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3. Georgian Demand for Dual-Purpose Furniture


During the fifty years between 1780 and 1830 London experienced a surge of innovation. It was during this period that the first „museums of curiosity‟ opened their doors to an eager public who paid to see the latest novelty items including mechanical orchestras and clockwork spiders that scuttled across table tops. Educated merchant families, funded by their trading successes, intrigued by the mechanical devices and classically informed by their grand tours, were keen to purchase objects that combined gadgetry with neo-classical design.


3.1 Mechanical Curiosities and Early English Museums


In 1772 Sir William Hamilton's collection of Greek vases was acquired by the British Museum and it was in the same year that James Cox invited visitors to attend an exhibition of automata at his own museum in Spring Gardens. As a jeweller, watch and toy-maker, Cox had probably been inspired by the work of Pierre Jaquet-Droz, the Swiss-born mathematician who had designed and manufactured a number of fascinating humanoid automata including „The Writer‟ and „The Draftsman‟. These novelty mechanical devices were made from several thousand moving components to perform complex combinations of life-like movements. Cox‟s museum contained twenty three mechanical objects. According to his catalogue, these included: a large clockwork silver swan and a perpetual motion time piece. The museum was extremely popular and visitors continued to pay the admission fee until 1774 when it became necessary for Cox to sell the exhibited items to pay off his debts.


During the 1770s Cox had collaborated with John Joseph Merlin, a Belgian eccentric who made mathematical instruments from his workshop in London. Merlin, who invented the roller skates in 1760, would later be known for his design of the Gouty Chair. It was Merlin who kept the idea of a permanent exhibition of automata alive and in 1783 he opened „Merlin‟s Mechanical Museum‟ in Hanover Square just over one mile away from Cox‟s previous location. A contemporary reference of 1786 notes, „if in search of lighter pleasure, we may look in at Cox‟s Museum or Merlin von Lüttich21, inventor of mechanical curios and adaptable furniture‟ (Von La Roche, 1933). Sophie Von La Roche was a German aristocrat who visited London during 1786 and recorded her travels in a diary. Cox‟s museum would already have closed


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