Friday, April 16, 2010

Antique musical singing bird music box automaton

Antique musical singing bird music box automaton
Take a look at this beautiful antique singing bird box from the 1920s made by German maker by Karl Griesbaum.

From the eBay description:
The multi-colored, full-feathered bird flutters his wings, turns from side to side, opens and closes his beak, all the while singing his song in full voice. A bird-shaped brass key is included.

Here is the full eBay listing with many more photos of this antique singing bird automaton

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Contest: Make a mechanical vending machine

Contest: Make a mechanical vending machine
The good folks at the The Kugelbahn Blog have announced a competition! The goal is to design and build a coin-operated vending machine that dispenses small German chocolate bars. The deadline for the competition is January 31st, 2010.

Machine Specifications
The apparatus is to be purely mechanical and hand operated. With the input of a 20ct-coin the machine should output one little chocolate bar. The ALDI Moser-Roth chocolate package (found in Germany) contains 50 pieces measuring 5mm x 35mm x 35mm each, which are cheap and stack well (see the picture above). The coin-acceptor unit is to make possible the chocolate output with one 20ct-coin. Other coins with a smaller diameter should fall into the return area.

For all of the competition details visit KugelbahnBlog starts TINKERING COMPETITION for chocolate vending machines.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Forest drinking king automaton clock

Justin Miller -- a fan of The Automata / Automaton Blog and collector of Black Forest clocks -- recently added a rare clock to his collection. He has been kind enough to share the piece with us. Made circa 1870 in the Black Forest, the clock features a drinking king automaton figure. Every 10 minutes or on demand the king comes to life.

The automaton's sequence of movement is as follows:

1 - The king's left arm holds a large beer. His arm raises the bottle across his chest above the glass. The wrist then tips the bottle to pour a drink.

2 - The arm with the bottle returns to his side.

3 - The right arm holding the glass is lifted up to his mouth.

4 - The mouth opens to accept the beverage.

5 - The eyes drop to the glass to confirm it is empty.

6 - The eyes return to looking ahead.

7 - The mouth closes as the glass is returned to resting position.

See this and Justin Miller's other wonderful Black Forest clocks on his blog,

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Mechanical Christmas tree stand with four tunes

Made around 1900, this German clockwork Christmas tree stand spins the tree around and plays four tunes.

For more info, visit

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Gorgeous singing bird music box automaton

I love the range one finds in automata -- from ingenious paper automata costing a few dollars hand-made on your kitchen table, to lavish antiques costing thousands. Here's one on the older, opulent, and intricate end of the spectrum: a singing bird automaton music box housed in a cigarette case (made in Germany around 1920).

From the eBay listing: of a kind singing bird box in combination with a cigarette case. This sterling silver case has 4 sides that fold open in and give acces to the cigarettes. In the centre of the case behind glass panels is a Griesbaum singing bird movement. By pushing the stop start knob this lid will jump open and a little bird will appear. It will turn from left to right moving its beak and wings and sing a song with a loud and strong voice After it is finished it will return into the box and the lid will automatically close again. The mechanism is spring wound. The complete case is machine worked in combination with unbelievable highly decorative engravings.

The eBay listing features many more photographs and a video clip of the bird in action. Here's the link for this singing bird music box automaton.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Video of Vielmetter drawing clown tin toy

The other day, I wrote about a drawing tin-toy automaton that was on eBay. Here is some video of the toy showing how the cams are installed in the base and how the clown draws with a pencil on paper.

From the YouTube description:
A very rare and clever toy produced in Germany approximately 1885 until about 1905. The little hand-cranked tin artist draws with a graphite stick onto paper via 'programmed' double-cams (x and y axis).

Some texts say it was an expensive wealthy person's toy, and other texts mention it as a give-away to favorite clients of the firm Phillip Vielmetter Mechanische Werkstatten of Berlin, Germany. This ultra-rare original box was repaired by Randy's Toy Shop.

I suspect the 5 cams are from various production dates. They are labeled (in German): HAHN, KAKADU, GLADSTONE, HARLEKIN, AFFE. There are several more cams that I do not have, such as Napolean, Balzaax, Queen Victoria, and still others.

I had only seen photographs of this amazing toy in the books Mechanical Toys (Spilhaus and Spilhaus)and Automata and Mechanical Toys (Hiller). It's great to finally see the actual toy in operation! get a peek inside...

[ Thanks Els! ]

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Video of German-made miniature singing bird box

Here is a nice looking miniature singing bird box captured on video. The box measures 4 1/8 inches long by 2 5/8 inches wide by 2 1/2 inches tall.

From the eBay Listing:
The bird comes out and twirls while flapping his wings and opening/ closing his beak. When we got it to work, there was a faint tweeting noise, but I think it needs a little adjusting to work perfectly.

When you take out the drawer, the bottom says Metall [sic], and there is a mark that looks like an EB in an oval. We looked inside the top and the upper right corner says Made in Germany, and there is a little bird on top of some hills with a K on the left and and G on the right. There is also a 5 on the back of the drawer and the back of the inside near the top.

Here is a link to this German-made miniature singing bird box.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Authoratative web site on singing bird automata

schematic of a singing bird mechanism
Falk Keuten of the Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik blog informs me that -- run by from Detlef Knick of Berlin, Germany -- is the most comprehensive site on the web on topic of singing bird automata. The site is in German only, but has many wonderful photos and diagrams. Shown here is a schematic of a singing bird mechanism. If you can read German, I am envious!

Visit the Singvogel-Automaten page for more on singing bird automata.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

German whistling figure carved wood automaton

German whistling figure carved wood automaton
Here is an old German whistler figure. The carved wood automaton dates to the early 20th century and measures about 18 1/2" high.

While this particular one isn't fully operational at the moment, the eBay listing features many great photographs of the mechanism including a close-up shot of the clever bellows arrangement that provides air to the whistle mechanism.

Here is the link to the eBay listing for this German whistling figure automaton.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Automta in antiquity article from SPIEGEL Online

Automta in antiquity article from Speigel Online
The German magazine SPIEGELhas published an article on automata in antiquity. least that's what I believe it is about. I cannot read German. Nevertheless, they have a number of wonderful drawings and photographs that accompany the article.

Once again the credit must go to Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik for finding this great resource.

Shown above is a diagram of Hero of Alexandria's clever method for automatically opening temple doors. The fire in the pot, creates pressure in the large water tank. This causes water to spill into the bucket, the weight of which works against the counterweight to rotate the vertical axle attached to the temple door. Very clever. Done with the right amount of ceremony, this must have seemed very magical indeed to the ancient Greeks.

Here is a link to the photoset associated with the article. If you are able to read German, you might also like to read the original article on automata in antiquity.

[ Thanks once again to Falk Keuten! ]

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rare Black Forest 'Rat Eater' Automton Clock

A fairly common animated figure in Black Forest German clocks is 'The Dumpling Eater'. The folks over at North Coast Imports shared this video of a rare variation. Rather than dumplings, the animated pirate figure on this clock is eating rats!

Check out this an many other interesting Black Forest automata clocks at the North Coast Imports Blog.

[ Thanks Dolf! ]

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eitech metal construction toys - gears and more

I really like the Eitech construction toy building sets. I haven't built one of their models, but I have purchased bundles of parts such as gears, axles, and sprockets for use in prototyping various mechanisms.

They aren't exactly cheap, but they will stand up to a lot of use and reuse. Many of the parts are metal. Some of the plastic parts have metal reinforcements. The system offers a wide assortment of mechanical components, metal structural pieces, and motors to animate your projects.

Here is Amazon's selection of Eitech Building Sets.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Sterling Silver Automaton Bird Music Box

Sterling Silver Automaton Bird Music Box
Made around 1950 in Germany, here is a gorgeous singing bird box with a tobacco compartment hidden in the back.

When you activate the start knob the lid opens and a little bird pops up. The bird then turns left and right opens its beak, flapping its wings, and sings a song. At the end of the song, the bird returns to the box and the lid automatically snaps closed. These things are truly marvelous.

Check out 10 detailed photographs of the silver singing bird automaton music box on the eBay listing.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

New Blog: "Play and Art with Mechanics"

Spiel und Kunst mit MechanikI am please to inform you that Hanns-Martin Wagner and Falk Keuten -- both experts on mechanical sculpture -- have started a new blog entitled "Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik" which translates roughly as "Play and Art with Mechanics".

They plan to feature content about all things related to mechanical toys and Kinetic Art including: automata, machine art, outsider art with mechanical actions, whirligigs, rolling ball sculptures, nonsense machines (like Rube Goldberg machines), chain reactions, the history of machines, sound sculptures, mechanical music, coin operated machines, vending machines, and paper engineering.

Sounds delightful!

Here is a link to Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik (Play and Art with Mechanics).

[ Congratulations Hanns-Martin and Falk! ]

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Automatic Marble Run Elevators for the CUBORO

Check out these extremely clever wooden marble run creations by Dietmar Wächtler. These elevators are not available for retail, but made specifically for trade show presentations and exhibitions.

[ Thanks Falk and Dietmar! ]

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

German Clock-Maker Matthias Naeschke

German Clock-Maker Matthias Naeschke
If the sight of polished brass gears drives you insane (is it just me?), then you must to pay a visit to the web site of German clock maker Matthias Naeschke. I don't know how to read German, but I can tell you this: the pictures are beautiful. The site navigation is fairly deep, so keep clicking!

I am told he is one of the last makers of high-end flute clocks.

Visit the web site of Clock-maker Matthias Naeschke.

Update: I didn't realize this initially: they have an English version of their site.

[ Thanks Falk! ]

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Monday, June 16, 2008

German Made Tumbling Acrobatic Automaton

This is a hand-made wooden toy made in Germany. The little wooden figure performs back-flips down three small steps.

German Made Tumbling Acrobatic Automaton
Automata like this have a long history in Japan and in the West. Now, a traditional German toymaker has re-invented the toy, with a new mechanism (the old ones relied on mercury).

The toy comes in a wooden box, which opens to form the steps on which the tumbler performs his act.

Here is a link to the product page for the Tumbling Acrobat Automaton. Here is a link to a movie of the Tumbling Acrobat Automaton in action.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

German Musical Clown and Dog Act Automaton

Clown and Dog Act AutomatonHere is a German-made automaton currently available on eBay.

As you turn the hand-crank the music plays and the poodles climb over the top of the ladder. The clown moves his head back and forth and moves his arm back and forth with the wand. The seller says the piece features glass eyes, is from the 1880s, and is in good working order.

Here is the eBay listing with additional photographs of the Musical Clown and Dog Act Automaton

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Automaton Artist: Anthony Lent

The automaton in the video above is the work of master jeweler and automata-maker, Anthony Lent. This piece is entitled Vespa Inhorgenti.

From his site:
Mr. Lent has taught at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology for thirty-one years, serving as chairman of the Jewelry Department from 1990-2001. He has also pursued the fascinating world of automata, creating magical and intricately built pieces that delight and beguile the eye and the mind. His work, including intricately hand-crafted watches, has been shown in numerous venues in America and Europe. He has won international awards

Visit Anthony Lent's web site and automata page to see more of his gorgeous work.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

PhantasieMechanik Exhibition at phaeno

Head over to The Mechanical Blog to read their recent posting about an upcoming exhibition in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The show will include 40 pieces from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and 18 from American artist Arthur Ganson. There will also be works by Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Eduard Bersudsky, and Norman Tuck.

Read all of the details about The PhantasieMechanik Exhibit.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Featured Artist: Michael Pflueger

Michael Pflueger is a Germany-based mechanical sculptor, maker of interesting metal art, and designer of useful household items.

This is a clever interactive piece in which the viewer/user is pecked at by the mechanical bird. It is amazing that a few mechanical parts can create such a lifelike motion.

Check out some of his other works at [Thanks Falk!]

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Automata-Maker Ian McKay

The British automata artist Ian McKay combines weathered driftwood with wooden toy-like elements to create things like this boat automaton.

Trained as a ceramicist, he has also been a silversmith, a blacksmith, furniture designer, a maker of wood engraving blocks, drummer, technician, teacher, and gardener.

He sees toy-making to be the sum of all these experiences -- working in wood, brass rod, and paint.

See some Ian McKay automata at the site

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Tin Automata by Andy Hazel

Automata maker, Andy Hazell works with recycled tin to create automata that are often inspired by the actions of daily living.

Working with sheet metal must employ some of the same techniques as working with paper, though I cannot speak from personal experience. The figures seem to take a similar form in both media.

I like how you can often see the mechanisms above the platforms on which the characters stand.

Here is a link to the craft2eu Gallery in Germany that shows and sells his work.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sand-Powered Automata

Sand powered automata go back hundreds of years, perhaps even more. Rather than turning a crank by hand, sand is loaded into a hopper placed high within the automaton. When released, the sand turns a wheel (very much like a water wheel seen on the side of mills), that then powers the mechanism.

I had the good fortune to see a absolutely delightful sand powered automata form the 1700s recently. (More on this later, so stay tuned.)

Walter Ruffler is one of my fellow automata makers on display at the Charles Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts. Mr. Ruffler is one a very few masters of the paper automata. He has some recent versions of sand powered automata his site.

Though he has an English version of his site, I could only find the sand powered automata within the German version. There are animated GIF images to show the motions of each automaton.

See the Sand-powered paper automata by Walter Ruffler.

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