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ENCHANTING SWISS BIRDSONG

Courvoisier & Compe. No.359: An ormolu and mahogany musical automaton birdcage timepiece with double singing and jumping birds, Swiss, circa 1820
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81

ENCHANTING SWISS BIRDSONG

Courvoisier & Compe. No.359: An ormolu and mahogany musical automaton birdcage timepiece with double singing and jumping birds, Swiss, circa 1820
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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Courvoisier & Compe. No.359: An ormolu and mahogany musical automaton birdcage timepiece with double singing and jumping birds, Swiss, circa 1820
2-inch enamel dial with regulation sector and signed Courvoisier & Compe, No.359, the fusee timepiece movement with verge and balance escapement and housed within the mahogany oval plinth, triggering at the hour a cylinder musical movement also contained within the plinth and playing one of two tunes, the octagonal bird cage mounted on the plinth and housing two feathered birds which, at the end of the tune or at will, sing, open their beaks, flap their wings, turn to each other and seemingly jump between perches accompanied, at the rear, by a series of revolving glass rods simulating a waterfall, the fusee automaton movement contained within the base of the cage and consisting of a complex cam controlling piston whistles and the movements of the birds, the domed cage with panels of finely pierced and engraved foliate scrolls, the matted base decorated with stylised flowers, the timepiece, musical and automaton movements all wound through the plinth, the right side with three controls with inscribed brass plate for Silence, Musique and Autre/Même, on brass bun feet
37.55cm. 14¾in. high
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Catalogue Note

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.

To date only six bird cage pieces, either attributed to, or signed Courvoisier & Compe. have been recorded. Of this select group only two were 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. Previously unrecorded, No.359 becomes the seventh known bird cage of this type and the third signed example. 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, such Jaquet Droz, who used silk thread. 

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

Another very similar bird cage signed Courvoisier & Compe, No.11359 was sold Sotheby's New York on 10th December 2014, Lot 63.

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