"..watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it..."
June 24, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

The Silver Swan is a life-size musical automaton built in 1773 from silver and glass, now housed in the Bowes Museum in County Durham.

The clockwork swan rests on a "stream" of glass rods in which little silver fishes swim. When activated the swan preens itself then appears to catch one of the fish before swallowing it in a display which lasts around 40 seconds.

The mechanism, built by John Joseph Merlin (who also brought us the rollerskate) includes "six camshafts, a quadrant-and-pinion, chains running up the slender neck and a pair of spring-operated lazy tongs." While this 235 year old swan is still eating fish daily, its real life counterparts prefer underwater plants and cereal crops.
posted by fire&wings (17 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A good friend of ours from Darlington got married in the Bowes Museum and before the ceremony, they made the swan do its thing. It was very impressive.
posted by athenian at 3:17 PM on June 24, 2008

Wow, that was really great. Thanks for pointing this out.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2008

See it in action. (1, 2, 3, 4)
posted by Dave Faris at 3:37 PM on June 24, 2008

nm. didn't see the youtube links buried inside.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:37 PM on June 24, 2008

ironically, swans seldom, if ever, eat fish...
posted by HuronBob at 3:55 PM on June 24, 2008

That neck movement is much more fluid than I would've thought. 1773, eh? Not bad!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:05 PM on June 24, 2008

But, hey, Bowes Museum directors, if you're reading this: howsabout putting a high quality, well-filmed video clip of this amazing machine on your own website? It's a shame that all we have to see of the swan in action are crappy shaky-cam youtube clips.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 PM on June 24, 2008

Great stuff! The swan is impressive enough, but the harpist is the one that's going to haunt my dreams.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:30 PM on June 24, 2008

I've had nightmares about that harpist; maybe now the Swan can come and save me. It shall carry me to safety on its glorious silvery back while I feed it fish underwater plants and cereal crops.

Truly amazing stuff.
posted by sir_rubixalot at 5:59 PM on June 24, 2008

The swan is great, saw it the last time I visited England, but the harpist... urgh...
posted by zeoslap at 6:01 PM on June 24, 2008

automatons, previously.
posted by Dave Faris at 6:04 PM on June 24, 2008

Hey, Dave Faris, thanks for linking back to your earlier post. I'd missed that one. Great stuff!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:55 PM on June 24, 2008

How beautiful. What an amazing automaton. It seems to me in our rush to digitalize and computerize everything that there are still real pleasures to be had from analog creations. This clockwork bird is truly beautiful. It's amazing that after over 200 years it's still doing its thing. Thanks for sharing.
posted by MythMaker at 7:12 PM on June 24, 2008

And then it dies?

(shoutout to the DoReMefites!)
posted by padraigin at 8:43 PM on June 24, 2008

That swan is just lovely.

Three of its near contemporaries: the Writer (and its internal workings), the Organist, and the Artist.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:14 PM on June 24, 2008

A post that cures whatever ails you - if only briefly!

Absolutely love that the swan maker genius was called Merlin and that his work directly inspired a young Charles Babbage! (You just couldn't make this stuff up.)

Great links - and thomas j wise's "The Writer" is a marvel too.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:54 AM on June 25, 2008

« Older Waiting for the New Way Forward   |   God is an Astronaut Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments