Thursday, November 20, 2008

Magician Automaton - Conjuror with Six Secrets

Magician Automaton - Conjuror with Six Secrets
I am particularly fond of automata featuring magicians. Here's a piece in the upcoming Theriault's auction that is a classic. This is another piece by Michel Bertrand -- successor to the famous Vichy/Triboulet/JAF lineage.

From the catalog description:
In his right hand, he holds the top of a large, red conjuring cup and in his left hand is a white magic wand. Movements and Music. While music plays, the Clown nods and looks around him. He blinks and moves his mouth as if talking to an assembled crowd of on-lookers, and waves his magic wand. As he raises and lowers the upturned red cup, objects appear and disappear in six successions: mouse, jewelry, flowers, goldfish, dice and bird in a cage. The movements are executed with grace and dexterity, directed by a large clockwork mechanism with eight cams hidden within the base. The six-tune musical movement is an antique one of good quality.

The auction on November 23rd, 2008 will be at the Westin Governor Morris in Morristown, New Jersey. A preview will be held on the 22nd from 6 to 8 PM as well as from 9 to 11 AM on the 23rd. The collection can be viewed and bid upon online also.

Here is the full description of The Clown Conjuror w/Six Secrets.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

New Edition of Tiger Tamer by Frank Nelson

New Edition of Tiger Tamer by Frank NelsonThis is a new improved version of the Tiger Tamer automaton originally produced by Frank Nelson in the 1970's. In this version, the tiger moves independently of the platform on which he is standing. There will only be 5 of this run made.

From the Description:
"When you turn the handle you will see the Tamer crack his whip once, only for the Tiger to refuse the command by shaking his head. This is repeated on the second crack of the Tamer's whip. On the third and final crack of the whip, the Tiger nods his head in acceptance and then does his trick by swiveling around to put his head in the Tamer's mouth."

Here is the link to the listing for Frank Nelson's New Tiger Tamer Automaton.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Antique DIY Folk Art Automaton Project circa 1900

Vintage Folk Art Automaton Project circa 1900Here is an incomplete automaton for sale on eBay. While this would be a rather pricey, do-it-yourself project, much of the work is done and the materials provided. The seller even shares a vision for the completed piece. I find this to be an interesting concept: vintage one-of-a-kind DIY.

From the Seller's Description:
"The main figure of a man is articulated on his right side, at the shoulder, elbow and wrist. He is articulated on the left side at only the shoulder and elbow. He is whittling a piece of wood with a real metal knife. I believe he originally paused and lifted the object to examine it, then continued. He may have first had a clockwork movement but when I received it, someone had attempted to operate him with an old clock motor and an old porcelain electrical on off switch appearing to be from the very early 1900's."

The seller is offering the piece with many parts, a curved glass front, and a gear motor to power the automaton.

Here's the eBay listing with many photographs of the vintage woodcarver automaton project

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Friday, May 02, 2008

French Mystery Clock of Woman Figure circa 1870

French Mystery Clock with Woman FigureThis is a beautiful mystery clock made in France around 1870. Typically, a mystery clock functions as a clock but the mechanism is hidden or obscured in some way. Here the sort of mystery clock I am talking about.
I am not sure what particular mystery this one performs. I'd love to know -- especially with an estimated value of roughly $5,000 to $10,000. This clock is a double-mystery, I suppose. They mystery of the mystery.

Here is the eBay listing for this French Mystery Clock to be auctioned on May 11th, 2008.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Singing Bird Box by Bruguier


As part of The Automata / Automaton Blog's coverage of the automata going to auction on October 28th, in Bolton, Massachusetts, USA here is the first of several videos featuring select items.

From the Auction Catalogue:
Fine Tortoiseshell Singing Bird Box by Bruguier, No. 600, with fusee movement, stack of four song cams operating in sequence....bird with iridescent plumage of dark and light green, red, and bright blue, articulated head, bone beak, wings, perch, and tail, in tortoiseshell case with hinged key compartment, floriate-pierced grill and foliate-chased original diced maroon leather-covered traveling case.
- Skinner Illustrated Catalogue #2383

This piece is part of Skinner Auctioneer's upcoming Science and Technology Auction.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Roullet & Decamps Cambodian Dancer

One of only two known examples, this Cambodian Dancer was never offered for sale to the public by its makers, the famed Roullet et Decamps of Paris.

This beautifully sculpted automaton is most likely the handiwork of Gaston Decamps -- a gifted artist and student of sculpture.

The dancer performs by swaying from side to side, tilting her head, rotating her arms at the elbows, and turning her hands at the wrist.

Every inch of this 40 inch tall piece is lavishly adorned: gold silk brocade, sequins, beads, anklets, bracelets, and an elaborate headdress. This piece is a marvel of artistry on many levels.

This extremely rare automaton will be part of the auction on October 28th, 2007 held by Skinner Auctioneers.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rare Hand-Cranked Barrel Piano Automaton

Standing at over three feet high, this beautiful and unusual automaton was made and signed by a piano manufacturer George Hicks of London.

The piece has many nice features including an enclosed barrel piano, a double-leaf folding lid and a box comprised of boxwood, rosewood, and ebony.

I was drawn to the fine woodwork, the high backed proscenium which acts as a sound aperture, brass S-form crank, and the delightful animated scene. The presence of a Royal Coat of Arms on the back panel may mean this was a special commission of some sort.

There are four moving figures derived from traditional Black Forest automata: King Gambrinus drinking, an ape in jester costume playing guitar, a Roman soldier, and an Eastern arms collector. All four figures are animated by the barrel which operates a total of ten levers.

This piece will be going to auction on October 28th, 2007. Visit Skinner Auctioneers' website for more information on the upcoming Science and Technology auction that will include this and many, many other automata and mechanical music items.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chinese Magician Automaton - Auction

This is one of the many automata that will be auctioned by Skinner Auctioneers in Bolton, Massachusetts on October 28th, 2007.

Nick Hawkins -- Skinner's resident music box/scientific instrument/automata expert -- was kind enough to give me a live demonstration of this piece.

It is quite large and the sequence surprisingly long. Overall, one of the most remarkable pieces I have ever seen.

Visit Skinner's site to learn more about the upcoming Science & Technology Auction and the preview dates.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Chinese Magician Automaton - Another Photo

Here's a shot of the final moments of the Chinese Magician automaton's act.

A similar automaton can be seen the book Les Automates (1968, French), though the book shows a turbaned illusionist with a white beard. The book is out-of-print and pricey, but here is a link to Les Automates.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Chinese Magician Automata to be Auctioned

There is another Skinner auction coming up on May, 25th of 2007. Here is a picture of spectacular magic-themed automaton that will be included in the auction.

I'll be in contact with Skinner's expert on automata and scientific instruments. Stay tuned for more photographs of this piece along with a description of the act it performs.

More information will also be available at Skinner's site soon also.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Science & Technology Auction, March 24th

I have posted a few times about the automata to be auctioned off by Skinner Auctioneers. The auction is this Saturday, March 24th.

Here is a round-up of my previous posts on this auction showing many of the automata that will be available.

There will also be many scientific instruments and orreries.

The auction details:
Preview Dates/Times: March 24, 2007, 8-9am
Auction Date/Time: March 24, 2007, 10am
Address: 63 Park Plaza Boston, MA
Location: Auction #2355

To view the items online or download the catalog, visit Skinner's Science and Technology section

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Clown Automaton - Additional Photo

Here is another photograph of the clown performing a magic trick. This piece is among several that will be going to auction in Boston on March 24th. (See Skinner Auctioneer's web site.)

This photo show two stages of the clown's performance.

On the left, we see the figure at the start of the routine with his head where you would expect it to be. During the next stage (not shown) the clown covers his head with the fan held in his right hand.

On the right, we see the automaton in mid-performance when the clown has lifted the front of the box with his left hand to reveal that his head has magically moved from his head to inside the box. He has also pulled the fan from in front of his face to show that his head no longer sits on his shoulders.

You can see the coin slot on the left edge of the wooden case.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Magic -themed Automaton to be Auctioned

Here is another installment in my ongoing behind-the-scenes sneak peek of the automata that will be auctioned by Skinner Auctioneers on March 24th in Boston.

This is a large coin-operated piece -- it takes the large old-style English penny. It features a clown with a fan. When the coin is inserted, music begins to play, and he covers his face with the fan.

Next, he raises the front panel on the box next to him to reveal...his head!

He pulls the fan away to reveal that his entire head is missing.The cycle then reverses until the machine stops running.

This piece was made by the younger Phalibois. (See Christian Bailly's Automata: The Golden Age, 1848-1914 for more information on Phalibois and other famous automaton makers of this era.)

Learn more about the auction in March at Skinner's website

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Skinner Automata Auction, March 24th, 2007

Here are some more details on the upcoming auction by Skinner Auction house.

The auction will take place on 24th of March, 2007 in Park Plaza, Boston.

Pictured here is another interesting automaton that will be in the sale (left). It's a wall-mounted picture-style automaton, from the 1800s.

The automaton depicts a colorful scene in a blacksmith's shop with men working at the forge, a tail-wagging dog, and a farrier shoeing a horse.

The entire thing is driven by a music box and clever assemblage of pulleys in the back (see second photo at left).

Additional details about the auction will be online at

Check back here in the coming weeks for more information.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Collectors: Upcoming Automata Auction at Skinner

I have had the great pleasure of viewing in person some of the automata that will be offered by Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers (the experts you often see on Antiques Roadshow) in March.

This is the first installment in a series of posts that I hope to present over the next few weeks to show the items they will be selling.

The group pictured here are all antique automata with unique qualities and actions. These are only a few of the automata that will be offered in March.

The flute player (right) moves his fingers, head, mouth, and eyes as a tune plays. It's pretty amazing.

The man on the barrel (center) laughs, raises his hand, and makes a mocking gesture.

The seated figure (left) is the most amazing. Not only does he rock and move his head, but he actually smokes -- real cigarettes!

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