Pocket-sized musical snuff box with fine animations agttributed to John Rich, named “THE ENTRECHAT” by Philippe Crasse

Walzenspielwerk mit 16 [rot beschrifteten] (und zwar 4 langen, 8 geringfügig kürzeren, und 4 noch kürzeren) Sektionen à 1 Zunge, und 6 (und zwar zwei etwas kürzer ausgefallenen Sektionen und [blau beschrifteten] zwei weiteren kürzeren Paaren von gleich langen Sektionen) à 2 Zungen


Worterklärung Entrechat
laut der englischsprachigen Wikipedia: A step of beating in which the dancer jumps into the air and rapidly crosses the legs before and behind

und nach deutschsprachigen Wikipedia (englisch): Entrechat oder changement battu ist ein Sprung aus dem klassischen Ballett, bei dem die Füße während des Sprunges in der Luft einmal oder mehrmals gekreuzt werden. Dabei wird jedes Öffnen und Kreuzen der Beine gezählt. Ein entrechat six ist also ein Sprung, der in der 5. Fußposition sowohl beginnt als auch endet und bei dem die Füße in der Luft dreimal gekreuzt werden. Unterschieden wird zwischen zwei Arten von entrechats. Die „geraden“ entrechats (deux, quatre, six, huit …) enden auf beiden Füßen, die „ungeraden“ (trois, cinq, sept …) auf einem Fuß.


The article of Philippe Crasse, An Imperial Snuff Box, in: TMB 67, 4, July/August 2021, begins with an appreciation of Philippe Crasse:

Editor’s note [Mrs. Allison Biden]: Author Philippe Crasse is higly respected and internationally well-known as a restorer and valuer of mechanical musical items. He holds many qualifications, including that of being a legal expert, and is accredited by several proessional bodies, including the Confédérations Européenne des Experts d’ Art. Philippe kindly offered this article for publication, which has already been published this year in the magazine of AAIMM, the French society. He may be contacted at phc@expertises.pro; website www.expertises.pro.

Now following are the most import parts and the the most import figures of
The article of Philippe Crasse, An Imperial Snuff Box, in: TMB 30, 3, Summer 2021, p. 98-101

Philippe Crasse: An Imperial Snuff Box
Among the exceptional pieces that I have been given to appreciate, I would like to reveal for you this work of art presented at auction by SVV Aguttes in Neuilly sur Seine on October the 20th, 2020, and that I named: Les Entrechats.

Rare pocket-sized snuff box with fine animations.

Through the crystal lid appears a fine theatre scene in 18th century style.

In front of the back curtains, framed by two classic columns, supporting an armored dome, an automaton dancer jumps and performs entrechats while moving over the width of the scene.

On the left of the stage, ten spectators (two men and eight ladies) on two balconies are animated: they applaud, one salutes from his bicorne, another holds a lorgnette. On the right, the lower balcony is reserved for an orchestra of three musicians – violin, cello and triangle – led by a conductor´s wand at their right.

The four spectators of the upper balcony are motionless. Only the third character from the stage leans on request on her left to cleverly reveal the entry of the winding key.

A drapery frieze highlights the stage.

The automaton
The energy is provided by a winding fusee that drives various movement skilfully distributed behind the stage.

We saw that the dancer (19 mm high) expresses his talent by travelling the entire stage on a trolley sliding on two rails and moved by a rack. His jumps are caused  by the compression of a spring wire in shape of hair fork. His legs beats are created by his articulated hips.

The audience is not left out; the animation of the figures on the left side is achieved by dragging a cam in from top to bottom movements which activate all the articulated arms of our characters.

The musicians themselves benefit from two commissions, to run and perform more precise movements.

The audience movements are reflected in the mirror (polished steel plates) placed behind the seats, that is not first visible, but this serves to amplify the available animation effect.

The music box
A choreography without music would be of limited interest
Yet to sound the performance, the automaton-maker uses very ingeniously a recent Geneva invention that replaces bells by vibrating steel blades. Antoine Favre described [it?] as early as 1796 at the Genève Comité de Mechanique as a carillon sans timbre ni marteau. Obviously, this invention will be of great interest to Genevan cabinotiers who have been striving for a long time to sound the most precious jewels, with too voluminous bells for so tiny spaces …

Einschub: Worterklärung des Wortes Cabinotier nach Wikipedia
Ein Cabinotier ist ein Arbeiter, der in einer Werkstatt in Genf einer Uhrenfabrik zuarbeitet. Ein Cabinotier kann unterschiedlichen Handwerken entstammen und muss kein Uhrmacher sein, er muss nur in einer Zulieferwerkstatt einer Uhrenfabrik arbeiten, welche man auch als Kabinett bezeichnet. Wikipedia

Wiederholung der ersten Abbildung / Repetition of the first figure

Walzenspielwerk mit 16 [rot beschrifteten] (und zwar 4 langen, 8 geringfügig kürzeren, und 4 noch kürzeren) Sektionen à 1 Zunge, und 6 (und zwar zwei etwas kürzer ausgefallenen Sektionen und [blau beschrifteten] zwei weiteren kürzeren Paaren von gleich langen Sektionen) à 2 Zungen

Connected to the driving force described above, a pinned cylinder raises vibrating teeth, each producing a sound of a defined height, the whole set being chromatically harmonized.

We must note two essential points:

First, the cylinder is grooved with forty-four lines, materializing tracks of the music. Pins are inserted on the lines as well as in between. As grooving is not done in a regular step, intervals, between two rows of pins are very variable.

The pins in the direction of the revolution determine the course of the melody in time; however, their position on the width of the cylinder indicates the note played.

In early days, to obtain a sufficiently powerful sound, the precursors had no choice but to increase the mass of material of the sound blade.

This could counteract the number of notes played. To compensate for this primitive boxes´ defect, the precursors come to superimpose in two layers the vibrating blades; so, one comb was fitted on top of the other, the square tipped teeth spaced to allow alternate pin lines to pass in order to play the one melody.

This example seems to be the fifth of this type ever found.

Thus, we can see on the upper set 16 single teeth and 6 groups of 2 teeth. The lower layer, not accessible at the moment, has the same characteristics. Total number approaches 56 teeth. Each group is secured by a single blued screw.

The Melody
Catchy melody: this is one of the many jigs on the other side of the Channel that delighted the ears of our English friends.

The Creator
We know that he probably worked in one of the two great watchmaking centers of the epoch: Switzerland, for its watchmakers training and top-quality of its enamels; England, for its dynasties of watchmakers, of course, but also by the pre-eminence of English merchants and their outlets towards the East.

Several details lead us to think that our mysterious automata maker only creates unique pieces. The obvious originality and creativity of the piece discussed; the various repentances observed on bedplates, all indicate changes as the creative process progresses.

His activity correspondens, at least for this piece, with 19th century´ early years: what it is agreed to name first epoch of the music boxes classification. The primitive appearance and cutting of the vibrating blades, the apparent irregularity of the pin´s implantation, the thinness of the cylinder, all suggests that this piece was executed in the beginnings of the music box evolution. This is corroborated by the dates defined for the goldsmith work.

If we consider pieces of same top-quality in the international private or public collections, few possibilities remain.

[…] collections highlight an artist who checks all boxes, whereas he [John Rich] did not sign his name on his work anywhere, where it could be easily seen.

[The Creator] ist named John Rich, whose range of activity extends from 1780 to 1805.

John Rich was certainly a fascinating man. Some of his artworks are so extraordinary that one would expect to find an abundance of material on Rich, but this is not the case. “The Magician Box”, or the “Sandoz Scent Bottle” are signed by Rich. Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, both authorities on automata, have described the Magician as “the most remarkable snuffbox known to the authors”. The signature “Made by John Rich” is hidden on the barrel, so that the piece must be taken apart for it to found. Some boxes that have been examined or restored are signed “John Rich, London” or “John Rich, London & Genève”, whereas some others which are mechanically identical bear no signature at all. The same is true of Rich´s watches; they are often not signed at all and if they are, the signature is found in such a concealed place that only a person who has taken the watch apart would be able to see them. Obviously, some of the great automata makers did not generally sign their pieces on the surface, but they were very well-known and plenty of information about them can be found. This is different for John Rich; it has been assumed that he was originally from England and opened a shop in Geneva. Also, his pieces show some similarities to the work of Jauqet-Droz and Leschot, which leads to the assumption that they were created by a master craftsman (or craftsmen) associated with them. Rich´s work can be dated not earlier than 1780 and no later than the first few years of the nineteenth century, spanning probably from about 1780 to just after 1805; after a quarter of a century of magnificent mechanical achievements, John Rich has left hardly any information on himself except his work itself. The magnificence of his creations in combination with the little information that is available on Rich form a fascinating mystery which calls for someone to try and research the life and work of this exceptional man.
(Patrizzi, Osvaldo: Dictionnaire [...] p. 342)

[Literature]
A la Vieille Russie Inc. (785th Fifth avenue, New York City), Antique Automatons, Exhibition catalog, Nov. 3 – Dec. 5, 1950.

Mosoriak, The Curious History of Music Boxes [...]

Ord-Hume, Arthur W.J.G.: The Musical Box [...], pp. 49, 70-1 (plates 28, 29, 30)

A Remarkable Musical Watch. Music & Automata (Vol. 1, No. 4, Sept. 1984, pp. 210-15)

Musical Watch Rarity. Music & Automata (Vol. 2, No. 5, Sept. 1985, pp. 29-31)

Complete Superimposed-comb Watch found. Music & Automata (Vol. 2, No. 8, Oct. 1988, pp. 188-189)

Patrizzi, Osvaldo: Dictionnaire [...]

Pin, Collection Maurice Sandoz


©Philippe Crasse, An Imperial Snuff Box, in: TMB 30, 3, Summer 2021, p. 98-101