Recently we wrote of the gorgeous swimming Silver Swan, a life-sized 18th c. automaton that has been a popular museum attraction since it was created nearly 250 years ago. A masterpiece of clockwork mechanics as well as the highest level of silver work, the swan was created by John-Joseph Merlin for James Cox's Spring Gardens Museum, a favorite attraction in London from 1774-1782.
Automata were a special fascination of the Age of Enlightenment. They combined cutting-edge technology, extravagant displays of material wealth (most were made from or plated with gold and silver, and embellished with precious gems), and artful replication of nature in the form of exotic birds and animals. Their movement depended entirely on clockworks; they contain no motors, engines, or batteries. While Cox described himself as a goldsmith, he was more of an entrepreneur, employing hundreds of other skilled craftsmen to produce elaborate luxury pieces like the Silver Swan. While some of these pieces were displayed in the Museum, most were intended for the burgeoning trade with India and the Far East, and as costly diplomatic gifts to faraway emperors.
Further research by us has revealed than many of these 18th c. marvels from Cox's Museum still do exist, with the largest collection in the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The pair of bronze patina elephant clocks featured in the above video, however, remain a sizable (each clock stands approximately ten feet tall!) mystery. While still in excellent condition, their history has been lost, and their present owners have even created a website, hoping that someone can provide more information.
Continuing our elephantine theme, here are videos of two more 18th c. automaton bearing Cox's mark:
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.