Where mechanics meet magic, birds, & music

Hello dear readers! I’ve had some great projects come in and out of the shop recently, so I thought I’d share with you one of my favorites.

Below is a beautiful clown magician by Gustav Vichy recently completed here at Memoria Technica.



Made to pay homage to magicians past and enchant viewers, the clown uses his handkerchief to transform the rat in his hat to a cat!


Magic has been a long standing theme in automata. This clip of the magician’s box from a recent sale at Sothebys is one of the finest examples of this type. Complete with a set of tokens that you insert to ask age old questions. What is most fleeting in life? ::love:: What is most precious? ::time::


Some of the worlds greatest magicians were also horologists. Take clockmaker and magician Jean Eugène-Robert Houdin (1805-1871) for example and his famous orange tree trick. Below is a clip from The Paul Daniels Magic Show, demonstrating a recreation of the famous tree. I urge you to watch full episodes of the Paul Daniels show. The nostalgia of the early ones is amazing….


I am sure many of you know the name Fabergé. Goldsmith and artisan Peter Carl Fabergé made a beautiful version of the orange tree, known as the Bay Tree Egg (1911), containing a singing bird. As you can see below, a very likely homage to the world renowned artisan and magician.

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Image from the Fabergé Museum


Hopefully that has peaked your curiosity a bit and now you are inspired to dig into the history of magic. The lecture I recently gave at the Stimson Green Mansion to kick off the Horological Lecture Series covered this and a lot more. The next one promises to be just as engaging. David Lindow will be coming out to deliver the history and development of the rose engine and talk about creating the world’s most versatile (and beautiful! if I don’t say so myself!) rose engine lathe. Come join us May 15th! There will be wine and hors d’oeuvres to enjoy, as well as beautiful turnings by David to admire.

Here are photos from the last event, so if you didn’t make it you certainly will be tempted to come this time around. Tickets are available here.

Become a sponsor and receive some extra perks. I couldn’t host this series without sponsorship, as it is organized and funded by Memoria Technica in an effort to promote these esoteric topics and make them available to a wider audience. I am very grateful to those who have already sponsored the series, making the first two lectures possible!

As a sponsor, enjoy reserved front row seats and other goodies, such as the reissue of the Sacred Geometry Coloring book. The original release of 300 has now sold out, so Al Colins and I teamed up again to create some new patterns for the second edition. It will have a few other bonuses as well, straight from Mike Stacey of the MADE lathe team! I’ve just picked up the covers, printed on thick black stock with silver foil and white leaf. It’s also available for pre-order here.  There will also be another limited special edition (of 24), which will be out this fall.


In other news, I recently returned from giving a talk to the Horological Society of New York on my work with bellows materials in smoking automata. If you’ve been curious about the smoker and the machine I made, the talk is available here to see, as well as a meeting recap. I urge you to join the society if you have an interest in horology. You don’t have to be a New Yorker to enjoy the lectures, as they are all available online with membership.


I also had the pleasure of speaking about my work and the art of guilloché to the Seattle Metals Guild last week. It was a lot of fun introducing the topic to so many new people. If you’re local to Seattle and are interested in anything metals, I highly recommend joining the Guild.


Speaking of guilloché, David and I still have a spot left in our intermediate and two in our advanced classes! I’m not sure when we’ll be able to offer these classes next, as we both have a lot on in our individual workshops for the foreseeable future. So this may be your last chance to come and take a class with the dynamic Mr. Lindow here at Memoria Technica for a little while. Now is the time; register here.

Below are some photos from our earliest classes at the shop and different student projects. Hope to see you soon!

 

 

 

Bird Box number “.7” : an Update

Well little Pan was sent off to Bonhams yesterday. Unfortunately, he still wasn’t quite finished. Previous restoration work rendered the bellows ineffective when the mechanism is placed in the case. I raised the mechanism up a bit by adding little leather washers. Pressure from the lid on the mechanism now makes Pan run slow. I plan to resolve this issue, if given more time. Here is a video of how he sounds when not in the case, paired with video of him performing in the case. I look forward to our next encounter.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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A Rochat box with music and striking watch

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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.