Back in 2012 we featured a brief video about a small automaton that could almost perfectly mimic the song of a bird. Using mechanics similar to a clock, the fully automated wind-up device sucks air into a small bellows and forces it through a tiny whistle that sounds exactly like a singing bird. What my non-automata-knowledge-having-self didn’t realize at the time was that the century-old gadget was just one part of a much more intricate miniature automaton called a singing bird box.
The invention of singing bird boxes is attributed to Swiss-born watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz who also played a significant role in the creation of The Writer, a programmable automaton of a writing boy that recently inspired the movie Hugo. The basic device includes the bellows mechanism mentioned above along with a fully articulated bird with a moving beak, rotating head, and flapping wings. Several 18th and 19th century watchmakers including Jacob Frisard, Frères Rochat, and Charles Bruguier, were inspired by Jaquet-Droz’s to create their own opulent variations of singing bird boxes which are highly prized by collectors today. Variations include cigar holders, singing bird guns, and jewelry/makeup boxes.
One fantastic source of many antique bird boxes is London-based Douglas Fisher Antique Automata who carefully films almost all of their devices and makes them available on their YouTube channel. Included here are a few of my favorites, and you can also watch a number of fantastic technical videos about singing bird boxes filmed by Troy Duncan. (via The Presurfer)
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