Jaquet-Droz Automata (I&V)
[…] Jaquet-Droz automata – the three Jaquet-Droz mechanical figurines are probably the most famous "citizens" of Neuchatel. They were created by the famous watch-maker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz and his often but completely undeservedly forgotten assistant Jean-Frederic Leschot, between 1768 and 1774. Jaquet-Droz automata are wonders of precision, the most perfect achievements of the 18th century mechanics, and they are considered to be among the remote ancestors of modern computers.
The mechanical figurines were designed as an advertisement and entertainment toys, in order to improve the sales of watches among the nobility of Europe in the 18th century. Their immediate success led them all over the world, including Swiss high society, the court of Louis XV in Paris, Brussels, London, Kazan in Russia, Madrid… Sold in 1787 to a Spanish "impresario" they spent the years of the French Revolution in Spain to reappear in Paris in 1812 before starting again their travel through Europe. About 1830, the three figurines were bought by Mr. F. Martin and Mr. H.-L. Bourquin, who, after restoring them, continued to show them in Austria, Germany and in Denmark until 1904, on which date they became the property of the German collector Carls Marfels. Two years later, Marfels sold them for 75.000 francs in gold to the Society of History and Archeology of the canton of Neuchatel which then entrusted them to the Museum of Neuchatel on the 1st of May, 1909.
The three figurines are the Writer, the Drawer and the Musician. Here is the description of the figurines from the Museum leaflet:
"The credit for the essential part of the Writer's (L'Ecrivain) internal construction must go to Pierre Jaquet-Droz. He designed it when his son was still an adolescent, but he was assisted in his research by Jean-Frederic Leschot and other skillet workmen. The Writer's mechanism is extremely complex, much more intricate than those of the other two figurines. It is possible to set the mechanism in such a way the Writer will write any programmed text of not more than forty letters or signs on a moving paper (as a typewriter).
The Musician (La Musicienne) differs from the other two: she is much bigger. She was born in the hands of Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz. The girl plays an organ with two bellows which pump air into 48 pipes. She breathes during her playing and finish each piece of music with a elegant bow. The five melodies she plays were composed by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz who had studied music. She really does play her instrument, contrary to most automata whose fingers only follow the keys while the instrument does the playing. This detail is further proof of the Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz's genius.
The Draughtsman (Le Dessinateur) with a pen resembles his brother the Writer, but there is a slight difference in his attitude because his paper remains immobile and the hand moves allover the paper. The Draughtsman, who can draw 4 different motives, was made chiefly by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, with tine precious assistance of Jean-Frederic Leschot and three expert workmen. The automaton was completed in the relatively short time of two years (1772 – 1774). The Draughtsman's performance is snore spectacular than the Writer's. His mechanism is however far less complicated than that of the Writer."
Jaquet-Droz automata can be seen in action on every first Sunday of the month at 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm or on previous reservation for groups. We have seen the figurines, but we have not been of such luck to see them in action. Short movie about them was a decent replacement.