The Monkey Conjuror by Phalibois

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Jean Phalibois, Paris. Circa 1880. 28” (71 cm). Six movements. Two tunes. Arranged upon an ebony wooden base, under oval glass dome, is a paper mache headed monkey standing behind a wooden table, the entire scene framed by a garden arbor decorated with fabric leaves and flowers. The monkey has brown glass movable eyes, hinged lower jaw, double row of teeth, mohair wig, beard and moustache, carton torso, carved wooden hands. He is costumed as a mystical Conjuror in elaborate silks and velvets with gold ormolu paper edging and conical shaped crown, lorgnette at his right eye. The table is decorated with velvet drapes edged with metallic fringe and upon the table are arranged various objects including two silver cups that the monkey clasps. The original music label on base lists two airs with English names, “Sweet By and By” and “Mabel Waltz”. Movements: the monkey turns his head to one side, nods, then to the other side and nods again. In synchronic movements with the nods, he lifts the silver cups to reveal one of five different possibilities: green, orange or white balls, die, or nothing. Sometimes both cups are lifted simultaneously, sometimes in sequence. Throughout, he blinks his eyes and opens and closes his mouth as though calling for wagers. Music occurs from a separate pull-string and lever. Historical References: a nearly identical piece appeared in Silber and Fleming of London trade catalog, circa 1880. The English language names on the music label indicate its production for the English or American market. The tune Sweet By and By, written by Fillmore and Webster, was copyrighted by the famous Chicago department store Lyons & Healey in 1868 and it is possible that the automaton, with that tune listed on its program label, was sold by that store. The Monkey Conjuror appears to have been a popular theme with Phalibois for a number of years despite its somewhat complicated. Another example is documented as having been used for actual gambling purposes at the Iron Front Gambling Saloon of Austin, Texas in the late 1880’s.
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