Satyr head automaton stars at magic auction

A Victorian satyr head automaton starred at Potter & Potter's magic auction on the weekend.

The papier-mache prop was used in card tricks, with audience members' chosen cards appearing from the top of its head.

Satyr automaton

Rare: just a handful were made

Its mouth can open to reveal items such as watches borrowed from the audience earlier in the show, and it can also smoke a cigarette – while all the time rolling its eyes.

"Holes in the base of the platform represent openings through which pistons in a conjurer's table could be used to operate the head remotely by an offstage assistant," explained the auction house.

French manufacturer E Voisin produced just a handful of the extraordinary-looking objects at great cost in around 1890. That rarity helped the item to a $15,000 price on the weekend.

Satyrs were half-man, half-goat creatures in Greek mythology.

The April 8 Chicago sale was topped by a jewelled brooch that belonged to Harry Houdini’s wife, Bess. It achieved $60,000, comfortably surpassing its $40,000 valuation.

It’s thought Tsar Nicholas II gave Bess (1876-1943) the brooch in 1903 while she and her husband were touring Russia.

Bess Houdini brooch

A gift from the Tsar to Houdini's wife

There was also plenty on offer for magic collectors at the more affordable end of the market.

A 1960s "Chinese chopper" – a guillotine that would remove everything but the assistant's head – sold for $350, while two trick swords used by British comedian Tommy Cooper, housed in a wooden packing case bearing his name, achieved $3,000.

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