The Gentleman Smoker – Undressed

In order to access the mechanism responsible for the motions of the smoking gentleman, his clothing had to be carefully removed and his papier-mache body opened. In preparation of a treatment proposal and condition report I assessed each component of the clothing, papier-mâché, head, and hands as I undressed the smoker.

Vichy Automaton smoker
Old adhesive on the wool coat

The papier-mâché head was in quite a state. The eyes were received in a separate bag and the head looked as though half of it had been chewed off… A way to rebuild the head and reattach the eyes and reinstate their blinking function needed to be researched and discussed with other conservators.

Brittany Nico Cox works on a clockwork automaton
The eyes and other bits
Brittany Nico Cox automaton
The empty head

As the smoker’s clothing is almost 200 years old, it is extremely fragile. Even the slightest touch removes bits of fabric and leather fragments. Originally the clothing was adhered with animal glue, which over time can change in pH, causing damage. The body of the coat had come free from the adhesive and hung loosely on the figure, the sleeves pinned to the papier-mâché.

Hardened residue of the adhesive can be seen in thick brown splotches around the sleeves, collar, and lapel in the above photograph.

Cuffs with mother of pearl buttons
Cuffs with mother of pearl buttons

The cuffs and collar of the automaton are coated fabric, shaped on a former with mother of pearl buttons as fasteners. Very posh indeed!

These are held firmly in place with what looks like stretchy sock fabric. The sleeves are stuffed with tow – fine flax fiber used in upholstery. The stuffing fills out the coat making the figure more life-like, otherwise the Smoker’s skinny wire arms would show!

The hands are heavy cast lead. These can put quite a strain on the mechanism and add wear to the cams that control their motion.

The hands suffered significant losses to the painted surface and looked to be stained from cigarette smoke. The monocle held by the smoker was also missing its glass.

The removed cuffs, sleeves, and fabric insert
The removed cuffs, sleeves, and fabric insert

After I carefully removed the coat, cuffs, and sleeves I was able to access the papier-mâché form underneath.

These forms were made with a mold and still have clippings from old Paris newspapers on them.

This automaton had been previously opened; the body was cut in two and held together with wire.

clockwork automaton
The papier-mâché form

The alum-tawed skin trousers were torn and heavy losses were present around the base of the torso. The trousers had to be carefully rolled down to reach the screws securing the papier-mâché body to the wooden base inside the legs of the smoker. These screws had to be undone in order to reach the smoker’s mechanism. After removal they were carefully labeled as to their location to ensure their correct placement during reassembly. With antiquated objects, things are rarely standardized and if parts are not carefully labeled and catalogued, one risks damage to the object.

A movement holder was made from pine and brass clamps, which provided a safe way of holding the mechanism for inspection and work to be carried out.

The movement consists of a set of bellows for the inhalation and exhalation of smoke, cams for the motion work, a simple train and spring barrel.

Stay tuned for the next post which will delve into these components and their repair!

Brittany Nico Cox works on a smoking automaton
The mechanism revealed

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