Automata are mechanical figures which perform tasks that imitate a living person. Real automata have complex movements that are able to do many actions after being wound. Many were not made as children's toys, but were meant to be played by adults.
Automaton refers to a single piece and automata are more than one. The proper pronunciation is: "ah TOM ah ton" and "ah TOM ah tah".
The first recorded design of a humanoid automaton is credited to Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1495. The design of Leonardo's robot Leonardo's robot was not rediscovered until the 1950s. The robot, which appears in Leonardo's sketches, was built successfully. It moved its arms, twist its head, and sit up.
The period 1860 to 1910 is known as "The Golden Age of Automata". During this period many small family based companies of Automata makers thrived in Paris. They exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. It is these French automata that are collected today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide. The main French makers were Vichy, Roullet & Decamps, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou and Bontems.
Magicians, over the years, have demonstrated both real and fake ones (using a hidden assistant).
- Psycho (the whist player), Zoe and Labial by John Nevil Maskelyne (1875)
- The Orange Tree, The Pastry Cook of the Palais-Royal, The Trapeze Vaulter by Robert-Houdin
- The Turk by Pinetti
- Chess Player by Kempelen
- Hindoo Clock by Kellar
- Automata: A Historical and Technological Study by Alfred Chapius and Edmond Droz (1958) translated by Alec Reid.
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