The Gentleman Smoker – An Introduction

While in my last term at West Dean I restored a Vichy Huntsman Smoking Automaton. This is a clockwork figure that when operated smokes real cigarettes! As you can imagine, this is quite the party trick. I like to think of old men sitting in their fancy oak parlors with a glass of scotch and a cigarette alongside their sole smoking companion (an equally fancy gentleman automaton). I am sure this is a real scenario…

When it arrived on my desk, it was in quite a state! Actually, I thought it served as an effective warning against smoking…

As the gentleman arived

As the gentleman arrived

Working with the organic materials used to construct the automaton would require a thorough investigation into related areas of conservation.

  • Textiles and leather conservation techniques would be required for the wool coat and leather trousers and boots.
  • Furniture and wooden object conservation would inform the best approach to issues with the wooden structure and base.
  • Paper and paintings conservation would provide the resources needed to conserve the head and hands.

The treatment of the clockwork and organic materials will be outlined in subsequent posts, as well as my related MA research – which includes the construction of a smoking machine. So stay tuned!

9 responses

  1. I’m looking forward to your next post on the conservation of the papier-mache head. I have an automaton with very similar issues and I am currently experimenting with different paint media to recreate the missing areas. I’d be interested to see close-up photos of yours !

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    • Hi there – I will definitely do a post on that soon. I used all conservation materials. What are you currently working with?

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  2. This is a fabulous piece. You’re lucky ! I am a student in paper restoration in France, and I am actually thinking of going to West Dean to learn conservation in other fields, I’ll be interested to meet you someday to talk about your work. If when I graduate from my school in three years, I still remember your work as one of those which inspired me, I might contact you !

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    • Thanks very much! It took me nine years to get to this point in my education. Automata is not something they teach at West Dean, but I sourced all my own work. It is a wonderful place that offers many resources. If you can make it over there, it’s completely worth it and really wonderful! I would love to meet some day so keep in touch!

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      • Yes I guess it takes a long time before being able to have such beautiful pieces ! It lasts a life time actually… I’m already trying to have as many work experiences in diverse field to understand different sort of arts, and objects with mecanisms already arouse my interest, I’m actually working on a lottery café game with horses, so it involves gears wich is really interesting. And I’m on my way to start restoring a child 19th century accordion ! So I realize I might be slowly getting in the same tracks as yours which is nice because it’s uncommon in retoring history. I wondered, do you have any musical background to be able to work on musical pieces ?

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      • It’s true – it takes dedication and patience. It sounds like you have a unique path ahead of you. Are you interested in mostly paper objects? Or all kinds? I studied music for four years before my undergraduate work. It certainly helps to have a musical mind to work with musical pieces, otherwise it can be very challenging trying to understand why and how something sounds a certain way or what it should sound like.

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