Filed under horology

A Curious Clock

This is from John Evelyn’s Diary, February 1655. I love his spelling: “I was shew’d a table clock whose ballance was onely a chrystall ball sliding on parallel wyers without being at all fixed, but rollng from stage to stage till falling on a spring conceal’d from sight, it was throwne up to the upmost … Continue reading

Collectors and Collections

This is from Patrick Mauries’ wonderful, richly illustrated book ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ which is brilliant: “The story of cabinets of curiosities is above all that of a handful of figures scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe in the age of the Baroque. John Tradescant and Elias Ashmole in Oxford, Addrovandi and Manfredo Settala … Continue reading

Automata and Christianity

Automation is generally seen as a means of making humans redundant, of destroying cottage industries, but in the early 18th century in England and France, there was a desperate shortage of church organists so barrel organs became popular in churches. Stained glass windows were often used for telling Bible stories, the bible of the poor, … Continue reading

Genie Out of the Bottle

Industrial espionage is nothing new in fact it was widespread from the 17th century in England when Swedish spies were all over the West country till metalworking moved to the Midlands. So, it is no surprise that as soon as Harrison’s Longitude clock was announced to the world, arch rivals France were onto it. This … Continue reading

An Unmissable Show

This is the only account I’ve found for this so doubt it was much of a crowd puller. It is perhaps of more interest for the fact that it existed at all. This is from the Bath Journal of 1773: This is to acquaint the curious, that there is to be seen at the Wheatsheaf, … Continue reading

Early Technology

The industrial revolution did not come out of nowhere. It came from a lot of dreaming, talking and tinkering, and most of all, sharing of ideas. It is surprising how old much of our so –called new technology is. This is from Lisa Nocks book, The Robot The Life Story of a Technology: I am … Continue reading

A Hand’s Plea

Jaquet-Droz is generally credited as having created the first writing automaton, but two decades earlier, Friedrich von Knaus made several machines in which a hand dipped into ink and wrote. In 1760 the automata filled the Emperor and his court in Vienna with awe when it wrote: “Dear Sir, Do me the honour of listening … Continue reading

A Forgotten Genius

This is a portrait by Gainsborough of John Joseph Merlin, born in Belgium, a brilliant inventor & mechanician who built one of the most beautiful pieces of automata, the silver swan now in the Bowes museum. He worked with Charles Burney on improving keyboard  & other musical instruments, is often claimed he invented rollers skates, … Continue reading

The Value of Useless Knowledge

In my research on clocks and automata, there is a lot of discussion on whether these ‘toys’ are of any real value. I think the following pretty much nails it. This is from Arthur WJG Ord-Hume’s book on music boxes & automata: [from the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1835] … our … Continue reading

Hamilton’s Vesuvius

Sir William Hamilton is famous for being cuckolded by his wife who fell for Nelson, but he was Britain’s envoy in Naples for several decades and was a great investigator of nearby Vesuvius and collector of antiquities. He commissioned an amazing machine, an example of multimedia long before the term was coined, that demonstrated the … Continue reading