Researchers Investigate Workings Of Bowes Museum's Mechanical Silver Swan

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 11 January 2008
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a photograph of a little girl looking at a silver swan

The Silver Swan is the centrepiece of the museum's Silver Swan Gallery. Courtesy the Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum’s famous 230-year-old Silver Swan musical automaton will fall silent for the day on Friday January 25 2008 allowing experts to research its workings and original appearance.

Experts will examine the solid silver swan, normally played daily to the public, to ensure it is shown in all its glory when it takes pride of place in a new display, planned for 2009.

Research suggests it originally was accompanied by a canopy in the form of a waterfall and mirrors. The unique automaton first appeared as an attraction as part of the Mechanical Museum run by London showman James Cox.

While the swan is still for the day, experts including an horologist will look at the workings of its mechanism – controlled by three separate clockwork devices – while consulting written and pictorial references as to its original appearance. The aim is to re-house the swan in a new display case, surrounded by state of the art lighting and interactives.

The swan is arguably the museum’s most loved and recognised object. Dating from 1773, it is life-size and remains in working order.

Museum founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, first saw it at the Paris International Exhibition in 1867, where it was also seen by author Mark Twain, who described it in his novel The Innocents Abroad. The couple eventually bought it in 1872, purchasing it from Parisian jeweller M. Briquet.

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