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.
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.
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.