10 Vintage Models from the Morris Museum’s Guinness Collection of Mechanical Music & Automata

Jere Ryder has been Conservator for the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum, since it became the beneficiary of that collection in 2003, a year after Guinness’ passing.

Situated in Morristown, New Jersey, the collection comprises over 750 objects, making it one of the largest of its type in the country and likely the largest by way of the cylinder musical boxes and automata represented in the collection. The Smithsonian affiliate is a non-profit institution open to the public five days a week with daily demonstrations within the Guinness Gallery at 2 p.m.

He brings a lifetime of experience in this specialized field, having grown-up in a music box collecting family, Hughes and Frances Ryder (parents), Stephen and Stephanie (siblings), attending collector meetings and conventions as a toddler.

Having started repairing modern imported music boxes while in middle school in the 1970’s, that in turn led to the opportunity of working at the Reuge S.A. music box factory in Ste. Croix, Switzerland, and later apprenticing to Michel Bertrand (automata maker, restorer and succr’ to G. Vichy/A. Triboulet/J.A.F., Paris, France-later-Bullet, Switzerland).

Experience includes conservation treatments, repairs, restoration, appraisals, packing, domestic and International transportation, consultations (private collections, museums, auction houses, etc.), staff operations, docent training and more.

Having recently hosted more than 100 ATCA convention goers at the Morris Museum, including tours and demonstration of a small fraction of the Guinness Collection, Jere was invited to tell the hobbyDB members what his “Top 10” automata may be from over 160 or so in the collection.

Here are Jere’s Top-10 –

All images courtesy of the Morris Museum

1. “L’Homme Serpent” (Serpent Man), by G. Vichy/A. Triboulet, Paris, France, c.1905

One of six original examples known to-date and only one retaining 90 percent of its original costuming. Plus, performs an amazing gymnastic handstand.

Dims: 33”h x 33”w x 16”d. ID# 2003.18.25


2. “Dresseur d’Oiseau” (Bird Trainer), by G. Vichy, Paris, France, c.1890

One of only two originals known to date. The figure(s) represent a popular 18th century social activity, that of training a pet songbird to sing human melodies.

Dims: 40”h x 15”w x 20”d. ID# 2003.18.31a-c


3. “Méphistophélès” (Model No.1), by Leopold Lambert, Paris, France, c.1890

An impressive, animated realization of “Mephisto,” from German Folklore. As depicted in Charles-Francois Gounod’s 1859 opera, Faust, the devil’s agent Mephisto, is called upon when one is in desperate need of knowledge, wealth or youth. What follows is a ‘pact’ with eventual payment being one’s soul forever after in service to the devil.

Dims: 38”h x 20”w x 20”d. ID# 2003.18.30a-d


4. “Pierrot Écrivain” (Pierrot Writing), by G. Vichy, Paris, France, c.1895

Pierrot, a specific clown character from the 16th to the 18th century European Pantomime, was originally created as a fool for Harlequin. In this automaton, he is found somewhat forlorn, in the evening, writing a letter to his elusive love, Columbine.

Dims: 25”h x 21”w x 14”d. ID# 2003.18.281a-c.

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5. “Singe Violiniste” (Monkey Violinist), by Nicolas Alexandre Théroude, Paris, France, c.1855

This automaton has the rare combination of imparting an important social commentary, a strong critique of late 18th century high-society extravagances by way of its costuming and portrayal as a monkey; as well as the music selection that is played when operating, “La Carmagnole”, a popular “call to arms” song during the French Revolution.

Dims: 13”h x 8”w x 12”d.
ID# 2003.18.54ab


6. Maid Dusting Portrait, by Louis Renou, Paris, France, c.1900


A purely humorous piece, taking the everyday chore of household dusting and turning it upside down by the shocking sight of seeing the portrait painting come to life. Who wouldn’t be surprised!

Dims: 19”h x 12”w x 7”d.

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7. Banjo Player, attributed to Adolphe Müller, Germany, c.1895

The world being a small place even in the 19th century, events and popular happenings in America quickly jumped over to Europe, including news of the Emancipation Proclamation, toe-tapping Ragtime music and that new musical instrument of American origin, the banjo.

In this particular example, the figure accurately represents a typical African-American traveling entertainer, circa 1860-80, playing an early fretless banjo.

Dims: 27”h x 13”w x 10”d. ID# 2003.18.177a-d


8. “Funambule” (Tightrope Dancer, with Musicians), Attributed to H. Phalibois and/or Cruchet, Paris, France, c.1875-85

The European fascination with the exotic prevails via this agile, turbaned tightrope dancer accompanied by three musicians immediately below. Beautifully carved, jointed, costumed figures in an elegant theatrical setting, protected within a fragile blown glass dome.

Dims: 37”h x 18”w x 12”d. ID# 2003.18.70a-d.


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9. “Le Buffet Magique” (The Magic Cupboard), by G. Vichy/A. Triboulet Paris, France, c.1910

Another imaginative creation, something that every youngster, parent and grandparent can relate to, trying to reach for the forbidden cookie jar, or in this case the gooseberry jelly, so as to top off his biscuit treat. Just when he’s about to get it, Grandmama instantly swings into sight to catch and scold him. Watch his reaction!

Dims: 33”h x 17”w x 10”d. ID# 2003.18.75ab

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10. Animated Musical Tableau with Clock, attributed to A. Tharin, Paris, France, Timepiece signed “Henri Marc, Paris,” France, Animation motor signed: “Cailly, Jne., Paris,” France, c.1840-50

Also known as “Tableaux Vivants” (living tableau’s), these wall-hung, clockwork-driven, three-dimensional moving pictures were luxurious decorative arts for high society residences at the end of the 18th and well into the 19th centuries.

Wound-up to be set into motion before guests might arrive for an evening social, the host family would patiently wait for their guests to be shocked to see that the wall art was ‘moving’ on its own.

In this example, over a dozen waltzing figures under the mirrored gazebo dance away the evening and two rocking pitching boats with passengers are in the foreground and a cargo ship and five gondolas with passengers pass under the Ponte di Rialto, plus the telling of time and music at will. Mid-19th century – Wow factor !!

32”h x 46.5”w x 11”d. ID# 2003.18.725.

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Plus, a little Holiday video montage that you might enjoy:


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Future Event: AutomataCon
Dates: May 17-19, 2024
Where: Morris Museum
Friday evening welcome reception, Exhibits all day Saturday and Sunday, programming and workshops

Visit: www.automatacon.org

Full program agenda usually posted in February.

About the Morris Museum


Founded in 1913, the Morris Museum is an award-winning, multifaceted arts and cultural institution serving the public through its exhibitions and performances, which strive to interpret the past and discover the future through art, sound, and motion.

The Museum is home to the historic and internationally significant Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata.

The Museum’s Bickford Theatre is a 312-seat performing-arts facility, offering unique programming in film, jazz, and live performance through its innovative series, Live Arts.

As New Jersey’s only Smithsonian Affiliate, Morris Museum launched Spark!Lab, a dynamic, Smithsonian-created learning space which will inspire young visitors to create, collaborate, and innovate.

Our Mission: Interpreting the past and discovering the future, through Art, Sound, and Motion.

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7 months ago

Truly amazing works – all done in the 1800s! France had some fantastique artist/craftsmen!

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