Loretta and I are fascinated by the elaborate automata of the late 18th-early 19th centuries. Made of precious metals, enamel-work, and jewels, these early robots run not on batteries or electronics, but on elaborate clockwork mechanisms. Consider them the most elegant of wind-ups. Whether they're silver swans, golden elephants, or Marie-Antoinette's elegant dulcimer player, these marvels combine the highest skills of engineers, watchmakers, and jewelers.
Created by the Swiss watchmaker Henri Maillardet in 1820, this caterpillar was exotically dubbed the "Ethiopian Caterpillar" when it was first displayed to the public in London, and has also been called a "Vers de soie," or silkworm. Like many automata, the caterpillars were likely intended as costly diplomatic baubles, to be sent as gifts to the royal courts in China.
This particular caterpillar is made of gold, decorated with black and translucent red enamel, and set with pearls, rubies, turquoise, emeralds, and diamonds. Six similar caterpillars are known to still be in existence. But as much fun as these little toys are, they don't come cheap: the last time one was sold at auction in 2010 by Sotheby's, it brought a sale price of over $400,000.
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There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.