The Silver Swan automaton to visit Science Museum, London

In 2008 Matthew Read, MA worked on a major, award winning, conservation project of the Silver Swan togther with Karen Barker, Object Conservator at The Bowes Museum. The project made headlines around the world. Matthew Read is an Accredited Icon Conservator and Programme Leader, Clocks Conservation at West Dean College, internationally renowned for education in conservation of historic objects and creative arts.

Now the unique, life-size musical automaton will make the journey south in the New Year, where it will take its place as one of the star attractions in the Science Museum's 2017 blockbuster exhibition, Robots.

It will be the first time this culturally important artefact has left The Bowes Museum since its purchase in 1872 by the Museum founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, who paid 5,000 francs (£200) for it. They had earlier seen it at the Paris Exhibition of 1867, where it was also viewed by American author Mark Twain, who later described it in his novel The Innocents Abroad.

Dating from around 1773, the Swan is the only one of its kind in the world, its performances having enchanted audiences through a span of four different centuries. It was first recorded in 1774 as a crowd puller in the Mechanical Museum of James Cox, a London showman and dealer. Its internal workings - controlled by three separate clockwork mechanisms - are attributed to John-Joseph Merlin, the Belgian horologist and famous inventor of the time who, amongst other things, gave the world the rollerskate.

Ben Russell, Lead Curator of the Science Museum's Robots exhibition said: "We are thrilled that The Silver Swan - one of the greatest 18th-century automatons - will be part of our Robots exhibition. The Swan is an amazing evocation of life, and makes us reflect on our endless fascination with replicating living things in mechanical form."

Robots opens at the Science Museum from 8 February to 3 September 2017, before touring the UK and internationally until 2022. The Silver Swan will be on public display for six weeks, from 8 February until 23 March 2017.

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The Silver Swan Copyright The Bowes Lyon Museum
The Silver Swan copyright The Bowes Lyon Museum
Matthew Read, Clocks Conservator at West Dean College works on The Silver Swan

The Silver Swan in action

Watch The Silver Swan in motion on the Science Museum blog where Dr Howard Coutts, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Bowes Museum, shares the incredible story of The Silver Swan, which will star in the Science Museum's 2017 Robots exhibition.