A Wonderful Rare Late 19thC Automaton Acrobat Sand Toy in Glazed Display Box

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Origin: English
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1880-1900
The Case:
Height: 11.75 inches
Width: 8.25 inches
Depth: 3.25 inches


The glass, lithographed paper, and stained pine construction with gilded pillars having a background of elephants, clowns and entertainers with hand decorated draped turquoise theater curtain, the multi joined acrobat spinning on a central peg axis, the action requiring anti clockwise charging of sand hopper denoted by a pointing finger paper label, most probably made by Brown, Blondin and Company of London, England.

The condition, considering the age and fragility of the toy, is still good with the mechanism working soundly, the glass and wood in good order and the intricate background fade but still beautiful. There are some signs of sand grain escape to the base but it is minimal. By rotating the box two complete turns anti clockwise the sand fills a reservoir and the sand then falls onto the wheel and drives a series of gears by means of which the acrobat performs his tricks.

Given the nature of their mechanisms, sand toys function best in dry conditions and are particularly rare as they are inherently fragile and thus very few have survived to the twenty first century. Functioning via the power of falling and shifting sand distributed through a complex system of hoppers and paddle wheels, the central figure is then animated, performing for around a minute. Sand toys were often broken from the constant shaking of frustrated children.

Popularised by the French, Italians, and Germans as early as the 17th century, sand toys were usually in a glass-encased frame. In the 1850`s, one of the earliest United States toy makers, The Tower Guild of South Hingham, Massachusetts, produced wood and tinplate examples featuring chutes and paddle wheels to cause jointed figures to perform.

An amazing and exquisite piece of invention, with huge graphic appeal and a wonderfully ingenious toy of its time.

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