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PROPERTY FROM THE METZGER COLLECTION

Courvoisier & Compe.
AN IMPORTANT ORMOLU AND MAHOGANY TWO TUNE MUSICAL AUTOMATON BIRDCAGE CLOCK WITH DOUBLE SINGING AND FLYING BIRDS NO. 11359, MUSICAL MOVEMENT NO. 11168, CIRCA 1820
Estimate
150,000250,000
LOT SOLD. 389,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
63

PROPERTY FROM THE METZGER COLLECTION

Courvoisier & Compe.
AN IMPORTANT ORMOLU AND MAHOGANY TWO TUNE MUSICAL AUTOMATON BIRDCAGE CLOCK WITH DOUBLE SINGING AND FLYING BIRDS NO. 11359, MUSICAL MOVEMENT NO. 11168, CIRCA 1820
Estimate
150,000250,000
LOT SOLD. 389,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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Courvoisier & Compe.
AN IMPORTANT ORMOLU AND MAHOGANY TWO TUNE MUSICAL AUTOMATON BIRDCAGE CLOCK WITH DOUBLE SINGING AND FLYING BIRDS NO. 11359, MUSICAL MOVEMENT NO. 11168, CIRCA 1820
• 5 inch white enamel dial signed Courvoisier & Compe. No. 11359, blued steel Breguet-style hands, sector for regulator below 12 o'clock, Arabic numerals • the movement with rectangular plates and verge escapement housed within the oval mahogany base • the base raised on later gilt brass toupie feet, the front with a gilt brass plaque fitted with levers that give the following choices: left Repos/Libre (silent /music) and automata at the hour, center Musique/Repos (continuous music only at will), right Meme/Autre (tune selection), the left side with a second gilt brass plaque engraved Repos/Libre (automata only at will), the music with three-tooth-per-section sectional comb, fusée-driven, the automaton work with indirect drive above, octagonal domed ormolu cage with urn topped columns at the angles, pinecone finial and acorn feet, the  interior inhabited by a pair of brightly colored painted singing birds: When in motion the birds flap their wings, swivel their bodies, open and close their beaks whilst seemingly flying from one perch to the other and back again, the automata completed by a waterfall at the rear, comprising four twisted glass rods, which revolve to simulate water
height 13 1/2 in (34.5 cm)
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Collection of M. Ant. Feil, Hamburg
Christie's, London, Important Clocks, Watches and Marine Chronometers, 2 July 1997, lot 27
Collection of Frank and Lore Metzger, New York

Literature

Alfred Chapuis, Histoire de la Pendulerie Neuchateloise, fig. 239
Mechanical Music, The Courvoisier Automata, Parts I-VII - July/August 2010; January/February 2011; March /April 2011; May/June 2011; July/August 2011; September/October 2011

Catalogue Note

The automata and music sequence work in the following manner: on the hour the music will play a single tune followed by the automata comprising the singing bird and waterfall motions. Alternatively, the automata is released at will without the music, when the lever is switched to "Libre" and the cord is pulled. Similarly the music can play at will, continuously without the automata.

Today only seven bird cage pieces, either attributed to, or signed Courvoisier & Compe. are known. Of this select group only two are signed. Although none of the pieces are identical, each shares characteristics that help attribute them to this maker. Production of their cages spans a fifteen year period between 1820-1835.

Several of the shared features comprise the cage shape and design, including the grilles which are composed of delicately pierced and engraved scrollwork. Furthermore, a particular specialty of Courvoisier is the use of a fusee chain to drive the bird motion, unlike their contemporaries who used silk thread, such Jaquet Droz. 

The cost of making these pieces apparently prevented Courvoisier & Compe. from commercial success which would likely account for the small number of cages produced. There is little available literature regarding the firm's production of bird cages.

Courvoisier & Compe. registered their mark in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in 1811. The firm consisted of Louis Courvoisier, Philippe Ducommun and Philibert Humbert Droz. The firm's roots go back much further and the Louis Courvoisier family is known as one of the oldest in the horological industry working in La-Chaux-de-Fonds. Originally founded by Josue Robert et fils in 1770, his son-in-law Louis Courvoisier joined in 1787. For a further history of this illustrious family of makers, see Pritchard, K., Swiss Timepiece Makers, pp C81-C93.

Dr. Metzger, who purchased the present lot in 1997, became intrigued by the maker, the lack of existing research as well the rarity of surviving Courvoisier cages. As a result Dr. Metzger collaborated with the noted singing bird automata specialist and author Sharon Kerman Bailly to research Courvoisier's singing bird automata. The research was published in a series of articles in Mechanical Music between the fall of 2010 and the summer of 2011. In his articles, Dr. Metzger writes that he had discovered six examples. Dr. Metzger adds that in his opinion the differing pieces were produced to serve as test models for various export markets. Dr. Metzger further writes "the clocks were well received but for reasons unknown, were never standardized nor produced in quantity as were those of other bird automata makers."

For examples of their bird cage automata either signed or attributed to Courvoisier & Compe. of the aforementioned six, see Chapuis, A. and Droz, E., Automata, pp. 214-215, fig 260, which was formerly in the Collection Ikle, Saint Gallen, one in the Collection of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, fig. 261, two others in Bailly, S. and Bailly, C., Flights of Fancy, pp. 131, 197-198,The Reuge Collection, and another from the Estate of Laurance S. Rockefeller, Sotheby's, New York, 11-12 October 2005, now in a private collection.

Recently a seventh candidate has appeared on the market, see Antiquorum, 8 November 2014, Geneva, lot 573.

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