History Mesh

The Silver Swan (18th Century)

The Silver Swan is an automaton dating from the 18th Century and is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England.

The swan, which is life size, is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. The swan sits in a “stream” that is made of glass rods and is surrounded by silver leaves. Small silver fish can be seen “swimming” in the stream.

It is believed that the mechanism was designed by John Joseph Merlin and the first recorded owner of the swan was James Cox.

Relation to Automatons:

The Silver Swan is another example of the use of automata by the upper classes for entertainment (and, arguably, to show off), and appeared at the World’s Fair, where even Mark Twain saw and wrote about it. The construction is noticeably more difficult than earlier automata – custom-made glass rods formed the water, silver fish “swam” in the stream, and silver leaves were placed round the edge.

The Swan is also possibly unique among automata in being described in a (UK) Act of Parliament, which describes the swan and gives its dimensions.

Read more about the Silver Swan on Wikipedia.