Rare mechanical automaton sold for £9,000


A rare working automaton of a black man smoking a cigarette was sold at auction today for £9,125.

Valued at £1-1500 the piece made six times its estimate at Lyon & Turnbull’s auction house, and was bought by an anonymous internet bidder.

The automaton was made by famous Frenchmen Vichy and dates from the period 1860 to 1910 which is known as “The Golden Age of Automata”.

The piece sold for six times its estimate

 Lee Young Specialist at Lyon & Turnbull said “Apart from people in the saleroom we had over 5 phone bidders, but they were all pipped at the post by someone on the internet.

“He is very collectible, especially as it dates from the period between 1860 and 1910 when many small family based companies of Automata makers thrived in Paris. From their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world.

“It is these French automata that are collected today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide. The main French makers were Vichy, Roullet & Decamps, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou and Bontems.”

The Black Smoker automaton in the sale has mechanical movement to the eyes, mouth and neck.

Gustave Vichy was born in 1839 to a Parisian watch and clock maker Antoine Michel who, along with his wife, set up the Vichy company in 1862 with the aim of building and selling clocks, mechanical objects and toys.

“In 1866, Gustave took over the company and dedicated his time almost entirely to developing automata while his wife, a seamstress, dressed the figures.

“The Vichy company became part of a group of family businesses that thrived in Paris between 1860 and 1910 and known as the “Golden Age of Automata”.

“Gustave had great success producing advertising automata and one of his models won the Grand Prix at the Great Exhibition of 1900, the only award given to automata or mechanical toys.

“His son Henry gradually took control of the firm, incorporating Lioret phonograph mechanisms into some automaton models, which were advertised as being able to sing, speak and play musical instruments.