Thursday, September 24, 2009

Even Better Than The Real Thing ....


The Silver Swan is an automaton dating from the 18th Century and is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England.

The swan, which is life size, is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. The swan sits in a "stream" that is made of glass rods and is surrounded by silver leaves. Small silver fish can be seen "swimming" in the stream.

When the clockwork is wound the music box plays and the glass rods rotate giving the illusion of flowing water. The swan turns its head from side to side and also preens itself. After a few moments the swan notices the swimming fish and bends down to catch and eat one (ornithologically inaccurate, as swans do not eat fish). The swan's head then returns to the upright position and the performance, which has lasted about 40 seconds, is over. To help preserve the mechanism the swan is only operated once each day at 2pm.

It is believed that the mechanism was designed by John Joseph Merlin (1735-1803) and the first recorded owner of the swan was James Cox.

The swan was described in a 1773 United Kingdom Act of Parliament as being 3 feet (0.91 m) in diameter and 18 feet (5.49 m) high. This would seem to indicate that at one time there was more to the swan than remains today as it is no longer that high. It is said that there was originally a waterfall behind the swan, which was stolen while it was on tour.

It is known that the swan was sold several times and was shown at the World's Fair (Exposition Universelle (1867) held in Paris, France. The United States novelist Mark Twain observed the swan and recorded his observation in a chapter of the Innocents Abroad.

The swan was purchased by John Bowes in 1872 for the museum where it currently resides. The Bowes Museum believes that it is their most well known artifact, and it the basis of the museum's logo.


Anonymous said...

High there, just discovered your blog thanks to Avi Abrams from The Drkrstd Blend.Interesting stuff come and visitr mine in your sparetime.
I like tech, Japan, arts and science and nature too;

mchristian said...

Thanks so much! I added your blog to my blogroll and my reader!

Unknown said...

Intrigued by this swan, I did a bit of a google search and found another clip of the swan being restored, it's quite interesting.

mchristian said...

Thanks! But the url doesn't work -- please zap it to me at and I'll post it as a follow-up