Thursday, March 8, 2012

Automatons and Musical Visitors

This is a post less about the techniques of restoration and more about the joy of being presented with incredible examples of times past. It seems lately that the projects come in matched sets. Dog chewing damage, tall case clocks, and now music boxes.

Théroude Automaton

with a Thibouville Lamy Barrel Organ

The first was in the shop only for a condition report but was a welcomed and fascinating visitor.

Circa 1870 The Théroude Automaton with a Thibouville Lamy Barrel Organ bears the name of two famous makers.

Alexandre Nicolas Théroude celebrated for his detailed and whimsical automatons and Thibouville Lamy an established company noted for a variety of instruments, most notably of the violin family.

A little digging came up with the following history which I found intriguing.

Alexandre Nicolas Théroude was born on February 25th 1807, in Saint-Pierre-en Val (France). He left his family very young and came to be established in Paris. A few years later, Théroude went out on his own and opened a factory of mechanical toys. in 1849, a reporter notes that " Mr Théroude is one of our premier mechanical manufacturers of mechanical toys: he works in Paris and for export and does not have any rivals on the foreign markets. "

Because of the difficulties caused by the defeat of France in 1870, very few French exhibitors went to London for the Exposure of 1871. Alexandre Théroude however took part in this Exposition. The reporter affirms that " the king of this high part of the toys manufacture was as always, one of our compatriots, Mr. A. Théroude.

During the entire exposition, crowds did not cease pressing themselves in front of his window, where, at certain hours, animated automata were shown representing men or animals imitating human actions. It was the best known exhibit of the Exposition and the curious would collect for the tolling of the hours when birds would sing, where the monkey would play the violin, where the zouave would sound bugle, etc. "

Alexandre Nicolas Théroude was, in his time, the most admired of all automatists. This man who had spent his life creating mecanical toys and automata of a charm and an admirable invention, finished his life completely poor.

Edited from Francois Junod's Website

If you are interested in seeing and hearing the Automaton in action there is a video available on Youtube.

Lastly, while I found the piece intriguing the majority of family and friends felt it was something you should not turn your back on, a little too "creepy" This impression was undoubtedly contributed to by the fact that Théroude would use vellum or real sheep skin to cover the animals in his vignettes. The succeeding century has not been terribly kind to the condition of these thin membranes, leaving the characters looking somewhat skeletal.

 The only one in the house that was sad to see it go... Aubree, our cat.

Additional Photos on Flickr

Regina Music Box

The second piece was less theatrical but none the less charming.The Regina music box came in needing to have the finish cleaned and polished, Years of wax and oil build-up on the surface had left the finish dark and opaque.Dilute Solvent and detergent followed by a thin coat of shellac polish were all that was really needed.

Two sections of turned bead molding were missing from around the frame holding the Regina "logo" and were turned and stained to match the case.

A bit of history on the Regina Music Box Company

"More than 100 years ago the Regina Music Box Company was regarded as Americas finest music box maker. In later generations, Regina became better known for manufacturing vacuum cleaners but the company's original goal was to fill daily life with music - and for a time it was very successful in doing so. At the turn of the last century , The Regina music box company's sales grossed about $2 million a year at a time when a loaf of bread was 1 cent and a bank teller made about 7 dollars a week. A costly purchase, in 1900 the least expensive 8 inch disc size Regina music box was $12 - about $300. in present-day figures. Nevertheless plenty of households owned a Regina music box. The Regina music box Company produced more than 100,000 music boxes between 1892 and 1920. Only a relatively small number of Regina music boxes have survived 2 world wars scrap metal drives and other forms of elimination." - from Meekins 

The idea of this level of mechanical craftsmanship being melted down for scrape is heartbreaking.

Much like the Théroude Automaton, the Regina had another "maker" involved in its construction. On removing the frame surrounding the Regina plaque. I found the following on the back.

"Whitehead & Hoag" is famous for the myriad of turn of the century advertising signs you see in a lot of "antique emporiums"

"Celluloid, the key ingredient for their products, was invented around 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt in Albany, NY.  Interestingly, he was also trained as a printer, but was responding to a challenge from a New York billiards company to invent a substitute for ivory that had been used for billiard balls. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, John Wesley Hyatt didn’t win the billiard ball competition but was able to develop a compound used for checkers and dominoes. With further experimentation, he developed a substance that could be made into thin sheets.

It’s not clear how Whitehead & Hoag decided to manufacture advertising novelties, although one source claims that Whitehead “imprinted silk ribbon and button novelties for souvenirs and began experimenting with imprinting on thin sheets of a new material called celluloid.”  - from Bibliobuffet

The back of the frame around the plaque itself exhibited an interesting "mass production" joinery technique. Instead of a more traditional lap joint or splines a circular hole was drilled at the miter and a disk was glued between the two pieces to hold the true.

All in all an enjoyable month with a number of unique "visitors". Remember you can always see more images of these pieces on my Flickr site which is linked in the right hand column.