Sunday, January 12, 2014

Toys of the Belle Époque: A Clockwork Pig, 1890

Clockwork Toy Pig and Rider, 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Long before handheld digital devices, people still wanted their toys to be somewhat interactive. Our Victorian and Edwardian counterparts were very clever with clockwork—producing exceptional automata and animated items ranging from the most serious of time pieces to the most frivolous of toys. I think this clockwork pig falls closer to the category of the latter.

I like this pig. He looks like a happy pig despite the fact that he has a rider. This is just one example of the beautiful automata designed during the Nineteenth Century—particularly in Germany, France and England. Automata had a place in the home as toys, yes, but they also served as conversation pieces, curious and, even, decorative objects. Functional Victorian clockwork pieces are rare and difficult to come by. They can occasionally be found in pieces or in poor-working order.

This pig seems to have held up well. He and his friend now reside in The Victoria & Albert Museum. The geographical origins of this pig are somewhat sketchy. Curators at the V&A place it around 1890 and most likely originating in France or Germany. The pleased pig walks on his thin legs—wound by a key in his stomach. His rider can move his arms (one of them, missing a hand) back and forth. Items such as this were often imported to England and the United States during the Nineteenth Century. Because of their small size, they weren’t heavily taxed and could be purchased for a relatively low cost. Today, however, an item such as this is worth a small fortune. 

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