Conservation experts take apart and study the Bowes Museum's 18th century Silver Swan

A team of antique and conservation experts have arrived in County Durham to examine the 247-year-old Silver Swan at the Bowes Museum.

The automaton (mechanical moving sculpture) is regarded as one of the most impressive in the world - moving to music and even pretending to catch fish.

Matthew Read - who is leading the team of conservators - says the swan's lifelike movements are unrivalled among other automaton's of the 18th century.

"The swan is incredible," he said. "It is, as far as I'm concerned, the world's finest 18th century automaton.

The Silver Swan - A Timeline:

  • 1773 - Silver Swan completed. Internal mechanism built by the inventor John Joseph Merlin

  • 1774 - Exhibited in Mechanical Museum of James Cox, a London showman and dealer

  • 1867 - Visited by Mark Twain, who said: "‘I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes."

  • 1872 - John Bowes purchased the swan from Parisian jeweller M. Briquet for £200

  • 1892 - John Bowes opens the Bowes Museum, where the swan has been exhibited ever since.

The team have carefully moved and disassembled the swan, with the goal of studying its inner-workings and assessing its condition.

Jane Whittaker of the Bowes Museum says the process reminds curators and visitors how remarkable the object is.