The Clockwork Entomologist

It puzzled me… but I enjoy a good puzzle.

I have this pile of vintage clockwork parts, as many of you will know.  Time hasn’t been kind to them, left as they were to rot in an attic for decades.

for sale on Etsy at SteampunkDollsHouseThe ones I can clean up and get working are either sold as they are to automaton makers or turned into pretty clockwork twittering birds that sell as fast as I can make them.  The ones that have seized up completely are taken to pieces, the parts being upcycled into our miniature gizmos and contraptions.

But there was this one.  It defied all reason.  The spring had snapped, the rubber bellows had perished, the little band that turned a few cogs in the middle had disintegrated, and yet, when I turned the key, it whirred into life.  I had no idea how parts of it were still working.

It most certainly couldn’t be sold or turned into a singing bird.  I removed the broken bellows and whistle.   Stubbornly, the part that was left continued to function.  Admittedly it was rather primitive, but each time I gave the key a few turns, the brass bit in the middle zoomed around at a rate of knots and the arm which should have moved the bird waved up and down unevenly, controlled by the blue steel cam.  I presume one of the broken parts had once regulated the speed.  The other mechanisms move relatively sedately.  This one, though, buzzed like an insect as it spun around…

…and that gave me an idea.

I hunted in an old box of bracelet charms and found a few dragonflies, a butterfly and a bee.  These were painted in jewel colours and most were stuck to the casing.  Another was threaded on to a length of copper wire and fixed to the wheel in the centre.

Next I turned my attention to the arm.

Arm!  That was when the idea of the Clockwork Entomologist came to mind.  Somewhere I had…  yes… in one of those boxes of junk-I’ll-find-a-use-for-one-day…

There it was – a 12th scale butterfly net!

Constructing a pair of arms and hands from epoxy putty was relatively easy.  One held the net and was molded to the flailing metal arm.  The other held a diminutive magnifying glass, cobbled together with a few bits from the stash.  It fitted neatly into the now empty housing from the bird whistle.  A pair of small black sleeves and cuffs dressed the arms in a suitably formal fashion.  My entomologist might lack all other body parts, but those he had were at least well attired.

The mechanism was housed in a small cardboard box, decorated with an assemblage of suitable images.  A few coffee stirrers were sawn up to make a cover for the spring, so that the sharp, snapped steel edges would be safely covered.

So there it is – my rather inept clockwork bug collecting automaton, swiping ineffectually with his net at the buzzing insect each time the little brass key is turned.

The vintage clockwork mechanisms (in full working order) can be bought from this link at the SteampunkDollsHouse, in case you’d like to try your hand at making an automaton.

The magical mechanical birds are available on Steampunk-Shrunk stalls (see home page for dates and venues) or from this link.

As for The Clockwork Entomologist – I’m not sure that I can part with him at the moment, unless someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse…

 

Covering All Bases – and Consequently Confused

What are we, exactly – we strange inhabitants of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers?

To be honest, we fall between many cracks.  Miniaturists?  Dollshouse suppliers?  Craftspeople?  Artists?  Steampunk?  Perhaps all of these, and a little more.

This mild existential crisis was brought about when we were invited to sell our wares at a Halloween Spooktacular (sic).

“But we don’t do spooky stuff,” Mrs S protested, having just returned from a highly successful steampunk rally where the retro-futuristic gizmos, gadgets, clockwork devices and watch cog jewellery had gone down splendidly.

“Ahem, miniatures jars of vampire repellent, banshee bane, undead eradicator and other such poisons and potions; carved skull holders with tiny red wax candles; scrying mirrors; grimoires; a selection of black and silver tables and cabinets, crammed with all manner of weird devices and artefacts…  You even have a fortune teller’s table,”  she was reminded.

“Oh, well yes.  When you put it like that, I suppose we are, um, slightly dark in places,”  she admitted.  “Fine.  We’ll do the Hallowe’en sale.

Before that, though, we have a dollshouse and miniatures fair to do in Weston-super-Mare, where we will mingle with purveyors of shabby chic 12th scale bedroom suites, impossibly tiny polymer clay foodstuffs and little pots of artificial flowers.  Bemused ladies of a certain age will politely enquire as to what, exactly, steampunk is, while long-suffering husbands will pause and stare in wonder into our turbine room or at our little time machines, and perhaps contemplate collecting a few miniatures themselves.

Next spring, we’ll be showcasing the craftsmanship and artistry involved in creating miniature wonders at the Best of Somerset Show in the appropriately diminutive city of Wells.

No wonder we – and many of our customers – are slightly confused at times.  Only that very rare and precious breed of steampunk dollshouse enthusiasts truly ‘get’ us, but that doesn’t stop the wider public from coming along to take a look and discovering utterly useless little treasures that they suddenly find they simply can’t live without.

If you pop across to the HOME page you’ll find details of the upcoming Steampunk-Shrunk stalls.

If you find yourself in the lovely county of Somerset, you can pop along to the wonderful Crispin Emporium in the town of Street, where you can view a selection of our wares from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9.30-4.

And finally, if you live further afield, a selection of our wares can be bought from our online Etsy shop and shipped worldwide.

 

 

Professor Erazmus’s Patented Holographic Mirrors

Good day to you.  Apologies for the long absence.  I’ve been holed up in my garret at Steampunk-Shrunk Towers and rather engrossed in watching over my many wards, who are spread around the world these days, by means of my clockwork powered holographic global viewing lens.

Fortunately, most of them seem to be settling down now, and require a little less attention than was the case a year or so back.  That means I’ve been able to turn my mind to other things.

Several of my steampunk colleagues here have expressed interest in my holographic viewing technology (although a few are uncivil enough to call it ‘spying’).  They have asked whether I can provide them with a version of my viewing lens that does not involve such a cumbersome system of levers, pulleys and cogs as my own device.

I’m pleased to say, I have been able to oblige.  As I’m sure you are aware, we inhabit a holographic universe, and once an initial connection has been made, we are free to visit any part of it that interests us.  My device is the master machine and it has been a relatively simple task to clone the technology to handheld devices.  These are very attractive hand mirrors (available in our Etsy shop – The SteampunkDollsHouse) and wall mounted mirrors which will soon be available on our stalls at upcoming events.

Now anyone who purchases one will be able to use my technology to connect with any location – past, present or future, through staring into the holographic mirror with sufficient concentration and focus.

I, of course, will be able to follow all their observations from my master machine, but that is a small price for any customer to pay.  Their data will, of course, be quite safe with me…

The Clock Case Begins…

“Pa!” yelled young Jasper Coggleford, racing into the workshop and almost tripping on his apron in his haste.  “You have to come and see our new project.  It’s huge!”
Jeremiah, the senior partner of Coggleford & Son, Purveyors of Fine Furniture to the Gentry, smiled.  “Not another dresser, is it?  If so, we need to build up your muscles if you’re to help me move it.”
“No, Pa, much bigger than that.  Just come and see.”

Jasper led his father to the largest room in Steampunk-Shrunk Towers.

I should explain here that all but one of the inhabitants of this residence are at one twelfth the size of you or I.  This is due to a space-time anomaly caused by a time machine malfunction which I don’t have the energy to go into right now.

Only Mrs S, the owner of said residence, is what we would consider normal sized.  It was she who had acquired the object that had so excited Jasper’s imagination.

“Gracious heavens!” cried Jeremiah, as he surveyed the edifice that stood before them.
It was a vintage clock case, now empty except for some curious markings on the back wall and a small spring protruding from one side. The internal space was more than a foot tall, although quite narrow.

“Told you it was big, Pa,” Jasper declared, quite unnecessarily. “Mrs S says we can make what we like with it, once we’ve cleaned it up and restored it. She says her son and his partner found it for a fiver in an antique shop. They thought it would interest us.”

Jeremiah scratched his head. “We’re furniture restorers, lad, not house builders. Don’t you think it’s rather a lot for us to take on?”
“‘Course not, Pa,” grinned the boy. “If we put in a new ceiling and a ladder, we can have a room with an attic above it. I’m sure Mister Charles and Mister Henry will lend a hand.”

“Well, I suppose they would,” Coggleford Senior agreed slowly.

He continued with his careful inspection of the clock case.
“The structure is sound, and the woodwork will come up lovely with a bit of attention. Just look at those pillars – real beauties.”
“I knew you’d love it Pa,” laughed the boy. “Shall we get started?”
“I think we’d better, son. This is going to be a long job.”

And so the clock case restoration begins.

Jeremiah Coggleford & Son – Purveyors of Fine Furniture to the Gentry

“You’re somewhat younger than I expected, Mr Coggleford, if you don’t mind me saying,” announced Mrs S when we finally met.  “Are you father or son?”
I assured her that I was Coggleford senior.
“Then what age is your son?” she asked.
I smiled. “Jasper is still a boy, Madam, but he’s a hard little worker and a quick learner. I’m training him up and he’s so set on following in my footsteps that I decided to make him my business partner when he was eight.”
She was quiet for a moment.  “And so now he is…?”
I took a breath.  “He’s ten, Ma’am.”

I could understand her concern.  She’d told me she had a large consignment of furniture, all of which needed renovation.  She’d clearly been expecting a two-man team.

“Very well,” she said at length.  “I’ll give you a chance.  There’s a broken cabinet amongst the pieces I have.  If you and your child can make a good job of that within the week, I’ll take you on as my furniture restorers.  I’m giving you carte blanche.  Do with it as you will, but I need an interesting and inspiring result.”

The following morning, it arrived at our workshop.  The glass was missing, as was the base drawer and part of a door frame.  It was badly finished with uneven orange varnish.

“Right then Jasper,” I said.  “What needs doing?”

“Sand the whole thing down. Cut and shape a piece of wood to repair that door frame.  If we’ve only got a week, leave the drawer and use the opening as a shelf,” he said quickly.
“Good man,” I said. “But that’s just the start.”
“I know. The finish is what matters. I’ve got an idea, Pa.”

Well, I set about the sanding and joinery, while Jasper rumaged around the store room.  I could hear the clanking of metal and the clunking of paint pots, but I left him to it.  You see I’m a good enough workman, but the boy is just brimming over with ideas.  He’s original, the way I’ll never be.

He didn’t disappoint.  First a coat of matt black paint.  Then we had to lay the cabinet on its side and lift some rusty old cogs he’d found on to it.
“Are these to be attached, son?” I asked.
“No, Pa. Just leave them there for a bit.”

He sprayed silver paint across the cabinet.  Not too much.  Just a dusting, and when we removed the cogs, the design looked splendid.

I replaced the glass panels and Jasper – such a perfectionist – decided to fill the cabinet with bits and pieces, ‘So that the lady can see it as a working piece.’

I hardly need to tell you that Mrs S was mightily impressed.  She hired us on the spot and we now work for her full time, restoring what she calls her ‘Oxfam bag of dollshouse junk’ and creating beautiful pieces of furniture for the discerning customer.

You can find various pieces for sale here or by clicking on the photos.

Monty admiring the map chest.large cabinet and chair

Jasper with the small cabinet

Icabod Cogbottle’s Inventing Room

Forgive me if I appear to complain.  My wife Dorothea is the most charming of women and exceptionally skilled, not only at running a household and entertaining our guests, but also as a highly accomplished parasol duellist.  However I do not feel that she fully understands the struggles of an inventor.

Why, she has just entered my workspace once again and remarked – quite harshly, I felt – on the quantity of litter strewn across the floor.  Does she expect that every design will result in a successful invention?  Applying for patents is a most costly and time-consuming process, so I restrict it to only the most promising designs.

If (as I have explained to her on many occasions) she would permit me to create my prototypes in this room, I could adjust them as I go along and the drawings would be far more productive.  Alas, she insists that any tinkering must be restricted to the cellar!   She complains that the smells, dust and general mess involved are unacceptable within the main body of the house.

So why, I can imagine you asking, do I not do my drawings down there as well?  The answer, dear reader, is that the cellar of this house is particularly damp and cold.  That hardly matters when I am actively sawing, soldering or otherwise constructing my machines and gadgets, but it is not an atmosphere conducive to long hours sitting at a desk engaged in meticulous draughtsmanship.

Thus it comes to pass that many of my designs, so painstakingly drawn, end their days screwed up on the floor, from whence (as I explained to Dorothea) it is but a moment or two’s travail for the maid to sweep up and dispose of them.

Nonetheless, I feel I am making great progress, notwithstanding my perplexing situation.  The Swanopede (patents pending) which I am currently working on is of such ingenuity and obvious charm that it will almost certainly bring me the fame and fortune I so earnestly seek.

In the meantime, my first book (Gadgets for Life by Icabod Cogbottle – available at all good booksellers) is bringing in modest royalties and allowing me to continue to pursue my life’s work.

 

A Flock of Clockwork Songbirds

This is a true story:

Many decades ago, a gentleman in England took the opportunity of purchasing the entire remaining stock of sets of clockwork parts for making automatons.  They had been manufactured back in the 1950s or 60s by a company in West Germany, for hobbyists to install into novelty cigar boxes.  As you opened the drawer to offer your guest a cigar, the bird on top would begin to trill merrily and to twist and twirl around.

One of the many boxes of clockwork parts

Such hobbycraft (and indeed cigar boxes generally) had lost their popularity by the time our gentleman procured the parts, in the early 1980s.  He had grand plans to sell them on for other purposes, such as creating novelty Easter eggs, Christmas decorations and the like.

Alas, his grand plans came to nothing.  The boxes of shiny brass and steel mechanisms, with their complicated cams, tiny brass swanee whistles and miniscule rubber bellows were relegated to his attic, where they lay forgotten for many more years until, after his demise, his widow decided she wanted a clear-out.

for bird automatonsBy now rust and verdigris coated the machines, many of the fragile plastic birds were chipped and the cardboard boxes they were kept in had been nibbled by many generations of mice.  It fell to the departed gentleman’s son to dispose of them, which he did by placing a small advert on a local noticeboard, where it was spotted by the eagle-eyed Mrs S.

Many were beyond repair, but others had stood the test of time.  Much cleaning and polishing ensued, along with long hours of experimentation to find ways of fitting the components together and allowing the birds to move and sing again.

Finally, some of the vintage automatons are working once more.  The birds (previously with rather grubby and unappealing red, white and blue painted plumage) have been given a steampunk makeover and fixed to some little boxes which rather neatly enclose the clockwork motors.  for sale on Etsy at SteampunkDollsHousein steampunk plumageThere are still pieces of rust and  the contraptions need to be handled with care, but a precious few have been tested and are for sale in the Steampunk Dolls House, on Etsy, while others will be available on the Steampunk-Shrunk stalls this coming spring and summer, such as the Shrewsbury Steampunk Spectacular. (See home page for dates and details).

Do come and buy one of these fascinating little automatons and you will own a small piece of history.

 

 

Molly’s Literary Emporium

I’m told that today is World Book Day, and to me that sounds like quite the most wonderful type of day to have.

by herselfAs you may remember, books have long been a passion of mine, and as a very small girl, I was given my ideal job – sitting on Mrs S’s Steampunk-Shrunk stalls reading one of her miniature books.  She said I encouraged customers to do likewise.

Now I am older, though, I decided I wanted to open my own bookshop.  I put the idea to Mrs S and she thought about it.
“So yours would be a little ‘shop-in-shop’, Molly? Your emporium would sit in a corner of my stall and you could sell your books from there. Is that what you had in mind?”

“Yes,”  I said.  I’d like rows of bookshelves and a little table with a reading lamp and…”

“And I think that is all we would manage to fit into it, Molly,” she said, firmly.

I had been going to ask for one of those sliding ladders and some stained glass windows, but something in her face told me that I was lucky to be getting a shop at all, so I smiled politely and thanked her.

The outside viewNow it’s finished, I have to say I’m truly delighted with my Literary Emporium.  It’s been built in one of those storage boxes that are made to look like books.

Inside, though, it looks quite opulent, with a carved wood ceiling and a big mirror to reflect the flickering oil lamp, as well as all those shelves of books.  The inside viewThe picture here was taken before I’d finished stacking the shelves, but you’ll get the general idea.  Mrs S put one of her pencils up against the side of the shop, so that you can see the size of it.

She was so pleased with the result that she used a photo of it to sell copies of the books at her Etsy shop.  (If you click on one of these pictures, you should be whisked straight there.)

For me, though, The best part will be opening my shop in person at our next market stall.  You can see where that is on the HOME page of this website.

If you come along, I’ll be delighted to sell you a volume or two.  We even have some magnifying book-reading devices, for those of you who struggle with the print.

A Visit to Brasston – Extended Version

Something a little different this week:  Jan Miller, who purchased both Algernon and Josephine Cholmondeley from our Etsy shop, has added a further chapter to the story of their impending visit to Brasston, The Most Cosmopolitan City Award winner in 1850.  Delighted to know that the Lord Admiral of the High Skies and his wife are in such excellent hands.

We hope you will enjoy reading both chapters here:

Chapter 1

It was, not surprisingly, young Molly who found the book first.  She’d read her way through everything in the Steampunk-Shrunk library  – even the Suffragette newspapers – and had been on the lookout for something new.

“Excuse me, Lady Cholmondeley,” she said, dropping a pretty curtsy to Josephine, “But do you think your husband, seeing as how he’s the Lord Admiral of the High Fleet, could take me on one of his sky ship machines to Brasston?  They’ve got a perfectly splendid aerodrome and I’m sure they’d allow him to dock there.  Let me show you the pictures.  They’re in colour!”
“Why I’ve never heard of the place, my dear. Are you sure you’ve got the name correct?” smiled Josephine.
“Oh yes, Your Ladyship, Ma’am. I think it must be very famous. It won the ‘Most Cosmopolitan City Award’ in 1850.”

Josephine started to look through the book – a most difficult process since, unlike the inhabitants of Shrunk Towers, this book had not been shrunk to one twelfth of its original size.  She had to obtain assistance from several other members of the community and they in turn became mesmerised by the splendours of Brasston.

“Good lord!” Barnaby Balsover exclaimed, “There’s a chap there having his shoes polished by a clockwork automaton!  Quite remarkable!”
“Certainly,” agreed Ava Brassfeather, “And it says they do tours of the clock factory and provide cake and tea.”
“I believe it says you have to pay extra for cups and saucers, though, Ma’am,” Molly whispered, jumping in alarm when Ava made a loud tutting sound.
Molly wasn’t sure whether this was aimed at herself or the facilities available at the works, but she didn’t venture to speak again.

A touching moment for the valiant coupleWhen Algernon returned from a successful raid on a troublesome bunch of sky pirates who had been terrorising the airways above Penge, he was met by a mass of pleading faces.
His wife took his arm, gazed alluringly into his eyes and purred, “My dearest…”

“Hmm,” he said finally, once he’d had a strong cup of gunpowder tea and an opportunity to peruse the book.  “I strongly suspect that this is a work of fiction, created by this rather splendid gentleman on the back cover, Mr Ashley G.K. Miller.  I’m not convinced that the city exists.”

“Well if anyone can find it, it’s you, Old Boy,”  announced Lord Horatio Backgammon, and the others joined in a chorus of agreement with his Lordship’s sentiment.

And so, as I write, the entire group is busy packing and preparing for an epic journey in one of the fleet’s most capacious dirigibles, while Algy is earnestly poring over his charts, in search of the city of Brasston. Unfortunately the trip was delayed – but that is another story!

Should you wish to discover this remarkable location for yourself, dear reader, I suggest visiting Mr Miller’s Facebook page, where you will find all the details you need.

Chapter 2

After several months, Algernon Cholmondeley, Lord Admiral of the High Fleet, was finally re-united with his dear wife Josephine. He had been captured by Sky Pirates before he could take his friends on the planned trip to Brasston.   Josephine was so relieved to see him again.  But they had been communicating by means of the steam telegraph while he was captive.

 

It seems the Sky Pirates extracted a large ransom from the Admiralty before releasing Algy unharmed. He, meanwhile, had secretly been inspecting the Sky Pirates remarkable Airships and learning as much as he could about their design.  Of course Algernon was used to high powered airships in his normal day job, but the Sky Pirates had adapted some new ideas from other countries they had plundered.  Algy was now determined to make a new airship of his own.  It would have all the latest technology for the 1850s, including a pigeon-guided location finder.

Some of Algy’s pictures of the Sky Pirates’ airships

 

As his wife and friends were so interested in visiting this Brasston, he could use that trip as an experimental run.

 

 

Lady Cholmondely had also been in contact with Mr Ashley G. K. Miller, the author of the esteemed volume; ‘A Traveller’s Guide to Brasston’ which had started the whole thing, and he had sent  pictures of himself on one of his recent Hot Air Balloon Flights.

 

 

He said he would be delighted to help them make the Airship and take them to Brasston.

Lady Cholmondeley soon got the local enthusiasts together to collect all the bits and pieces they could find to make the new Airship. Having Algy’s colleagues in the Admiralty look through the old sheds, and with Mr. Miller’s collection of past pieces they had quite a good start.

 

 

Josephine and her friend Penelope set to work right away to make a comfortable day-bed for the passengers inside the Airship, while Young Algy played with his own model one. ‘Oh these feathers are going up my nose!’ exclaimed  Josephine.

They were happily employed in this activity while Lord Algernon thought about his new Airship design. More about how he is getting on with it another time!

 

Jan Miller is a writer and publisher on the conservation of native plants. She also has an interest in miniature plants and crafts.  See her website www.7wells.co.uk where you can also find her Asperger’s Syndrome son Ashley G. K. Miller’s book about Steampunk Lego ‘Brasston’.

Lord and Lady Cholmondeley and the Steampunk artifacts were upcycled and made by Jan Stone at Steampunk-Shrunk. Victorian dolls’ house and conservatory with real plants by Jan Miller.

A Touch of Clarity at Steampunk-Shrunk

Charles lands at Steampunk TowersA new year dawns, marked here at Steampunk Towers by Charles’ jubilant arrival on January 1st in his velvet-seated time machine.  Considering the adventures he’s had, neither he nor the machine are looking in bad shape at all.  True, he’s been slightly pompous since someone commented that he looked ‘very timelordish’, but we can forgive him for that.

Anyhow, for those new to our site, or confused by recent changes, here are some notes on what exactly Steampunk-Shrunk is and how it trades.

Unique and Upcycled

Everything produced by Steampunk-Shrunk is a hand-made and one-of-a-kind (OOAK) creation.  Upcycling is very much part of our ethos.  It is a point of honour here to find novel new uses for plastic packaging, broken jewellery or watches and the kind of junk that lies about most homes and charity shops in forgotten boxes and shelves.  This tinkering and repurposing lies, after all, at the very heart of steampunk.

Selling Direct

Shrewsbury Christmas spectacular 2018Our favourite way of selling is through the Steampunk-Shrunk trading stalls.  These can be found at various steampunk fairs and conventions throughout the UK, at selected dollshouse and miniatures fairs and sometimes at craft and vintage fairs.  We love to be able to chat to customers, to allow them to pick up and examine our wares and see if they can read our tiny books.
The next fair we have booked is in Shrewsbury in March 2019, but all venues will be listed on the home page of this website and promoted on our Facebook page.

The Steampunk Dolls’ House

This is the international trading arm of our micro-business.  At the time of writing, we have around 35 lines for sale in this Etsy shop, which can be shipped around the world.  We try to provide plenty of photos and detailed descriptions, so that customers know what they are getting, and it’s very easy for them to ask questions or chat about items we are selling.   All our reviews so far have had five stars, which is hugely encouraging.  The link to the Etsy shop is here.

The Crispin Emporium

Street, SomersetOur latest sales venture is hiring a glass cabinet in a beautiful craft emporium in the Somerset town of Street.
Street is best known as the home of Clarks Shoes and the massive Clarks Shopping Village.
The emporium, upstairs in the newly refurbished Crispin Centre, supports and showcases local artists and craftspeople and provides a welcome change from the chain store outlets.  The building also houses a gorgeous florist shop, a very lovely cafe (Street Food!) and various meeting and event rooms.  It gets its name, incidentally, from St Crispin who – along with his brother St Crispian – is the patron saint of shoemaking.
If you are visiting Street this year, or nearby Wells or Glastonbury, do call in and take a look.  Here is a link to the emporium’s Facebook page, so you can check opening times etc.  The address is: 83 High Street, Street, Somerset, BA16 0EZ.

There is also a contact form on the home page of this website, if there are items you would like to know more about.