The Silver Swan

Silver swan

At the weekend we went north to the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, the highlight of which is James Cox’s Silver Swan automaton.

Made in 1773, it was nearly 100 when Mark Twain wrote:

‘I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes – watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop – watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it…’

And it still works, operated by museum staff twice at day at noon and 3pm. For 40 seconds, this 235-year-old exhibit comes to life, even holding the rapt attention of our Cbeebies-generation children.

It set me wondering: which of our early 21st Century delights will people still marvel at almost a quarter of a millennium from today?

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