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Title: A few remarks concerning makers of Singing Bird boxes of the - Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Author: Pélissier, Georges Constantin
Language: English
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A few remarks concerning makers of Singing Bird boxes of the Eighteenth
                        and Nineteenth Centuries

                                               Tiffany and C^o. New York

                           Singing Bird boxes

The invention of these marvellous pieces of mechanism dates from about
the middle of the eighteenth century.

When they first appeared they were so highly praised that they were
immediately bought by the principal Courts of Europe, and it is only
later, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, that the very high
class of people could acquire the rare specimen that came now and then
on the market.—

The characteristic of the antique singing bird snuff boxes, is that the
bird, when singing and moving its wings, opens its beak, when turning
the head. It is unfortunate to say, that modern watchmakers have not
acquired the skilfulness of their predecessors, and that in modern boxes
this triple movement can no more be obtained. This is, as a matter of
fact, one of the first means of distinguishing an antique bird box, from
a modern one.—


  Singing Bird Box

  Signed “Jaquet-Droz and Leschot London”

  (from an old engraving)

  Actually in the collection of M^r Luis Dubois-Favre

  Le Loele, Switzerland.

The discovery of these small curious pieces of mechanism is due to a
Swiss watchmaker whose name is

                                                      Pierre Jaquet-Droz

This wonderful artist was born at La Chaux de Fonds (Switzerland) on the
28^{th} of July 1721. His parents, rich peasants, seeing the great
dispositions of their Child for Study, had projected to make a clergyman
of him, and consequently sent him to study theology at Neuchâtel.

During his holidays, which he used to spend at one of his sisters, who,
having abandoned the old industry of this city, which was lacemaking,
married a watchmaker, the young Peter was deeply interested in all
mechanics, and spent all his time working at his sister’s workshop. He
soon became so industrious that everybody induced him to leave Theology
and become a watchmaker.

His improvement astonished even the oldest and very best workmen, and he
soon became their master.

It was about the year 1752, the year of his marriage, that he made his
first singing bird,—in a gold snuff box, the bird appearing and singing
when opening the box to take snuff.—

His fame became so universal, that in 1758 he was summoned by the King
of Spain, for whom he worked, and made such marvellous automata that the
Santa Inquisition, at a certain time wanted to condemn him as a
“Sorcier,” a very terrible charge at that time.


  Pierre Jaquet-Droz Henri Louis Jaquet-Droz

  From a design by Girardet (1795)


  Signature of Pierre Jaquet-Droz

The King of Spain having died soon afterwards, he returned to La Chaux
de Fonds in 1759. In 1767 he sent his son Henri Louis Jaquet-Droz to
France, where he studied mathematics in the University of Nancy
(Lorraine) and on his return, three years later, he took him into
partnership with him.—

The productions of the father and the son then attained the utmost of
perfection. In collaboration with his father and of the very best
workmen of that time, Leschot, Maillardet, and Jean Pierre Droz (who
became Director of the Paris Mint) Henry Louis Jaquet-Droz, made the
most marvellous pieces that have ever been produced;—the Designer, the
Clavecin Player, the Young Writer, wonderful specimens which still can
be seen in perfect condition and still working in the Museum of

In 1774, Henry Louis Jaquet-Droz came to Paris and was received with the
greatest favor by King Louis XVI^{th} and especially by the young Queen
Marie Antoinette, who had ascended to the Throne the same year, who was
particularly and deeply interested in his Works after she had seen the
“Designer” by pressing a button, making her own portrait and that of the
King’s on a blank sheet of paper placed before the instrument.—(This can
still be seen in Neuchâtel every month, and also at any time by payment
of a fee.)

Jaquet-Droz afterwards went to England, where he was received by King
George III.

It is in England that he made most of the singing bird boxes known of
his construction.

He started a workshop in London where the most important and interesting
pieces in complicated watches and boxes were made,—which after were to
be found in almost every part of the world, even in China, as in 1860 on
the occasion of the pillage of the Summer Palace of the Emperor of
China, many pieces signed by Jaquet-Droz were discovered and brought
back to Europe.


  Gold, enamel and diamond Bird Box by “Bruguier—the Father”

  Collection Tiffany & C^o., New York

Every one is aware how much works of this nature are appreciated by the
Chinese in general, and the fact that several of Jaquet-Droz’s
productions were in possession of the Emperor of China is a sufficient
proof of the genius of this artisan.—

Peter Jaquet-Droz died on the 28^{th} November 1790 aged 69 years.—

His son Henri Louis Jaquet-Droz whose health had always been delicate
died in Naples, where he had gone for a cure, on the 15^{th} November
1791 aged 39 years.—

                  *       *       *       *       *

Little is known of the life and history of other manufacturers of
Singing Bird boxes, as they were artisans in a very small way of
business, working quite by themselves, in villages surrounding Geneva.—

The following is all we could find about them.——

                            Charles Bruguier

Charles Bruguier, is better known under the name of Bruguier le Père
(Bruguier the Father), was born in about 1750 and died in 1830. He had
two sons: 1º Jacques Bruguier whose date of birth and death are unknown,
and 2º Charles Bruguier known as Charles Abraham Bruguier or
“Bruguier-the-Son” born in 1788 and dead in 1862, leaving his brother
and his son who died in 1886, thus ending this family.

The three Bruguiers made very elaborate and fine bird boxes which they
marked with their full name, and a number indicating date of same.


  Silver gilt and enamel Bird Box signed “Charles Bruguier, Rue des
    Pâquis 5, Genève”

  (Charles Bruguier-the-Son’s own handwriting)

  Collection Tiffany & C^o., New York

                         Bruguier du Grand Pré

This artist lived about at the same time as Bruguier the Father, that is
from about 1750 to 1827, but the exact dates of his birth and death are

The pieces of Bruguier du Grand Pré, are generally smaller than those of
Bruguier the Father—and are considered by connoisseurs as superior. He
lived in the surroundings of Geneva, and marked his pieces with his mark
and a number indicating the date of manufacture.

                           The Rochat Family

Pierre Rochat was born in the year 1780, he lived with his two sons Ami
Napoléon Rochat and Louis Rochat, at a place called “Chez Meillau” au
Brassus, Valley of the Lake of Joux, Switzerland. He devoted himself
with his sons to the manufacture of Geneva music boxes and other small
pieces of the same kind,—most of them hidden in various small objects,
such as snuff boxes, bonbon boxes etc.

After having lost his fortune in building speculations, the Rochat
family came to Geneva in 1815 and prospered again by making most curious
marvels of small mechanics, which were highly appreciated by the
connoisseurs and sold to the principal courts of Europe.—

Pierre Rochat had been for some time in the employ of Jaquet-Droz.—

Ami Napoléon Rochat the eldest son, made a speciality of the singing
bird boxes which established the reputation of the name of Rochat all
over the world.—


  Silver gilt and enamel singing Bird Box by Charles Bruguier

  Collection Tiffany & C^o., New York

The work was absolutely perfect, especially the singing and extreme
complication and smallness of the mechanism the bird opening its beak
and turning its head when singing.

Louis Rochat the second son was in that line even better than his
brother; he conceived and executed the most curious and complicated
pieces, which have never been imitated since; for instance singing bird
watches and the famous Singing bird Pistols, where a bird appeared and
sang out of the barrel when pressing the trigger. A very rare specimen
of such pistol is in the Bernard Frank collection in Paris, one of the
most renowned collections in Paris.—

In 1829 Louis Rochat made a curious and complicated clock, for which he
was awarded by a special diploma, and appointed “Companion of the
Watchmakers and scientists of the city of Geneva.”—


  Silver gilt and enamel Bird Box by Charles Bruguier-the-Son

  Collection Tiffany & C^o., New York

                             Lami of Geneva

This artist was born in 1810 and died in 1902.

He made singing bird boxes of the same size and grade of work as the

They are just as well quoted by connoisseurs as these, but they are very
difficult to recognize as he did not mark nor number them.—

                  *       *       *       *       *

To these different names it is only right that we should add that of the
Maillardet Family:

Jean David Maillardet and Auguste Maillardet who have made many small
mechanical works, after their collaboration with the Jaquet-Droz.

Unfortunately they very seldom signed their pieces, and the documents
respecting their biography are consequently inexistent.

Some of their works have anyhow come under our notice, for instance a
snuff box which belongs to a private collection of Neuchâtel and is
loaned to the Museum of La Chaux de Fonds. The origin of that piece has
been traced as it has been won in a lottery, the curious advertisement
concerning which (dated 27 March 1847) is still to be seen in the Museum
of La Chaux de Fonds. The number of tickets issued for the lottery was
2700, each of which was valued at “3 Francs of France.” This snuff box,
bearing N^o 5, was valued at the time at 420 “Francs of France” (what
should its value be now)?

The second piece is a “Magician” executing all sorts of tricks, which is
still exhibited in the Museum of La Chaux de Fonds.

                  *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: 1910]


                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 2. Archaic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings retained as printed.
 3. This book was hand-written.
 4. Superscripts are denoted by a caret before a single superscript
      character or a series of superscripted characters enclosed in
      curly braces, e.g. M^r. or M^{ister}.

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