Lot 6
  • 6


30,000 - 40,000 USD
116,500 USD
bidding is closed


    CIRCA 1830
• gilt full plate movement with cylinder escapement, balance bridge pierced and engraved with scrolls, quarter repeating on gongs by means of a piston which locks into the pendant, the movement fitted with an automated magician which responds to a series of six questions engraved on miniature tablets, to which answers appear in a window above the figure, a seventh blank tablet is used when the automaton function is at rest, gold cuvette engraved with details of the escapement silver dial finely engraved with foliate scrolls, eccentric mean time dial with Roman numerals, the dial fitted with the vari-color gold magician whose hand moves to indicate the answer that appears in the window above • yellow gold case, the back engraved with a river scene depicting a pair of villagers leaning on a wall by the bank of a river reviewing the catch of a fisherman below • the band fitted with levers flanking the pendant, the lever at 10 o'clock locks the question drawer and the other acts as the corrector slide • unsigned


Time Museum Inventory No. 2285

Catalogue Note

Accompanied by a fitted leather box with slots to hold each of the tablets.

The questions and their answers are as follows:
Q: Qui a plus de sens que de raison? (Who has more feeling than reason?)
A: Un viellard amoureux (An old man in love)

Q: Quel est le plus grand flatteur? (What is the greatest flatterer?)
A: L'amour propre (Love of self)

Q: Qui brise les liens du sang? (Who breaks the bonds of blood?)
A: L'Intéret (Selfishness)

Q: Quel est le fruit de labeur? (What is the fruit of labor?)
A: Le Repos (Rest)

Q: Où court l'homme egaré? (Where does the lost man run?)
A: Nulle part (Nowhere)

Q: Qui se thrahit pour se rester fidèle? (Who betrays himself in order to stay true to himself?)
A: La Mode (Fashion)

To operate the automaton function, one of the six tablets is placed in a tray, which is then inserted into a drawer fitted in the band of the case. The seventh blank tablet remains in the drawer when the automaton is at rest.

The mechanical principles upon which an automaton magician replies to the questions were established in the 18th century. Few examples survived, but the fascination was such that a few rare examples continued to be built in the 19th century. The operating principle of the movement is that each silver tablet has small holes at the end which, when inserted into the watch, are measured for depth by a feeler pin, which rotates the answer wheel by means of a cam to the correct position.

Given the fragility of the functions, the maker incorporated a separate failsafe, should the automaton stop functioning in mid-cycle. The corrector feature acts to reset the automaton work to bring it back to the beginning of its cycle should it stop.

For a magician clock also formerly in the Time Museum Collection, see Sotheby's, New York, December 2nd, 1999, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, lot 58. 

Chapuis and Droz in their 1958 book "Automata" write of the questions and answers, "...these answers were so vague that they would apply to everybody. As to the questions put to the Soothsayer.." they were "...absurd eternal questions which the public always asks about future joys and hopes." (see pp. 246-247.)

Other examples of objects with a variation of a magician automaton include a walnut-form object, as well as several gold boxes. To the best of our knowledge, the present example appears to be the only known watch with magician automaton ever to be offered at auction.