Our 18th June Fine Art & Antiques auction includes this rare circa 1861 Nicole Frères 'variation' music box
Once the ultimate in entertainment systems, music boxes were first developed in 1796 by Swiss watchmaker Antoine Favre-Salomon when he invented a pocket watch with an embedded musical mechanism which was later recognised as the first 'comb' music box. Geneva remained the home of prestigious music box makers, and one of the most renowned amongst them were the Nicole brothers.
François and David Nicole established the company in Geneva around 1814 using their horological knowledge to create musical snuff boxes and table-top novelties. Originally working alongside son-in-law Reymond and François Lecoultre, the firm was passed on to their second cousins, the brothers Pierre Moise and David Eile Nicole in the 1830s. By the 1880s Nicole Frères had opened premises in London and were at the pinnacle of the industry.
The firm is credited with devising some of the most important innovations and refinements in music box history, along with producing beautifully decorated cases to house the mechanisms. Our box dates from the height of the company's powers and is in wonderfully working order within a beautiful marquetry inlaid rosewood box.
Eventually, the comb and cylinder mechanism would be replaced with flat discs, which were in turn superseded by various new technologies, but we believe there is something magical about these original music boxes.
The box plays the tune Robin Adair with four variations, which although largely forgotten now, was a hugely popular Irish song from the 18th century. The lyrics were written by Lady Caroline Keppel as a riposte to her family who disapproved of her lower-class husband, army surgeon-colonel Robert 'Robin' Adair. It is mentioned in Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma, and one of the earliest recordings available was recorded by soprano Geraldine Farrar in 1908.
It is very unusual for a music box to play just one tune in several variations.
Full lot description; 1253 - Nicole Freres - a Swiss rosewood and floral marquetry cased music box, the 13" cylinder playing four airs and working from end crank handle, stamped to both the mainframe and the comb, paper label numbered 38412, circa 1861, case w.55cm
The auction takes place on Saturday 18th June at 10am, and we are open for viewing Thursday & Friday 10am-7pm.