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This fascinating piece would originally have had a wide leather strap fixed to either side so that the musician could carry it round his neck. Evidence of this can be seen by the fixing points on either side and the wear on the outside of the box.
When anyone wanted to hear the music and see the automata perform the front glass was lifted and they could then put a coin on the tray in the outstretched hand of the automaton on the right. As soon as the music started up the arm would be lowered and the coin drop into the box below.
The fine key-wound and spring driven musical movement, which plays six tunes, is signed on the bedplate by Nicole Freres A Geneve and numbered 38037, which would put a date on it of 1861-62. It is also signed on the comb. The pin barrel, some 27.5 x 5cms, is very delicately pinned and the comb has over 100 finely tipped teeth.
The solid rosewood rectangular case is 20" wide, 11" deep and 15¾” high. There are substantial carrying handles on either side and the bottom part of the box, which houses the musical movement, has substantial brass binding to the front corners. Access to the musical barrel etc. may be gained by the removable front door which is glazed at the top and has a silk panel below to let the sound out. The front of the upper section of the box is hinged at the top and also half way back over the lid so that it may be folded right back to reveal the automata.
The stage on which the automata stand has a mirrored back and sides. Power to activate the automata is taken from the music box in the base via a twelve leaf pinion to a horizontal shaft running above the barrel for most of the length of the box. Attached to the rotating shaft are numerous other shafts and linkages which connect to the automata.
The figures themselves are beautifully carved and decorated and still retain nearly all their original gilt and paintwork.
They are, from left to right :-
The Cobbler. He sits working on his last with his left knee raised to support it. In his left hand he has a hammer and in the right an awl. Both arms move in and out as he works and his head goes backwards and forwards whilst at the same time his lower jaw moves up and down and his eyes move.
The Sailor. As he raises and lowers his right arm, in which he is holding a pipe, his head moves to and fro as if scanning the horizon ? and his eyes also move.
The Wedding Couple. They stand on a pedestal, centre stage, and, as they turn and look at each other, two large gilded wings rise up on either side as if to conceal them.
D34 ( Continued.)
This figure is striding forward with a stick in his left hand whilst he swings his right one. On his back he has a basket from which a cat bobs up and down.
The Monkey. The colourfully dressed monkey sits cross legged on a stool playing a violin. As he moves his bow up and down his head turns from left to right, his eyes move, his lower jaw goes up and down and his upper lip is raised to show his teeth and then lowered.
The Leader of the Band ?
He stands on the right. As he turns his head from left to right his eyes move also. In his right arm he holds a platter, on which there is some writing, for people to put a coin on and as he lowers his arm the money drops into a trough below.
This box is described and illustrated on pages 123,124,241,242 & 243 of Bellamy, Cunliffe and Ison’s book on Nicole Freres. A DVD of it will be available of it in due course.
Size overall : 20" wide x 16" high x 10½ " deep.
|Height||20.00 inch||(50.80 cm)|
|Width||16.00 inch||(40.64 cm)|
|Depth||10.25 inch||(26.03 cm)|