Old fashioned automatons facinate me. There’s this clockwork turtle at my local antique store that I desperately want for Christmas that rings a bell when you press its head. It’s going for $300, which is more than my Christmas budget. SIGH.

It is, however, much less than this beauty:

From the website, Futility Closet

In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain describes a remarkable automaton that he encountered at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867:

I watched a silver swan, which had a living grace about his movements, and a living intelligence in his eyes–watched him swimming about as comfortably and as unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweler’s shop–watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through all the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it.

The swan still exists, now on display at England’s Barnard Castle. As a music box plays, the life-size creature preens, searches a flowing “stream” of rotating glass rods, spies a fish, and catches and swallows it. No one knows who designed it, but it’s certainly more than two centuries old — it’s described in a 1773 Act of Parliament.


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