Bowes Museum

The wonders of 18th-century automata

At the Paris International Exhibition of 1867, Mark Twain was mesmerised by a life-sized silver swan with ‘a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes… swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop’. The Silver Swan has been its leading attraction, drawing spellbound visitors to its afternoon performances The jeweller’s shop this mechanical marvel had been born in 100 years earlier was Cox’s Jewelry Museum in London, but its mechanism of 700 components powered by three clockwork motors was the invention of Belgian-born horologist John Joseph Merlin (1735-1803), aka ‘the Ingenious Mechanic’. Turning