Steve and Thanks Michael! ]

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Film about Morris Museum's automata collection

Here is a fantastic short film by the producer Ron Thomas as part of the series called The Midnight Archive. In this episode Jere Ryder, Conservator of the Guinness Collection of automata at the Morris Museum, talks about the history of automata and some of the details of the museum's astounding collection. The pieces featured in the film, fantastic as they are, represent only a fraction of this enormous and important collection.

You can learn more about the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum Web site.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Video of assorted Japanese karakuri ningyō

And now: an assortment of Japanese karakuri ningyō for your viewing pleasure.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Video footage of magician clock by Robert-Houdin

Here is some footage of a clock with an automaton attributed to the great clock-maker and magician, Robert-Houdin (not to be confused with Houdini). The clock depicts a magician performing a cup routine in which different objects appear and disappear below the cups. I am not sure how many of these exist in the world, but at least one makes its home in David Copperfield's Museum of Magic.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fantastic Silver Swan automaton from 1773

This video shows the famous Silver Swan automaton. Attributed -- at least its mechanism -- to John Joseph Merlin, this amazing automaton dates back to the 1773.

The life-size bird is driven by clockwork. The swan floats on a pool cleverly made of glass rods which rotate to give the illusion of moving water. When sent in motion, a music box plays, the swan turns its head, snatches a silver fish from the pool, and swallows it.

The Silver Swan is now located the Bowes Museum in Teesdale, England where it is still operated once each day. Here's a link to The Silver Swan page on the Bowes Museum web site.

[ Thanks Joe! ]

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