An Unusual Early 20thC Shop Window Display Automaton Head

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Origin: English
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1910-30
Height: 12.75 inches
Width: 6 inches

The papier-mâché and composition fabric webbing head with wooden base and metal framed bridge nose having a weighted automaton movement operating the eyes, moving them from left to right when prompted, survives from the first quarter of the twentieth century from a shop window display front.

The head is presented in as found condition, and proves wonderfully intriguing, decorative and perhaps slightly unsettling. There are the remains of an outer layer hairpiece to the reverse section of the head. The mechanism to the eyes is operational and the eyes themselves are in good order.

One could speculate that this head could have been once been part of a ventriloquists figure but the automaton mechanism and metal framed structure points to it being used for advertising. It would have been expensive to make and used for dramatic advertising effect. It was once probably part of a large composition, either as a standalone head with further parts or as part of a whole figure and would almost certainly been a shop window display automaton, advertising wares. The head may have once turned and had an opening mouth and maybe even a smoking mechanism if it were being used in a tobacconist for instance. The glass eyes and mechanism for these remain, which are pendulum weighted, but another possibility was that there once would have been either wooden limb sections or further parts for the head and if it were at once stage attached to a body it may have been seated on a stool, for instance, in a watch repairers.

The raw, stripped and mechanical aesthetic of this piece makes it a wonderfully curious and ever so slightly disturbing splinter of shop display history and a decorative one at that.

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