The Mechanical Galleon

January 24, 2013

Dating from c1585, Hans Schlottheim’s mechanical galleon was a clock with a difference…

Designed to ‘sail’ down a long banqueting table, it had model sailors hammering bells from the crow’s nest, a small organ for added musicality and, just in case it hadn’t caught your attention, a drum skin stretched across the base of the hull. As a grand finale, cannons set off a blaze of smoke and fire.

The time, if you still cared, could be seen on a dial set towards the bottom of the mast.

The galleon required three separate mechanisms and was said to need re-winding every 24 hours. Like other automata of the time, the breakthrough technology on which it relied was coiled tempered steel – made into a spring, it provided a portable source of potential energy.

Schlottheim (1547-1625) was a highly regarded goldsmith and clockmaker, whose work was much in demand among European royalty – clocks were a real status symbol at the time and anything clockwork was the height of sophistication.

The galleon once formed part of the ‘Kunstkammer’ of Augustus, the Elector of Saxony (1526-1586) who was famous his collections of art, tools and arms. He is depicted on the ship, along with six other electors. It can be seen today in the British Library.


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