Tag Archives: auction

Rare Automaton sparks international interest

The Black smoker is an unusual addition to the Edinburgh auction house

A rare automaton of a black man smoking a cigarette will be sold at auction by Lyon & Turnbull this week. Valued at around £1500, the piece is made by famous Frenchman Vichy and dates from the period 1860 to 1910, known as “The Golden Age of Automata”.

Sourced from a private collection near Dundee, the Black Smoker has mechanical movement to the eyes, mouth and neck. Douglas Girton from Lyon& Turnbull spoke of how the figure’s unusual qualities have sparked an interest among buyers internationally;

“It’s the most viewed item on our online auction. Our customers are excited by the fact that it’s a bit different and quirky, buyers are definitely very curious about our Black smoker!”

The success of the Hollywood Blockbuster “Hugo”, directed by Martin Scorsese, which featured automatons or mechanical robots, has undoubtedly added to the interest of the piece.

Originally used as a promotional piece in the window of a tobacconist, the antique figure remains in excellent condition with the clockwork mechanism in full working order.


The high price tag attached to this once forgotten family heirloom is down to its renowned manufacturers, as Lee Young, automaton specialist pointed out;

“This is very collectible item, especially as it dates from the period between 1860 and 1910 when many small family based companies of Automata makers thrived in Paris. From their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. It is these French automata that are collected today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide.”
Lyon & Turnbull is one of the capital's oldest auction houses.

Gustave Vichy was born in 1839 to a Parisian watch and clock maker who, along with his wife, set up the Vichy Company in 1862 with the aim of building and selling clocks, mechanical objects and toys. In 1866, Gustave took over the company and dedicated his time to developing automata while his wife, a seamstress, dressed the figures. The Vichy Company became part of a group of family businesses that thrived in Paris between 1860 and 1910 and known as the “Golden Age of Automata”. Gustave had great success producing advertising automata and one of his models won the Grand Prix at the Great Exhibition of 1900, the only award given to automata or mechanical toys. His son Henry gradually took control of the firm, incorporating Lioret phonograph mechanisms into some automaton models, which were advertised as being able to sing, speak and play musical instruments.

The black smoker goes on sale on the 28th March 2012 at 11.00am at Lyon & Turnbull, 33 Broughton Place, Edinburgh EH1 3RR.

Under the hammer for homeless charity

John Lowrie Morrison's 'Morning light Lochdon Mull"

Homeless charity Bethany Christian Trust are holding their first ever Fine Art and Antiques auction tomorrow to raise funds for their care initiatives.

Maeghan Ray, corporate relations officer for the Bethany Christian Trust, says the charity hope to raise £10,000 by holding the auction of 150 lots of items. The auction features several exciting pieces including a late 19th century French stereoscope, which Maeghan describes as the old fashioned way of watching 3D movies, on offer along with three boxes of slides which can be used with it.

The star lot, an original commissioned piece of art by John Lowrie Morrison. The oil on canvas is titled ‘Morning light Lochdon Mullwhich’ and is expected to sell for around £2000. The artist said: “The painting I think is appropriate because it is of someone’s cosy home, something many do not have; but also I painted it to make it as attractive as possible so that it would earn as much money as possible.”

John Lowrie Morrison said he supports the trust because “even when we were tight for money we have always helped the homeless whether here or in other countries.”

An original piece by Clare Atwood, which was painted when she was 92 years old is also on offer. The still-life oil on canvas is a unique collectors piece and has been estimated at £400.

Bethany Trust Logo
Bethany Christian Trust's mission is to relieve the suffering and meet the long-term needs of homeless and vulnerable people

“Items were all donated by our supporters and were found in Bethany shops,” says Maeghan, “Buyers can choose which part of Bethany’s schemes they would like to support.”

Bethany’s schemes include care shelters in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and West Lothian which provide emergency winter accommodation. Maeghan said: “We have been asked to open a centre in Aberdeen so some of the money raised will go towards developing staff there.

“We also run a mentoring scheme where people off the streets are connected with mentors who help them settle into homes and become more socially involved. We have a running club and other activities to help formerly homeless people widen their social circle.”

The auction will be held at the MacDonald Holyrood Hotel at 12pm with viewing available between 9am and 10.45am.