A Magical Cased Clockwork Automaton Dancing Doll, for Asprey for the Great Parisian Exhibition 1899


Origin: French
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1899
The Case:
Height: 22.5 inches
Width: 18.75 inches
Depth: 5 inches

In gilt framed case with stand, associated key and paper label ‘made for Aspreys for the Great Parisian Exhibition 1899’, this wonderful automaton is in working order.

Although not excellent, condition is still good, with some wear to the gilded frame and the rear key hole. There is one small crack to the lower left of the glass. Otherwise, and considering it is in working order everything, is consummate with age.

In wonderfully detailed gardens, dancing to the tune of ‘It’s a small world’, the doll moves hypnotically, her head turning and both body and legs moving, whilst beautifully crafted butterflies and a nightingale move simultaneously as part of the enchanting performance. The background is hand-painted, the sky in light blue with wisps of cloud and the scene made up of flowers, fronds and leaves. The doll herself is dressed lavishly in period clothing, made up of detailed silks and lace; the quality in the design and the materials used are of the highest order; to the standard one would expect from being made for Asprey. This automaton would have been commissioned by Asprey, as the label goes on to read “made exclusively for Aspreys for the Great Parisian Exhibition 1899” and made by a fine French maker in Paris itself.

Asprey has a heritage that dates back to 1781. Once the destination for crowns, coronets and sceptres for royal families around the world, Asprey has a tradition of offering craftsmanship, quality and design. Famous for jewellery, leather, clocks and silver, automata is not something you would associate with the brand, making this item more curious and uncommon.

After the resounding success of Crystal Palace 1851, the focus shifted to France as Paris was the home of a series of great exhibitions. The Exposition Universelle of 1900 was a world's fair held in Paris, France, to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next. The Exposition Universelle was where talking films and escalators were first publicized, and where Campbell's Soup was awarded a gold medal.

The period from around 1860 to 1910 is known as the golden age of automata. During this era many small family based companies of automata makers thrived in Paris and from their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. The main French makers included Vichy, Roullet & Decamps, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou and Bontems. Amongst others, for instance examples from Austria, French automata are highly collectable today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide.

This is an entirely enthralling example of such fine automata with a haunting quality that stays with you long after the mechanism has stuttered to its inevitable halt.