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.
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.
By 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. There 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.
I’m told that today is World Book Day, and to me that sounds like quite the most wonderful type of day to have.
As 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.
Now 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 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.
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:
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.
When 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 locationfor yourself, dear reader, I suggest visiting Mr Miller’s Facebook page, where you will find all the details you need.
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.
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 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.
Our 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
Our 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.
We may have met before, but permit me to introduce myself anew.
I am George Entwistle, tinker and general handyman to the gentry. Yes, I have resigned from my post as patents clerk and become a full time tinker. Indeed, I would venture to say that my time machines are very much sought after by ladies and gentlemen of discernment with an adventurous temperament.
I like to consider myself something of an adventurer, too. Very recently I travelled in a railway carriage to a steampunk spectacular in the delightful town of Shrewsbury. What an experience it was!
The purveyors of our products were the most splendidly attired persons I had ever encountered. Even Mrs S, who is quite used to these affairs, was impressed and kept taking photographs of them, a few of which I will reproduce here.
We had scarcely opened before Alice announced that she was changing her name to Olga and heading off to become an opera singer with her new patron. I think Sir William was sad to see her go, but he soon began to chat in a very friendly manner to Miss Delilah.
I confess I was quite delighted when a charming lady and gentleman agreed to purchase my latest time machine. I often wonder where my customers will end up when they head off on their temporal journeys.
My greated delight, though, came when a distinguished looking gentleman stopped to admire our wares. There was something familiar about him and I was quite taken by his military bearing and immaculate appearance. He chatted for a while about our room cases to his good lady, and it was only after he left that Mrs Steampunkle told us it was none other than the great Icabod Steam!
How I regretted not having removed my stained and grubby leather apron or straightening my tie! I even had the honour to view his trailer at close quarters, although Mrs S wouldn’t permit me to leave the stall to watch one of his performances. I noticed that she was mysteriously absent at that time, however…
Upon our return to Steampunk Towers (and mainly, I suspect, to quieten the complaints about the journey from Lady Christabel) Mrs Steampunkle announced that some of us would be heading to a new residence. I was fortunate enough to be chosen, along with Lady Christabel, Sir William and the lovely Miss Delilah, to inhabit a glass display cabinet at a quite charming Emporium in the Somerset town of Street. We have five of my friend Mr Robottom’s robots with us, as well as several cabinets of curiosities and the Looking Glass rooms Mrs Steampunkle quite recently completed.
It feels quite strange to be away from Steampunk Towers, but our creator visits us regularly and has promised to pop in and check that we are all happy in our new surroundings.
Do come along to pass the time of day, should you be in the vicinity.
I, Lady Christabel Craxton-Keyes, Keeper of the Hour Glass Moderator, am expected to travel in a suitcase! This is an outrage.
Initially, when Mrs Steampunkle told us we would be travelling to a Steampunk Christmas Extravaganza in a pretty town in the Shropshire hills, I was rather pleased. The event sounded charming. My sister Delilah and I joined Mr George Entwistle in admiring the festive decorations that had been prepared for the Christmas market and looked forward to encountering our fellow steampunk enthusiasts.
It was only yesterday that she explained how the journey would be organised. We will be travelling by railway train, from Mr Brunel’s splendid Bristol Temple Meads Station. I was most pleased at this prospect.
It was only then that the woman broke the news.
“I’m sorry, Christabel, but you and the other exhibits will be securely stored in a valise. I will do all I can to make your journey as comfortable as possible.”
Exhibits! What an insult! And if she thinks I am mollified by her description of that battered, wheeled suitcase as a ‘valise’, she is quite mistaken.
So spare me a thought, Dear Reader, as I am buffeted and bundled around. I just hope the Extravaganza will be worth it. I hope, too, that I am able to procure a new home while I am there, so that I’m not forced to travel back here in the same humiliating manner.
“It’s been a while,” Henry told me, wistfully, “since I went time travelling. Any chance you could help me out with a new machine?”
“Fine,” I said. “As long as you can source all the components from our junk box.”
“My pleasure, Madame,” he beamed, and headed off to rummage through the collection.
An hour or so later he was back with a particularly ugly little bamboo chair, a couple of clarinet keys, a light-up Christmas badge, an empty ribbon reel, the inside of a sewing thread spool, a clip from the old shower curtain, a few beads, promisingly-shaped wires and springs and a plastic robot arm.
“Hmm,” I said. “Interesting. How are you going to power it?”
” ‘If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration,’ as my dear old friend Nick used to say. That circuit in the badge is at a perfect frequency and has plenty of energy stored in its batteries. As for the vibration, just take a look at these springs and the switch on that clarinet key. Try twanging it!”
I did. It made a rather pleasant Jew’s harp sound and vibrated beautifully.
“Okay Henry. You get the circuits sorted and I’ll get to work with some paint and copper tape,” I told him.
Before long the machine was finished. Certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing of objects, but when he sat in the seat, Henry had foot pedals that could be calibrated to the target date and time, a copper steering column, a strange silvery sphereoid that did goodness-knows-what, but seemed very important, along with a clock and altimeter.
“Dear Madame, if you would be good enough to give the temporal booster rocket a turn and then ping that little lever you liked so much, I’ll give it a spin,” Henry smiled.
“Don’t forget to put your goggles on, I told him. And make sure you’re back in time for the trip to Shrewsbury.”
“It’s a TIME machine, Madame!” he chided. “I can be back at whatever time I choose!”
“Yes, I know that, but – just be careful, Henry. You know how, um, adventurous you can be.”
Henry waved his cap to me and then, as I started the contraption’s rocket up and watched the blue and red sparks firing away inside it, he focused all his attention on that strange silver ball.
“Henry, how are you going to start it up by yourself when you want to come back…?” I was asking.
But I was all alone.
He still isn’t back.
I just hope he’ll make it by the time of the Shrewsbury Christmas Steampunk Spectacular, Knowing Henry, he’ll be there with seconds to spare.
If you’d like to take a look at the machine, or even contemplate buying it, do come and join us at the market in St Mary’s Church on December 1st and 2nd 2018.
A week or two before I was due to move from my temporary lodging back to Glastonbury, I sold the Fortune Teller’s Table. It sold to a customer in New York. I had a million things to do, so I raced down to the post office first thing, sent it off tracked and signed for, as usual, pocketed the receipt and went off to get on with some of those jobs.
You’ve guessed, haven’t you? When I came to mark the item sent on my Etsy site, the receipt – with that all-important tracking number – had vanished. I turned out my bag, all pockets and looked inside anything I’d used that day, but it was nowhere to be seen.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “Let’s just hope the parcel doesn’t go missing.”
The day I moved – while I was actually on the journey, in fact – a message came through from the buyer. Where was the table? Why hadn’t I sent the tracking number? It hadn’t turned up.
I went cold and clammy all over. Never before had a parcel been lost in the post, so why this one? All those lovely five star reviews would be worth nothing if just one customer posted a rant about what a careless and unreliable supplier I was.
I came clean, apologised profusely and asked her to wait another week, just in case it was languishing in customs. After that, I promised, I’d either send her a full refund or attempt to make a close copy as a replacement. ‘OK,’ she agreed – one week, and she’d prefer to have a replacement to a refund.
So, with suitcases and packing boxes still unopened, I hunted through my 12th scale furniture stash and – I could hardly believe my luck – found an identical sized desk. It was brown, rather than black and, unlike its predecessor, it still had some drawers. Over the following days I studied the photos and worked to reproduce the dowsing pendulum, the tiny pack of cards, the candle, dream divination book, aged scrolls, tray of crystals and fortune telling boards.
It was nearing completion, when another message from the customer arrived. “It’s here!” she said. “I haven’t even opened it yet, but it was delivered today!”
So I looked at the replica I’d been working on, decided the table top didn’t look mysterious enough, and covered it with a deep blue velvet cloth. And now, there is another Fortune Teller’s Table for sale in my Etsy shop.
There were only four of us at the start of the latest Steampunk Convention, unless you count the two ladies engaged in the tea duel, who speak to no one, but fix each other with steely stares over their cow biscuits and cups of tea, or the Samurai warrior who stands transfixed in some Zen-like meditative state. Just four – myself and the three gentlemen.
I am Alice. I was Mrs S’s first ever makeover. I permit myself to believe that I will always hold a special place in her heart for that reason alone. Then there was Bertie, the military gent who made maps of uncharted lands for the Ordnance Survey, Lars, the mysterious inventor who never removed those dark glasses and William, the rather aloof and dapper man with the dart-launcher chained to his arm.
We stood in a casual group on the stall, all secretly wishing that a new owner would arrive and transport us to a permanent home, ending our nomadic existence.
Bertie was the first to leave. Just imagine his delight when he discovered that his new guardian was to be the very same lady who had, on a previous occasion, purchased Leonora. A match made in heaven, we all agreed. We could imagine those two intrepid explorers heading off to discover new lands and treasures together. How could we be anything but delighted?
Lars was the next to depart. His new guardian was also a returning customer. The young man had bought that very worrying time machine with the flashing lights. I was glad to see that go. It made me nervous. Now here he was again, eyeing each of us intently and trying to decide which of us would be the machine’s inventor. Well clearly it had to be Lars. William would never get his hands grubby with oil or grease and – well – do I look like the kind of person who would go galivanting around in a time machine? Obviously not.
So by the end of the day, only William and I remained.
“Just you and myself, then Madam, it would seem,” he said, in a slightly strained voice.
“Indeed,” I replied, permitting myself to look into his eyes and notice that there was a certain softness in his expression which I hadn’t noticed before.
“Charming about Bertie and Leonora,” he said.
“It is,” I agreed, and found myself wondering, fleetingly, how it would feel to end up in the same home as William. Not too disagreeable, I felt.
“I never really got to know Lars,” I told him.
“Hmmph,” he snorted. “Very odd chap. Brilliant inventor, of course, but not – you know – someone I warmed to. We had, er, business dealings, but that was all.”
I nodded. I’d never before thought of William warming to anyone. But who can say?
How very inconvenient it is to be bundled into a wheelie suitcase and carted off to different venues with such frequency. True, Mrs S is always careful to cushion us well and give us as much personal space as possible, but it is not a pleasant way to travel.
No sooner are we back from a spate of ‘Dolly’s Daydream’ sales, than we are once again off on a new adventure.
Ah, but this one is a steampunk gathering, and we do love those! All the wonderfully attired people who actually understand what a tea duel is and why we have Racing Teapots and Octopuses’ Gardens.
So on September 16th, we and our gizmos, gadgets and other wonders will be on display at The Steampunk Essextraordinaire VI in the splendidly named Museum of Power.
Do come and join us if you are in that part of the world.