Bicentennial robots and clocks from the past –

The Hermitage-Kazan Center presented for the first time in Russia rare objects from past centuries

Photo: Maksim Platonov

On December 17, the Hermitage-Kazan Center inaugurated the New Year’s exhibition “Musical Magic. Mechanical toys and antique rarities from the 18-20 centuries ”from the funds of the Private Collection museum, one of the most important in Europe. With this project, the Moscow private museum of patrons David and Mikhail Yakobashvili came to Tatarstan for the first time. How they entertained themselves in stagecoaches almost 300 years ago, what the modern music box was born from, and whether street organs sound today – read Realnoe Vremya’s report.

What are we going to play?

Two halls of the Hermitage-Kazan Center are filled with 48 unique exhibitions. Automata – devices of past centuries with unique complex mechanisms can be considered, for example, as the ancestors of modern robots. A variety of mechanical toys are on display here – very small and half the height of a human. “The Singing Clock”. Incredible jewelry boxes and photo albums … They sing, ring and “tinkle” – to a sweet melody, a Japanese woman in elegant toy drinks tea, a girl doll frees a mouse from a mousetrap, a mechanical tightrope walker turns a chair over her nose. There is a dapper dandy among these toys, and a lady with a compact, and quite a miniature street theater, and even a rock with a waterfall.

However, most of these quirky luxury items are hidden away in shop windows – they’re insanely expensive. However, as the Museum Collection staff assures us, all toys are in working order. The museum has its own restoration workshop, through which the exhibits have passed.

“All of these rarities are acquired by museum owners at auctions – sometimes Russian, but more often European and American. Very often, they reach us in good condition, but still require prevention. It happens, of course, that automatons (mechanical dolls) and music boxes do not work. In this case, another similar mechanism is bought at auction, in a hopelessly unusable state. Its details extend the life of our exhibitions. But I can say that all of our treasures have exclusively original details, created precisely in the past centuries – some were conscientiously made. The lifespan depends on the frequency of use and the care taken by the last owner, ”explains the manager of the collection museum’s restoration center, Alexeï Kucheryavy.

However, most of these quirky luxury items are hidden away in shop windows – they’re insanely expensive. However, as the Collection museum staff assures us, all toys are in working order.

Who invented sound recording

As you know, the first automata – the ancestors of modern robots – appeared in ancient times. From the legends we can learn that there were then walking statues of Daedalus in Athens, and the flying wooden dove of Archytas of Taranto. Of course, they did not reach our time, but products with a history of almost 300 years have been preserved. The Russian tsars also tried their hand at automata. Perhaps the most famous is the Peacock Clock by Catherine the Great, which is now kept in the Hermitage. They were made in England and cost 11,000 rubles (around 1,800 pounds sterling). The Peacock is still active, it is set in motion for the greatest pleasure of the public every Wednesday at eight o’clock in the evening. Next to Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich’s throne, judging by the stories of the chroniclers, there was a pair of mechanical lions that could move their paws and tails and rotate their heads.

The oldest exhibit of those who have arrived in Kazan now is the stagecoach clock, they date from 1760, and it is the only one in Russia. According to the classification of antiquity, they are followed by the carriage clock which resembles a chimney clock. We could listen to their ringtone all the way! There is a calendar in such a clock, and even a mechanism for determining the phase of the moon. But the pendulum clock that works by electromagnetic vibrations …

“Watchmakers are the ones who first thought of sound recording! It was in the middle of the 18th century that the masters managed to implement several technical skills. It is known that from a certain moment the watch began to be exhibited permanently – as a luxury item, an indicator of safety and prestige. However, the 18th century is a time of great upheavals, wars, discoveries and conquests, and any movement of the clock leads to a lack of precision. Thus, in order to debug the time, the Tourbillon platform appears and a Repeater button is also created, with which we can know what time it is at any time of the day, ”said Svetlana Churaeva, artistic director of the Collection. Museum.

Svetlana Churaeva: “We brought the exhibits directly from the catering center, even the citizens of Moccow did not see them, so the ‘Musical Magic’ exhibition is the first All-Russian”

Also, automatons are not only the first robots, but also the ancestors of modern computers and electronic devices, because they worked on… punch cards! This programming language was written in the form of holes, numbers and circles.

Go home

The Museum of Collections is coming to Kazan for the first time, on the initiative of the Hermitage-Kazan Center. Now colleagues intend to be close friends, and at Musical Magic they plan excursions where visitors will receive valuable toys and conduct an educational program with master classes.

Yakobashvili’s father and son got the idea to open their museum in 2004. Now he has been assigned a four-story building, in which educational programs are regularly carried out. It is important that the visit to the museum is basically free. More than 20,000 pieces are now stored in its funds.

In addition to automatons, these are several other fields of activity: decorative, applied and watchmaking, fine arts, printed products and musical media. Today, for example, an exhibition of jewelry art has opened there – these are values ​​that over the last century, for various reasons, have “drifted away” from Russia, thanks to the efforts of caring patrons, they returned to the country.

The exhibition also presents a modern version of the music box from the Swiss company Reuge

First All-Russian rarities

The entire collection is insured for a considerable amount. The amount and cost of the insurance, however, is not called out.

“This is our first project in the field. We brought the exhibits directly from the catering center, even the citizens of Moccow did not see them, so the ‘Musical Magic’ exhibition is the first All-Russian. I think the cooperation will continue. We realized this exhibition rather quickly: in August, the idea just appeared, and in December, the exhibition is already accessible to Kazanians. It would seem that it is small – only two rooms, but there is a very large content here, in fact, telling the evolution of various sound carriers and the development of sound recording. Each visitor to the exhibition will receive an audio guide that will present the museum’s collection and reproduce sounds and videos of the working of mechanical dolls and antique rarities. The multimedia accompaniment of the exhibition will allow visitors to familiarize themselves with rare and unique recordings digitized from musical media from the collections of the Collection Museum. We hope that our exhibition will become a New Year’s gift for the inhabitants of Tatarstan and encourage them to delve deeper into the world of the fascinating sounds of mechanical toys and automatons, ”Svetlana Churaeva hopes.

The exhibition also presents a modern version of the music box from the Swiss company Reuge. Today, it is the world’s most famous (and one of the last) manufacturer of premium music boxes and mechanical birds. Today, such “game clocks” will not be cheap. On the websites of auction houses, you can evaluate models for about 23 million rubles. The exhibit, which looks more like a jukebox, is hurriedly launched by museum staff for visitors. Not only do the bells make sounds on it, but also special bells and drums, which can be seen in a glass display case – a modern style design with clear acrylic sides allows you to see all the mechanics. In total, there are four reels in the “jukebox”, each of which has eight recorded melodies. It can be looped and played back, or you can choose your favorite.

The exhibition is open until February 27, 2022.

Anna Tarletskaya. Photo: Maksim Platonov


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