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It's smaller on the outside - The mechanical furniture of the Roentgens
February 24, 2014 7:54 AM   Subscribe

The mechanical furniture of the Roentgens
The Roentgens are perhaps best known for shape-shifting roll-top desks and secretary cabinets, which could cost almost as much as small estates. These are resplendent with intricate marquetry, gilded mounts and precious inlay in mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, bronze and ivory.

But many of them are also ingeniously mechanized with weights and springs, so that the press of a button or turn of a key can activate veritable choreographies of opening doors and pop-out drawers, hidden niches and secret mirrors, candlestick mounts, easels and bookstands. These objects seem almost to turn themselves inside out, and their expanding, cascading, always symmetrical forms can exert a nearly libidinous, definitely magical thrall.
BLDGBLOG
Demonstration videos
posted by zamboni (25 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
hypnotizing
posted by Wretch729 at 8:05 AM on February 24


Fantastic.

I feel like the people who made The Room probably spent a lot of time looking at this stuff.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:08 AM on February 24


I feel like the people who made The Room probably spent a lot of time looking at this stuff.

oh, hi mark
posted by my favorite orange at 8:13 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


So, in Russian, the word for X-Ray (as in the procedure or the machine) is "roentgen," after Wilhelm Roentgen, who discovered the x-ray. I was looking at these photos for a while trying to figure out how exactly they turn into an x-ray machine and why until I realized this is by a completely different Roentgen.

Also I am picturing some eccentric German noble's wife standing in the midst of ten thousand cabinets and drawers and surfaces pulled out of a bureau that is also plinking out Bach from a hidden music box and she is yelling I JUST NEED A GODDAMN PAIR OF SCISSORS, ALBRECHT. MAYBE WE CAN GET A NORMAL DESK NEXT TIME, JA?
posted by griphus at 8:16 AM on February 24 [14 favorites]


oh, hi mark
posted by my favorite orange
customer (so close!)

Oh, hi doggie.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:18 AM on February 24


"Shape-shifting roll-top desks and secretary cabinets" definitely undersells these. The BLDBLOG description, "elaborate 18th-century technical devices disguised as desks and tables," is closer to the truth.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:20 AM on February 24


If you look very carefully, you can see the little carved mask under the left set of drawers that identifies the desk as a Decepticon.
posted by permafrost at 8:23 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Writing desks that transform into ravens. Giant mechanical city-destroying ravens.
posted by ardgedee at 8:27 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


If you liked these, then you'll probably love the documentary "Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams" presented by the wonderful Simon Schaeffer who lectured a sizeable chunk of the History & Philosophy of Science course at Cambridge when I had the great pleasure of taking it twenty years ago.

(Youtube link)
posted by pharm at 8:28 AM on February 24


The Roentgen is also a unit of radiation, named after the discoverer of the X-Ray.
posted by Jpfed at 8:30 AM on February 24


I wonder how much actual writing/card playing happened on these desks and tables, and how much time the owners spent demonstrating them to boggle-eyed guests. That Berlin Secretary especially is just crazy.

I sort of wonder how much they would have cost when new, too. If the answer is "more than the average house" (and I'm sure it is) that can really knock the shine off for me. Of course you can make something amazing if you just build it out of money.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:06 AM on February 24


I sort of wonder how much they would have cost when new, too. If the answer is "more than the average house" (and I'm sure it is) that can really knock the shine off for me. Of course you can make something amazing if you just build it out of money.

I don’t really understand that, they would be more impressive works if he had sold them for less? The extremely rich people who bought them should have been able to keep more of their money and he should have got less in order to make them better works of art?
posted by bongo_x at 9:17 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I imagine if anyone actually tried to use these for hiding important papers and whatnot that a familiar scene must have been Papa desperately fiddling around turning the keys twice clockwise--booinnggggg, up springs the wrong fucking secret strongbox--no, wait, it's three and a half times anti-clockwise--deedle doodle deedle doodle, down drops the cover over, yet again, the wrong set of secret drawers--"Oh, to hell with it, could someone get little Johann from the nursery and ask him to tell me how to find those damned secret plans for our attack on France again?"
posted by yoink at 9:26 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Those are just wonderful - thanks for posting, zamboni. If the Roentgens had been working a few centuries later, I like to think they'd be producing pieces like this.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:36 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


I love these, but I also sort of hate that they exist because I will never have one and now my furniture sucks.
posted by aramaic at 9:53 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


wow, this stuff is totally exactly what i want to devote my life to
posted by rebent at 10:14 AM on February 24


I was watching the roll top desk and I think I came.

Nope. That's just Titebond II mixed with my tears from knowing that I will never make anything so intricate out of wood.
posted by plinth at 10:14 AM on February 24


I wish these were more common. Just think of the wacky jokes we could have!

- a desk that contained improbable things inside of it, "But wait, there's more!" style.

- a desk where you couldn't even breath on it without hidden drawers popping out
posted by rebent at 10:38 AM on February 24


Amazing work. I'm proud to say that as a child in the late-80s/early-90s, I had the grade school equivalent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiJw2lZRt7c
posted by crasiman at 11:09 AM on February 24


i was sure this was going to be a Chernobyl post.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:26 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Best of web!
posted by infini at 1:42 PM on February 24


- a desk where you couldn't even breath on it without hidden drawers popping out

"That's never happened to me before!"
posted by yoink at 2:16 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I feel like the people who made The Room probably spent a lot of time looking at this stuff.

These desks need more pictures of spoons.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:34 PM on February 24


Repairing those desks must be a nightmare.
posted by Mr Mister at 9:13 PM on February 24


Wow! These are great.
posted by homunculus at 6:42 PM on February 25


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