London, South Kensington
18 March 2004
A fine William Tansley working model
coin-operated automaton with architectural gilt-metal facade of three storeys with two central polychrome-embossed doors, embrasures and two double gates decorated with tracery and spandrels, a beam engine with five enamel dials above, flanked by illuminated room setting with soft-metal furniture, balcony and two rotating glazed-china shoulder-head dolls to the left and a clock tower with arch and five articulated papier-mâché bell-ringers on the right, the third storey with two ranks of rotating lead soldiers below three curtained windows containing bisque shoulder-head, bonnet-head, papier-mâché and glazed-china spectators, in mahogany case with weight-driven movement, coin counter and top-flash of T. Tansley, Proprietor, 34 Bradford St., Coventry, on plinth base and later stand -- 38½in. (98cm.) high from plinth to top-flash, 78in. (199cm.) high in total.
The double-weight-driven motor operates thirteen independent movements: four doors on the ground-floor open revealing a recessed room containing two bisque shoulder-head figures and soft-metal table and chairs, two counter-rotating circles of cavalry pass through the lower doors and buglers appear in the embrasures above, the two figures on the first floor balcony turn to face each other, the beam engine operates, the five bell-ringers in the tower move their arms to a carillon of three bells with six strikers, three central figures on the top floor turn from side to side and two parallel sets of lead soldiers rotate.
A coin-register on the left is linked to the five enamel dials which log the number of times the machine is operated - a feature shared by another of Tansley's models.
Sotheby's, 11 February 1988, lot 200:
One of four known models by Tansley, the other three in the 1988 sale (a horse race, Christy's Minstrels and a beam engine) were sold with a letter (not included in this lot), dated 1870, from the general manager of the Midland Fine Arts and Industrial Exhibition, "I have much pleasure in hearing testimony in the very attractive character of your model. It has been largely patronised by the visitors to the exhibition and has produced the sum of 50 gns. in pennies in 4 months".
William J. Tansley is listed in the Coventry and Beamish Directory of 1878 at 32 Albert St., Coventry. He appears again in 1874/5 listed as a 'watch springer' and then in the 1881 census as a 'watch spring maker' at 55 New St., Coventry. Also listed at the same address were his three children - Harry (20), Lizzie (18) and Thomas (15). Harry is believed to have followed his father's profession as a watch maker, but it is Thomas' initialn that is found on the top-flash of this machine; presumably he operated the four machines after his father retired. Assuming that each machine took approximately five years to build, and that the first model was displayed in 1870, this model probably dates from the period 1880 - 1890, making it one of the earliest English coin-operated automata to have been offered at auction. As such, Tansley predates John Dennison and Nelson Lee who are usually thought of as the first commerical model makers. Where Dennison worked closely with - and was inspired by - contemporary French makers such as Vichy and Phalibois - Tansley created his own, uniquely British style using Gothic-revival architecture and industry as his inspirations.
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