Keep your Angry Birds, we'll take something a bit more classy

The "gadgets" in question here--if one dare call them that--are truly rare. So rare, in fact, that they're expected to draw $2.5 million to $5 million at a Hong Kong auction later this month.

A rendering of the inner workings of one of the rare pistols cum music boxes cum robots. Christie's video; screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

Birds and weapons? Sounds like a certain smartphone-game-turned-cultural-touchstone, right? Well, don't worry; we know you've heard enough about that particular phenomenon to last a few lifetimes.

No, this little blog item is about something far less widespread than a popular iPhone app. In fact, the "gadgets" in question here--if one dare call them that--are truly rare. So rare that they're expected to draw $2.5 million to $5 million at a Hong Kong auction later this month.

And though they were created in the early 19th century, and are anything but digital, they still manage to impress with the obvious technical mastery of their makers.

We're talking about a matching pair of gold, jewel-encrusted "pistols"--manufactured as playthings for courtesans in the Chinese royal court by a Swiss studio known for its ingenious automatons.

The only such matching pair known to exist. There are four other pistols like this, all singletons, and all tucked away in museums.

One of the bejeweled handguns. Our little whistling and winged friend can be seen perched at the end of the double barrel. Christie's video; screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

The glittering handguns don't fire bullets, rather, they fire birdsong. One winds them up with a little key (like one would a watch of the same era), pulls the trigger, and out of the barrel pops a tiny mechanical bird. Complete with real feathers and moving wings, beak, and tail, the charming little fellow sings his heart out for a full 20 seconds, never repeating himself and all the while flitting and dancing about with avian joy and excitement.

There are no batteries in the pistols or birds; the movements and melodies are generated entirely by several hundred diminutive springs, gears, levers, screws, and other such mechanical tidbits--along with a huge helping, of course, of mechanical wizardry.

Give me birdsong over a bullet any day. You can see here the bird's real feathers (and its sweet little expression). Christie's video; screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

You can watch the glittering gizmos in action (and hear the birds' Mozartian music) in a video produced by Christie's, the auction house that's handling their sale.

We're sure you'll agree that these birds seem to be anything but angry--and that these "pistols," this particular take on the first-person shooter, is a bit more genteel than Duke Nukem.

(Via The Wall Street Journal)

About the author

Edward Moyer is an associate editor at CNET News and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch.

 

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