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The Silver Swan: The 18th Century Clockwork Automaton


Nov 28, 2016
 
 
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The Silver Swan is an automaton designed in the 18th century by John Joseph Merlin.

Currently, it is housed in Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, England.

The mechanism was designed and built by John Joseph Merlin. Photo CreditThe mechanism was designed and built by John Joseph Merlin. Photo Credit

The life-size swan is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box.

The music box plays when the clockwork is wound and the glass rods rotate giving the illusion of flowing water.

John Joseph Merlin.John Joseph Merlin.

The automaton imitates the behavior of a real swan. When the music begins, the swan turns its head to the left and right and preens itself.

In the stream where the swan rests there are small silver fish which the swan bends down to catch and eat.

The performance lasts 40 seconds. and to preserve the mechanism the swan is only operated once each day at 2 pm.

It is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. Photo CreditIt is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. Photo Credit

In 1773, The United Kingdom Act of Parliament described the swan as being 3 feet in diameter and 18 feet high.

It is believed that the swan was bigger and originally there was a waterfall behind it, which was stolen while it was on tour.

Small silver fish can be seen in the stream. Photo CreditSmall silver fish can be seen in the stream. Photo Credit

The swan was first recorded in the Mechanical Museum of the London inventor James Cox in 1774 as a crowd puller.

Later, the swan was sold several times and was shown at the World’s Fair held in Paris, France in 1864.

It imitates the behavior of a real swan. Photo CreditIt imitates the behavior of a real swan. Photo Credit

In 1872, John Bowes and his wife Josephine Chevalier purchased the swan for £200.

The American novelist Mark Twain recorded his observation of the swan in a chapter of his novel Innocents Abroad.

It is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. Photo CreditIt is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. Photo Credit

Due to its great age and the countless times it has performed, the entire mechanism of the swan was repaired in 2008 by specialists Matthew Read and Ken Robinson.

They believe that there were even more features which were lost, such as other fish or flowers.

It is the basis of the museum's logo. Photo CreditIt is the basis of the museum’s logo. Photo Credit

 

Read another fascinating story from us: The Hope Diamond is perhaps...

This magnificent Silver Swan is the best-known artifact in the Bowes Museum and the basis of the museum’s logo.

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