Mysterious Rochat Box Number “7.”

I have had the recent privilege of working on a very peculiar singing bird box by Rochat. So far my inquiries have not revealed any knowledge of this particular Rochat box.

mechanical singing bird, rochat, brittany cox, nico cox, nicole cox, automata, automaton, clockmaking, watchmaking, bellows, technology, conservation

Box lid closed & open

The 18k vari-coloured gold engine turned diamond adorned box houses three gilt mechanisms, including chain fusée and cylindrical bellows for the singing bird automaton, controlled by a stack of 8 cams, separate watch movement with centre-seconds, cylinder escapement, plain three arm balance, and musical pin barrel with a stack of seven vibrating steel plates, each with three tuned teeth. The front of the box displays the petite enamel watch dial enclosed by mineral glass and a split pearl bezel. The proper left side of the box opens to reveal the snuff compartment. A hinged panel located on the front of the box, when lifted reveals the watch face and five square arbors. A small pictorial engraving designates the function of each arbor. Levers on the front and back panels activate the singing bird and musical mechanisms. The box is complete with two gold engraved keys for operating and setting the complications. The lid bears the monogram of the 19th century Ottoman Prince Shehzade Mahmud Celaleddin Efendi (d. 1888), son of the Turkish Sultan Abdul Aziz.

The case was made by Jean Georges Rémond, an important case maker in Geneva, who supplied cases for Jaquet Droz, Rochat, and many other prominent automata makers of the period.

trade mark under front hinge sm

Trademarks under the front hinged panel

It seems possible to date the case based on the stamp of Rémond, as we know he was active from 1783 to 1815-20. He became a Master goldsmith on 22 December 1783, the first year during which he struck his Master mark. Seven years after, he appears to have formed a company: Georges Rémond & Cie., which eventually became Rémond, Mercier, Lamy & Cie. During the French occupation of Switzerland (1798-1815) by Napoléon, J.-G. Rémond’s recorded marks were in accordance with the laws of the newly formed Département of Léman. During this time his initials appear within a lozenge. From 1815 to 1820, the firm Lamy, Rémond, Mercier, Daniel Berton, used a similar mark, but no longer enclosed within a lozenge. It seems that Rémond must have either retired or died during this partnership, since in 1820 a new firm of Mercier, Blondel and Berton was formed. However this new company only lasted a further seven years, until 14 April 1827.

The stamp on this particular box is the four letters “GRCI” enclosed in a lozenge. Dating the box some time after 1798, but before 1815. Left of Rémond’s stamp appears the oval stamp of Freres Rochat “FR”.

Rochat box number “1.” is dated 1804 and there is some discrepancy about when exactly the Rochat family relocated to Geneva. Some sources maintain it was as early as 1803, others, as late as 1813. Either way, Rémond was supplying boxes to Jaquet Droz while the Rochats were under Droz’s employ. It is possible that even if the Rochat family were not yet in Geneva, a Rémond box could have been supplied for an early Rochat movement.

Box number "135."

Box number “135.”

The serial number on this box is found on the top plate. It is a singular “7.” unaccompanied by the Rochat stamp. It is very similar to other serial numbers by Rochat. If indeed this is number 7, the difference in style of the number could be accounted for as well as the missing Rochat stamp.

"7."

“7.”

Other characteristics of the mechanism, box, bird and layout lend themselves to the idea. The bird is oddly shaped when compared with other Rochat birds. He is quite plump, with a small short head, petite beak, and full chest. Don’t get me wrong, I find him to be truly lovely – one of the sweetest birds I have ever worked with, but he is certainly different.

Bird emerges sm

Little Pan (as I call him) emerging from the lid

Here are some other Rochat birds in cases made by Rémond. In my estimation, most of the Rochat birds look like these –  slimmer body, longer beak, longer head, thinner chest….

88_37065_6freres_rochat_and_jean-georges_remond_an_extremely_fine_and_rare_18k_v_d5367621h

I have found one other bird that is very close in style and appearance to Pan. The bird of Rochat box number “339.” The description of this box, written by the auction house that sold it, maintains that it is a very early Rochat, made sometime around 1810, but we know from the research of Sharon & Christian Bailly and Geoffrey Mayson, that box “339.” had to have been made after 1826. So if box number “7.” was made between 1789 and 1815, why are these birds so similar?

Box "339."

Box “339.”

In addition to these other oddities, the layout of the mechanism seems quite early compared with other Rochat boxes of equal complexity.

Box Panel Off sm

The closed front panel contains the watch and music box of box number “7.”

The watch & music mechanism

The watch & music mechanism

Other Rochat boxes with the same complications display a more elegant layout with a more robust musical barrel and striking watch work housed separately, the music in the main compartment and the watch under the front panel.

Singing_bird_box_by_Frères_Rochat,_circa_1820

A Rochat box with music and striking watch

338_HK_mag_04M

A Rochat box with music

You can also observe the difference here between Pan and these birds, though they are all three in cases by Rémond and have the same complications. These boxes are vaguely dated as well, circa 1810 or 1820. Unfortunately, there were no photographs posted of their serial number or makers marks for comparison with number “7.”

This is just a summary of a few facets of a truly complicated and rich story behind box number “7.” If it truly is box number “7.” it was made between 1804 and 1805. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to know. You can always reach me via email at bcox@mechanicalcurios.com

Now for your viewing pleasure – here is box number “7.” running after a long three weeks worth of work – don’t be fooled though, there is still more work to be done. And a lucky someone will have the privilege of listening to little Pan every day if they want to – as he will soon be up for sale in the upcoming December auction at Bonhams in New York.

2è Partie. A French Horse Racing Game – Condition report by Ségolène Girard

Restoration of a 19th c. lottery game by M.J & Cie.

2è Partie. A French Horse Racing Game – Condition report by Ségolène Girard


Seg is speaking !

It has already been a year since the day I introduced this lottery game to my teacher. I have to say it was a pretty exciting day, since I was about to know if I was allowed to practice on such a demanding piece as a second year student. I guess I had light in my eyes when I showed it in class since she accepted.

It always starts with a full report of everything you know and can notice about the object ; its provenance, its history, then the detail of every single thing you can see, even insects hole have their importance, and give you precious pieces of information. Everything must be written with precise localization of the clues. Taking as many pictures as you can is equally important; it helps one follow the evolution of the piece, and prevents from transforming the object in a way that wouldn’t respect its original state.

Staving of the cardboard top

Distorted cardboard top

The game was salvaged by a second-hand goods dealer from a collector’s attic, which had endured water damage. As a result it was covered with mold, the cardboard was caved in and had rings, pieces of metal were rusted, and

the decorating papers were peeling off, and lack of maintenance caused them to tear.

The wood presented insects holes, and the painting on metal and paper was dangerously flaky.

It was observed that between the purchase of the game just after it was saved from the flood, mould percentage had increased of about 70% in a month.

Wooden and carboards bases covered with mould

Wooden and cardboards bases covered with mould

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Oxidized gold edging papers

Also, time did its own work. The bright green of the felt faded away due to light exposure, the gold ribbons were oxidized, and it was worned out by the numerous hands that had touched it. Just as well, the horses were broken in several places, a head, a rider torso, and horse tail are missing.

Made in the 1900s by manufacturers M.J & Cie (M.J & Co), whose history stays unfortunately unknown to me after numerous unsuccessful researches ; this game is known in french as “Jeu de Course” literally “Racing Game”, but very popular in the United Kingdom, it was mostly famous under the name of “French horse riding game”.

Capture d’écran 2013-04-25 à 19.32.24

A French Horse Riding game model very close to the one I own, in good state

Although Horse Riding games from this period of time are always on the model of mine, few differences can be noticed from one game to another. The base is in wood while the top is in cardboard. The structure is covered in black papers with golden edges, sometimes the paper is marbled with dark colors.

A Horse Riding game with three hoops

A French Horse Riding game with three hoops

The horses are in lead while the hoops are in tinplate. There can be two, or sometimes three hoops, painted with red lead paint, the horses are painted with realistic colors and merry tints for the jockeys. I only saw games with a total of 8 horses which are numbered in white. The plateau is covered with a bright green felt which evokes the fresh lawn of the public enclosure.

Capture d’écran 2013-04-27 à 11.06.46

Modern reproduction of a French Horse Riding game with flag

A french flag announces the end of the race, though it is missing on my game. A plaque announcing the manufacturer shines on the front of the base, on which is the trigger to start the mechanism up.

My version of the game measures 5,3 inches in height, and is 10,5 inches wide and in length since it is a perfectly square base. Some games are bigger than others, depending on the number of hoops.

schéma dimensions

Here are a few illustrations I did for my dossier, let me know if you want any translation of the keys.

schéma vue de haut

Illustration showing the game from the top and the different pieces composing the plateau

Captions translation (letters & numbers are pictured down below) :
– manette = lever
– plateau central = central plateau (fixed) (A)
– coupelle = cup (1)
– pilastres = lead pilaster
– rebord en bois, recouvert de papier doré = wooden structure, covered with golden papers
– plateau = large metallic plateau covered with green felt (billard-like), fixed in the wooden structure (C)
– anneau rouge = red ring (fixed) (B)
– emplacement du drapeau = flag spot
– espace chevaux rotatif 1 = space, about 6 mm
– espace chevaux rotatif 2 = space, about 6 mm

schéma mécanique

Cross-section of the mechanism

Captions :

The large metallic plateau (C) covered with green felt (billard-like), is fixed in the wooden structure. The wooden structure is covered with golden papers on the edges, and black paper on the main part. It encloses the box at the bottom and hides the mechanism by holding a cardboard square.

Pilasters are screwed three by three from the angles of the larger structure to its center, four on (C), four on (A) and four on (B). Pilasters hold the red ring (B) as such : a metallic (lace-like) piece pierced in three parts goes on three pilasters at a time, and is secured by a small spear that goes through tiny holes on top of the pilasters.

Two horses roundabouts (7) run between (A) and (B), and the other (9) between (B) and (C). They are actionned by a simple mechanism : when you pull out the outside lever, a spring is actionned and drags a gear down the main pole. It comes back when you let go of the lever and makes the mechanism follow. Flower-shaped gears and washers are placed in-between the base of (7) and (9).

The cup to place bets (1) is pierced and maintains with nut (2) and bolt (3) the main pole (6) that goes through the central fixed plateau (A). It is levelled by a decorative “cone” (5) and washer (4).

Up next: 3e partie. A French Horse Racing Game – A Bit of History (Part I)