Ethiopian Caterpillar

It was an annual event, when I was a child, to receive Sears’ Christmas catalogue and immediately begin dog-earring the glossy pages as a non-subtle method for suggesting gifts. Often there’d be some especially beloved item which would haunt me till the big day –

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This is no Laser Tag set, or sparking robot (with life-like walking action!), this is a mechanical device created in 1820 – still, it has me in that same grip. Unfortunately, according to the, I shouldn’t be expecting it under the tree this year.

The Ethiopian Caterpillar is a bejeweled automaton from the year 1820. Attributed to Henri Maillardet, only six automaton caterpillars are known to exist and the other five are in prestigious collections in Europe, include one in the Patek Philippe museum and another two in the Sandoz collection[…]

The pre-sale estimate for this piece is $350,000-$450,000.

While it’s the historical aspect of the automation that interests me, I suppose there are other factors involved in its cost; here’s part of the blurb from the Sotheby’s Catalogue:

the body realistically designed to represent a caterpillar comprising eleven jointed ring segments, framed by seed pearls, and decorated with translucent red enamel over an engine-turned ground, studded overall with gold-set rubies, turquoise, emeralds, and diamonds

Image from the Sotheby's catalogue