The 2008 Silver Swan Conservation Project - week 2
Day 6 - 8th September
Friday saw Emma complete a full survey of the ‘bathtub’ before it was cleaned ready to store away. The survey conducted showed that markings on the leaves and the bathtub corresponded.
All backing plates have been removed so that the mechanism is now in full view. On Thursday marks were found on the base of the Swan’s neck and the tails of the fish. These have now been confirmed as marks used by the French Assay office. The marks were probably added in about the 1870s when the Swan was taken to France as an exhibit in the Paris International Exhibition. Though made in England, it would have had to have been stamped by the French assay office in order for it to be sold in France. John Bowes bought it in 1872 from the jeweller Monsieur Briquet in Paris.
Finally last week saw the start of the work on the Music box. The first surprise was the incredibly amazing condition it was in. It has also been discovered that the hammers can be finely tuned so that the Swan will sound more musical when performing. The last improvement will be that the music timing can be altered so that it is more or less in time with the Swan’s movements.
Today will see the removal of the main spring from the Music box and the cleaning of it to remove all the old dried up oil. This afternoon work will start on the musical barrel and bells.
Day 7 - 9th September
Today work on the mechanism proper begins, with progress expected to be at a slower pace as pieces are cleaned as they are removed. The main spring taken out of the music driving barrel is extremely old and would have been hand made. It is highly textured and very different to modern springs.
Emma has taken off the hammer frame to find the bells marked with musical notes. During the Victorian era the hammers were 'improved' with wooden inserts to conform to the more sombre mood of the day rather than the sharp striking originally intended.
On top of the hammer frame is a plate saying that the Swan was restored by Bryson Smith in the 1960s. However, we know that within the five year period from 1963 to 1968 the whole of the Swan was worked on by three different people.
The 1968 restoration appears to have been completed in the Spring of 1972, which is the last time any major restoration work was undertaken.
At that time the coin in the slot mechanism was removed and replaced with a counter. This indicates that in the 36 years since then the Swan has been operated over 33,000 times.
Day 8 - 10th September
Yesterday saw the completion of taking apart the musical workings, with some interesting results.
It had been thought that the Swan performed to only six tunes, but yesterday's findings show that it has the potential for eight. The musical barrel has not been operating properly because the mechanism which moves it has been modified in the past.
Most of the estimated 1,000 pins on the barrel are brass, but others have been replaced by steel which will impact on wear. Many of the pins have been moved to new positions, but it's reassuring that the barrel has not been completely repinned with contemporary modern music. The tails of the hammers have also been rubbing on the drum and causing friction.
Consultation will now take place with experts at the Museum of Mechanical Music in Utrecht to learn more about the tunes.
Today Matthew and Emma will consolidate their work so far by continuing to make a photographic record while the light is good. If progress is made then work may commence this afternoon on the water element of the machine.
Day 9 - 11th September
Good use was made of yesterday's natural light to consolidate the photographic record of the project.
Work has now started on the water driving mechanism, which is a mixture of original parts and 20th century replacements. Two wheels were discovered to be binding together, which when released should let the water effect run smoother and more freely. The 'modern' gearing ratio is also affecting the speed of the 'flow'.
The current starting device is also a 20th century alteration, but the original pieces - which would have involved a stop-start mechanism - have been discovered in the reserve collection box created during earlier restoration and will be returned to their rightful position.
Today will see the removal of the water driving movement, the spring barrel of which has been modified at an early stage. The work it does now is nowhere near its capacity, and it would have also driven a 'rising sun' on the original canopy surround.
We welcome a party of students from Stockton today, who are studying automata, and hope they will be encouraged to enter the world of mechanical conservation.
Day 10 - 12th September
The water driving movement has now been taken apart, reinforcing the fact that it was this part of the mechanism which drove former ancillary adornments such as the rising sun on the surrounding canopy.
As the canopy (now missing) was probably a later addition, more power was added to the movement. This later work is of good quality, but not first rate like the original.
Work will now begin on removing both springs from the movement, checking them for signs of cracking. They will then be cleaned and lubricated.
Emma has completed her survey of the track on which the fish appear to swim. This indicates that there was a lot more to the front element of the automaton than we see today. Although there are only seven fish, there is evidence of a further twelve ornaments, which could possibly have been reeds for the fish to hide in. This would definitely have added to the theatre of the performance. There are little pins showing where to put the fish, so Matthew will relocate them in those spots during reassembly.
Today is Emma's last day. On Monday we welcome a further specialist, Karen Barker, to the team.
For a full BBC INside Out film of the Silver Swan please click on the following link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/england/realmedia/insideout/northeast/090114_io_north_east_swan?size=16x9&bgc=C0C0C0&nbram=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1&bbwm=1
To be kept informed about The Bowes Museum please click here