Mechanical swan that entranced Mark Twain lands at Science Museum


An 18th-century automaton that entranced Mark Twain and generations of other viewers will be a star attraction at the Science Museum’s Robots exhibition.

When the swan was first displayed in the 18th century, admission cost the enormous sum of five shillings. Twain, the Huckleberry Finn author, who saw it in an exhibition in Paris in 1867, wrote:
“I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes, watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop.”




In the 1960s it needed repairs, and was sent to two clockmakers who turned the job down, and finally to an engineer at Durham University who spent years working on it, simplifying the mechanism and building a sturdy frame, but again the museum has no records of exactly what he did.

In 2008 Barker and Matthew Read, a horologist who teaches at West Dean College, dismantled the swan, recorded and cleaned every part, and reassembled it – and learned for the first time that it had more than 2,000 moving parts, including 139 crystal rods, and 113 rings in the neck alone.



They are working on it again with another clockmaker and former pupil of Read’s, Sean Martin. Although it was transported with meticulous care, parts of the delicate mechanism had shifted and loosened on the journey, and weaknesses in previous repairs were exposed.

On loan from Bowes Museum, a full demonstration of the Silver Swan working will be given on many days of the Robots exhibition, and on weekdays at 10.25am between 20 February and 23 March 2017. The Robots exhibition will be at the Science Museum from 8 February until 3 September.

[Source: The Guardian]