In yesterday’s post I dealt with some of Merlin’s musical instruments and handy inventions. But what of the other matters which mark him out as different from all the other roller-skating violinists? Today I give you a truly impressive list of other delights which he came up with:
A mechanical chariot equipped with a mechanical whip and an early form of odometer called a “way-wise.” The distance covered was shown on a dial at the side of the vehicle. This picture of Merlin with his sedan-chair-on-wheels was produced in 1803. Apparently Merlin liked to advertise his chariot by riding it through Hyde Park on Sundays. The picture is shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
A Dutch oven or Rotisseur with a mechanical jack to turn meat (patented 1773).
A bell communication system to summon servants, with a list annexed to the bell push. Moving the pencil down the list led to a corresponding movement on the list in the servants’ quarters in the basement, so that the servant would know without ascending the stairs that his master required Chocolate, Tea or whatever.
A self-propelling wheel chair or ‘Gouty Chair’, propelled and steered by turning winches on the arms. These enabled the disabled user to control the mahogany wheels. This one appeared in Ackermann’s Repository in 1811.
A mechanical garden
A revolving tea table with a central samovar – so that the hostess could depress a foot pedal and turn the table, while another foot pedal operated the tilting of the urn so that it dispensed a set amount of tea into each of 12 cups.
A Hygeian pump to “expel foul air out of Ships Hospitals Bed clothes etc”
A mechanical carousel called “an Aerial Cavalcade” with 4 wooden horses on a structure supported by 6 pillars “on which the Ladies and Gentlemen may ride, perfectly safe, over the heads of the rest of the company”
A gambling machine which, once wound up, would play a game of ‘odd and even’ for up to four hours!
A set of whist cards for the blind (a sort of braille precursor).
A prosthetic device for a “Person born with Stumps only” which apparently enabled a person to use a knife and fork, hold a horse reins, “and even write with great freedom”
Also musical instruments: a pianoforte with a six octave span made for Dr Burney in 1775
A personal weighing machine in satinwood called Sanctorius’s Balance. This picture of one appears on the Apter-Fredericks site.
Various exquisite clocks – this detail of the pendulum shown courtesy of Quality Antique Clocks.
A set of weighing scales with a built-in micrometer screw for measuring the size, thickness and weight of golden guineas (and their divisions, the half guinea and quarter guinea).
Pictured is a photograph of one of the scales which came up for auction a few years back when it was expected to make £1000 ($1500).
(In fact if you look closely at the Gainsborough portrait of Merlin it shows him holding on to one of these scales with his left hand).
A perpetual motion clock – a joint collaboration with James Cox. It wound itself up automatically. The change of pressure in the Earth’s atmosphere acted as an external energy source and caused the winding mechanism to move. This kept the mainspring coiled inside the barrel – with the winding of the mainspring via movement of the liquid in a mercury barometer. So as to provide the required amount of energy, a Fortin mercury barometer was used. It contained an astonishing 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of mercury! Somehow it failed to catch on…
Merlin died at Paddington in May 1803 at the age of 68. In his will he directed that his 30 year old horse should be shot. Having died unmarried, he left his property to two brothers and a sister.
Merlin you old wizard, we salute you!