Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Martha Stewart learns the history of automata

Here's a clip of Martha Stewart learning about various forms of automata through history from the famous video game creator and collector, Richard Garriott.

[ Thanks Karin! ]

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Automata exhibit at the Miami Science Museum

Automata exhibit at the Miami Science Museum
Head on over to the Cabaret Mechanical blog to get all the details on an exhibit of automata now showing at the Miami Science Museum through to September. The exhibit features automata from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and from the collection of Dr. Andrew R. Hirschl.

Here's the news of the Miami, Florida automata exhibit at the Cabaret Blog. Here's is info about the show from the Miami Science Museum.

[ Thanks Ellen! ]

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Automata: Contemporary Mechanical Sculpture

Automata: Contemporary Mechanical Sculpture The folks at the incredible Cabaret Mechanical Theatre blog have sent word that there is new autoamta exhibit in Madison, WI at the Chazen Museum of Art running from January 16, through March 14, 2010.

From the exhibit press release:
"The Chazen Museum of Art presents the delightful work of fourteen international artists in Automata: Contemporary Mechanical Sculpture. Meticulously crafted to perform complex, surprising, and often comic movements, these mechanical sculptures tell quick fanciful tales of nature, myth and magic, the creative process, and sheer make-believe. More than 25 hand-cranked artist-designed automata, most loaned from the private collection of University of Arizona art professor emeritus Michael Croft, will be on view January 16 through March 14, 2010. Videos will play in the gallery to show the animated workings of the pieces. Museum admission is free."

Here is a link to more information on exhibit on the Chazen Museum web site.

[ Thanks to the Cabaret Mechanical blog! ]

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Two Maillardet Automaton drawings on eBay

Two Maillardet Automaton drawings on eBay
I was recently contacted by a woman who found two drawings while going through her late mother's photos and keepsakes. As it turns out, they were penned by none other than Maillardet's Automaton, now at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. She has been in contact with a number of experts who have confirmed these drawings were done by the Automaton.

Here's the eBay listing with the complete story behind the two Maillardet Automaton Drawings.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Strong National Museum of Play - mechanical toys

Strong National Museum of Play - mechanical toys
Click your way over to the Strong National Museum of Play web site for three pages worth of mechanical toy images including banks (like the cast iron magician shown here), wind-up toys, clocks, and automata. The rest of the site is worth checking out too. If you happen to be in the Rochester, New York area...well, lucky you!

Here's the link to the Strong National Museum of Play's mechanical toys section.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Museum Residency: Automata Maker at V&A

Tippu's Tiger.jpg
The the Victoria and Albert Museum is currently accepting applicants for an automata residency. This is a great opportunity for UK-based automata artists. Shown above is the famous piece known as Tippu's Tiger from their collection.

Museum Residency:
Automata Maker Bursary offered and studio space provided The V&A and the Crafts Council are collaborating on a series of three six month residencies in the Sackler Centre for arts education at the V&A. This third Craft Residency presents a new opportunity for mid-career practitioners to have a studio at the V&A for six months commencing in July 2010. Proposals are invited from UK based artists and makers working with, or wishing to work in Automata, who want to develop their practice through working with the V&A collections and engage in public participatory programmes in working with the V&A and Crafts Council.

For more details and to apply online, visit the V&A's website. The closing date for applications is 3 November 2009.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

automatesgalerie - automata museum in Belgium

Our colleagues at the Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik blog have alerted us to some exciting news. A new automata museum has open in Brussels, Belgium featuring the following automata artists:

- Keith Newstead
- Robert Race
- John Grayson
- J Ch Detallante
- L & A St-L├ęger
- Wanda Sowry
- Philip Lowndes
- Peter Lennertz
- Neil Hardy
- Jason Cleverly
- James Chedburn
- Jacques Jauniaux
- Ian Mckay
- Dominique Corbin
- Carlos Zapata
- Jon Mills
- Jan Zalud

Learn more at the automatesgalerie web site.
[ Thanks Falk! ]

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Video Tour of the Modern Automata Museum, Italy

Here is a great video tour of the Modern Automata Museum in Italy.

More on info (mostly in Italian) can be found on the Modern Automata Museum web site.

[ Thanks David! ]

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mechanical Music Museum in Finland

Mechanical Music Museum in FinlandMekaanisen Musiikin Museo (The Mechanical Music Museum) is located in the Finnish lake district.

It is the largest museum of its kind in Scandinavia featuring mechanically produced music from instruments dating from the 1850s to the present. They offer a 70-minute guided tour in which visitors see and hear most of the museum's 290 instruments. The instruments are displayed in eight large rooms, each decorated in a style corresponding to the machines they hold.

If you are going to be in Finland, I would say that Mekaanisen Musiikin Museo would be worth a visit.

[ Thanks Kristiina! ]

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Many Links to the Guinness Collection of Automata

Mandolin Player Automaton from the Guinness collecttion
Check out the Murtogh D. Guinness collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, N.J. -- about 20 minutes from Newark.

The exhibit -- to be opened on November 6th, 2008 -- features mechanical musical instruments and automata from the late 1500s through the early 20th century.

Assembled by the Guinness family (of brewing fame), the collection includes some 700 music boxes, multi-instrument devices, street organs, and mechanical figures.

* Here is a link to Morris Museum web site.
* Here is a link to the Guinness collection of automata page.
* Here is an article on the exhibit from The New York Times.
* There is also an article on the exhibit in the January 2008 issue of Magic magazine (Back issues, $6 USD).

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Automatons: Museu de Joguets i Autòmats

The Museum of Toys and Automata (Museu de Joguets i Autòmats) is located in the town of Verdú, outside of Barcelona.

The museum's collection is composed of over 1000 pieces and features many vintage automata. Most of the automata were manufactured in France during the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

This video clip features some of the pieces in the collection...and the song is really good!

Here is a link to Museu de Joguets i Autòmats.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Automaton of Laughing Man with Lifelike Motion

Here's an automaton to help you get your week off to a good start. This laughing man automaton is part of the collection on display at the Musée de l'Automate in Souillac, France.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Musee Baud: Automata & Mechanical Music

Comprised of pieces crafted between 1750 and 1940, the Musée Buad in l'Auberson, Switzerland looks like a wonderful museum. If you cannot visit in person, their web site offers a history of the museum, nice photographs of the the collection, audio recordings of music, and a shop that sells music boxes and automata.

From the Musée Baud site:
In our first room you will find music boxes, automata, clocks, singing birds, animated pictures and gramophones as well as other accessories, tools and souvenirs of the time period.

In our second room, one can admire the grandeur of our larger pieces while listening to these unique, priceless, mechanical musical instruments. Among the highlights include the famous "Maesto", an orchestra from 1900 comprised of 10 different instruments. Also in this room is the splendid "Phonolistz Violiona" playing solo violin.

Visit the Musée Buad web site (available in French, German, and English). [Thanks Falk!]

To learn more about mechanical music machines, check out The Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

The Murtogh D. Guinness Automata Collection

Sean Hamilton, reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog, was kind enough to share with me his experience at the Morris Museum in New Jersey -- home of the Guinness automata collection. He has generously agreed to let me share it with you here.

Extracts from Sean's Email:

I'm sure you've posted about the Guinness Collection at the Morris Museum in the past, but I haven't seen anything since the permanent exhibition opened last November. I thought I would send you an update.

I was at the museum last week and the exhibit space is very nice. They start things off with a short film about the history of mechanical music, automata, and Mr. Guinness. The displays are heavy on music boxes and mechanical musical instruments but there is a good showing of automata and a nice interactive display with videos of all the exhibited automata in operation.

They do demonstrations of various pieces in the collection daily. The day I was there the demonstration included three musical items and two automata. The Limonaire Freres Orchestrophone was surprisingly loud and its rendition of "The Sidewalks of New York" was thrilling.

During the demonstrations they mentioned that there are 700 pieces in the collection, 150 currently on display and that the other 550 will be available for viewing later this spring. Their website has lots of additional information including movie clips of some of the pieces.

A big thanks to Sean for this glimpse of what must be an amazing museum. I can't wait to go!

Visit the Morris Museum web site for more information on the Guinness collection.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Zelinsky Collection Viewable on DVD

The Musée Mécanique, located in San Francisco, is a collection of hundreds of musical and mechanical machines. It is certainly worth a visit.

If you can't visit San Francisco any time soon, there is still a way for you to see this amazing collection: The Musée Mécanique presents The Zelinsky Collection DVD.

This 68 minute video is hosted by the man who assembled the collection, Edward Zelinsky. Mr. Zelinsky takes the viewer on a one-on-one tour of The Musée telling you a bit about each machine, where it came from, and how it was acquired.

Some of the machines the viewer will see on this DVD include:

* Many orchestrians and nickelodeons
* A beautiful mechanical horse
* Fortune telling machines
* Mechanical games
* A large and detailed carnival scene
* A vast barnyard scene with dozens of animated figures
* Funny scenes like a drunkard in a graveyard

Viewers also get to see some of the mechanisms that power these marvelous machines.

Overall, the lighting and camera-work are well done. This DVD is the next best thing to visiting the museum itself.

The video is something of a tribute to a man that truly loved coin-operated machines. We are in Edward Zelinsky's debt for assembling this collection and for ensuring that the machines continued to function. His son, Daniel Zelinsky, now oversees the exhibit. Thanks to these men visitors today can drop a coin into these machines -- as people have for decades -- to see what mechanical magic they perform.

Here is where you can purchase The Musée Mécanique presents The Zelinsky Collection DVD.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Musee National De Monaco - Automata Collection

A reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog has kindly directed me to a fantastic museum with automata.

If you find yourself in the south of France and like automata, the Musee National De Monaco is an incredible museum.

They have a collection of Parisian automata from the latter half of the 19th Century.

I am told they offer a tour in which the guide operates many of the automata for visitors.

Visit the web site for the Musee National De Monaco.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

UK Crafts Council - Great Automata Resource

A kindly reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog was kind enough to share with me a fantastic resource. The UK Crafts Council has their permanent collection displayed in a searchable interface on Photostore.

Should you visit their search page, simply select "automata and toys" from the "Discipline" drop-down menu. You will be presented with 56 pages of automata images by many of the most famous, distinguished, and notable automata-makers. Shown above is a great collection box automaton by Tim Hunkin.

As I explore the collection more, I'll keep you posted on what I find. If you find items of note, leave a comment on this post, or drop me a line using the Contact Dug North link in the right sidebar.

Search the UK Crafts Council collection of images.

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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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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Incredible Elephant Automaton / Automobile

In the years after WWII, English inventor Frank Stuart wanted to develop a way to boost the European economy as well as increase moral among the people of Europe. How would you accomplish this monumental task of socio-economic engineering?

His idea: A giant mechanical Robot Walking Elephant Car.

Powered by a four cylinder Chevy engine with hydraulics hidden inside an anatomically correct body cavity, the elephant is capable of speeds of up to 20 mph.

Stuart made three of Robot walking elephants in 1947. One is housed in a museum in Austria, one in a private museum in Chicago, and one was kept by the inventor, then by his family after his death. It is this last that is pictured here.

It will be coming up for public auction.

Certainly, this in one of the most remarkable automata ever created.

Check out the Elephant Automaton

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mechanical Toys & Games @ The Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford Museum has over 10,000 toys and games covering over two hundred years. Items in the toys and games collection include dolls, toy animals, board games, toy automobiles and trains, mechanical toys, construction sets, toy musical instruments, puzzles, marbles, and educational toys. Of particular interest to me is the mechanical Toys and Games section.

From the site:
Toy makers have long experimented with ways that toys could simulate human and other real-life action. Key-wound clockwork mechanisms, mass produced by the late 1800s, revolutionized the toy world. Different mechanisms could motivate dolls, engines, cars, boats, and other novelty toys, producing amazing and eccentric variations of speed and direction. Although many of these were ostensibly designed as children's playthings, they were equally appealing to adults.

Visit The Henry Ford Museum's Toys and Games section online

Also check out the online exhibit related to toys. (The link is at the very bottom labeled "enter".)

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

20 Antique Automata Sold from Merritt Collection

Sale Of Mary Merritt Museum Dolls And Toys Nears $2.5 Million

From the article:
Approximately 20 automata by premium name manufacturers were offered. Leading the group, a circa 1875 Roullet et Descamps boy on a clockwork tricycle earned $34,100 against an estimate of $15/18,000. A rare 29-inch-tall girl automaton holding a toy theater and accompanied by a cat in a wicker basket, also by Roullet et Descamps, handily surpassed its estimate at $20,900.

Here's a link to the full artcle about the Merritt Collection Sale

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Exhibition from the British Toymakers Guild

From November 16th to December 3rd, 2006, the British Toymakers Guild returns to, London, to show and sell hand-crafted automata, dolls, puzzles, games, puppets, hobby horses, wooden toys and more.

The work has been created by over 30 makers from all over the British Isles.

Here's the official TOYS@OXO web page

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dug North - Santa Automaton on Display!

If you live in Massachusetts or New England or are planning on visiting the Boston area, you can see one of my automata in person. I've allowed the museum to let people turn the crank themselves.

My automton Training for Christmas featuring Santa Claus doing exercises, is on display at The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA. The exhibit shows automata through time and has a section featuring automata that visitors can operate. My piece is on display among a number of others by automata artists you may know, and some you may not know, but should.

The museum has lots of other things of interest to the mechanically-minded: engines, machine tools, pocket watches, bicycles, and a car from 1907!

Here's a link with contact information and directions to The Charles River Museum of Industry.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Modern Automata Museum - Italy

I don't speak Italian, so much of this site is lost on me. Still, I can tell that this automata museum outside of Rome has a lot to offer. The list of artists in the collections include: Andy Hazell, Malcolm Brook, Luca de Pascalis, Neil Hardy, Rob Ives, Peter Markey, Juta and Jim McCord, Keith Newstead, Renni Orsi, Walter Ruffler, Keisuke Saka, Paul Spooner, Eric Williamson, and Carlos Zapata.

Visit The Modern Automata Museum

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

David Copperfield - Museum of Magic with Automata

In addition to being one of the best (and best known) magicians of our time, David Copperfield is also the creator of a program that uses magic as a form of rehabilitation and esteem-building. Now...isn't that a good idea?

David Copperfield has an additional passion -- the preservation of the history of magic. He has amassed an enormous collection of magic artifacts from 16th century books to the tuxedo worn by Cardini! Among the collection's holdings are automata by the master, Robert-Houdin himself.

The website is Flash-based so I can't give you direct links, but if you go to it's easy enough to follow the links for "Project Magic" and "Museum". Be sure to click the link to "View Exhibit" at the bottom of the Museum section.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

For the Collectors: The Guinness Collection of Automata

The Morris Museum was recently awarded The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of 700 historic mechanical musical instruments and automata. The extraordinary collection represents one of the most significant of its kind in the world. The museum is currently showcasing 60 of these objects in the exhibition Musical Machines and Living Dolls: Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata from the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection.

Murtogh D. Guinness (1913-2002) regarded the collection as his life's work, and he persistently traveled the globe to search for the finest surviving instruments of their kind. He lived day-to-day with these devices, studying and refining for over 50 years what became a collection of nearly 700 pieces.

Like the mechanical musical instruments in the collection, the musical, French-made automata represent a broad array of styles. Snake charmers, magicians, singing birds, and other figures in the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection showcase the talents of their makers and constitute one of the largest public holdings of automata in the United States.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Musee Mecanique

The Musee Mecanique in San Francisco is one of the world's largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines. They also have automata!

Here are some photos taken by Jason Simpson.

Here is the official The Musee Mecanique site

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Solvent Transfers for Cutting Wooden Gears or Parts

Here's a method for transferring patterns to various surfaces -- including wood. Called "solvent transfer", you use a photocopy or laser print and solvent to transfer the image to the wood. I've been doing this for about a year now. Once you get the hang of it you can transfer detailed cutting patterns to wood very accurately. This is a great technique for scroll-saw projects. The results are much better than carbon paper and tracing. Two important things to keep in mind: 1 - Lacquer thinner is nasty stuff so where gloves and do it in well ventilated area. 2 - If your pattern isn't symmetrical (like a gear), you must reverse the image before printing.

Here's a how-to on solvent transfers

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Writer Automaton by Pierre Jaquet-Droz

I saved the best for last. The Writer is the most complex of the three automata Jacquet-Droz automata housed at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The Writer is programmable such that he can write out any line of text up to 40 letters long. The sentence to be written is coded on a wheel where characters are ordered individually in sequence.

He writes with a real goose feather which he dips ink. After dipping the quill, the automaton taps the quill over the inkwell to remove excess ink to prevent drips. His eyes follow the text as he writes, and his head moves when he dips the quill in the inkwell.

Again, this clip is from Monsieur Sayous's film The Jaquet-Droz Androids, available at

The Writer by Pierre Jaquet-Droz

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Musician Automaton by Jaquet-Droz

Another of three surviving Jaquet-Droz automata is The Musican. Here is a clip from THE JAQUET-DROZ ANDROIDS by Philippe Sayous. She is actually playing a custom made organ. As if that wasn't amazing enough, she moves her head to read the sheet music and can be seen breathing. Jaquet-Droz's attention to detail is astounding considering the mechanical sophistication required for the basic effect.

The full video (in French or English, NTSC or PAL) can be ordered at

The Musician by Pierre Jaquet-Droz

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Friday, June 23, 2006

The Draftsman Automaton by Jaquet-Droz

One of three surviving Jaquet-Droz automata is The Draftsman or. Check out this clip from THE JAQUET-DROZ ANDROIDS by French producer and director Philippe Sayous. The video (in French or English, NTSC or PAL) can be ordered on his site The automaton not only draws elegant pencil drawings, but it also blows the dust from the drawing. Amazing.

The Draftsman by Pierre Jaquet-Droz

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