Mechanical Toys, Tin Toys — September 1, 2011 at 12:09 am

The Art of the Clown Artist

BY JIM ENGELAGE, PhD

THE CLOWN ARTIST, also known as the Drawing Clown, is one of the centerpieces of rare and ingenious lithographed tin toys and is now well over 100 years old. A black silhouette of the Clown Artist appeared on the mailing address insert card of all Antique Toy World magazines near the return address until a few years ago when the magazine began putting the mailing label on the outside of the plastic wrapping.

Manufactured between 1885 and 1905 in Berlin, Germany by Phillip Vielmetter, of Phillip Vielmetter Mechanische Werkstatten, Berlin, Germany, the seated clown dressed in red, white, blue and yellow with a pointed hat actually draws—with the help of a dualcam that controls the X-Y coordinates—up to 25 different artistic sketches.

By merely turning a little crank behind the clown on the brown and gold base of this marvelous and endearing toy which contains a sophisticated clockwork mechanism, the clown’s right arm glides over both cam surfaces to produce the finished artwork masterpiece. The clown sits on a square base measuring 4.75″ and is 5.5″ high.

The easel is spring-loaded to put pressure on the clown’s moveable right arm which contains a graphite stick to execute the drawing. The easel holds a small piece of paper with four delicate, triangle-shaped pegs and sometimes one or more may break off from age and use. As long as two pegs remain, the drawing can be completed successfully.

The toy may be expertly repaired to replace the pegs, but it is not recommended unless more than two pegs are missing and the toy becomes unusable.

Since the toy was manufactured in Germany at the turn of the century, many of the cams for the toy are for profile drawings of European leaders of that era.

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