Sunday, May 27, 2012


In Jan of 2009, I put up a blog about Robert Heller at my old blog( which is now deceased). I added a little biographical information as well. But in my now voracious quest to learn everything there is to know about Victorian aged magic, I kept returning to Heller. In January 2011, I wrote a three part article on Heller for THIS blog. But I held back on covering the actual 'magic' he presented. I'd like to explore a little of his magic.

Heller & The Harlequin
This time it involves one of his automatons, The Harlequin. I should point out, it was not his invention. Robert Houdin also had The Harlequin in his show, and it was also not his invention. The Harlequin Automaton dates back to the 1700’s and was the creation of a dutch mechanic by the name of Opre. The effect was that the magician would bring out a small chest and set it on a table. He would then knock on the lid which would open and slowly a harlequin doll would poke its head out. It would eventually flip out of the box and sit on the edge of the chest. It could turn it’s head, take bows and even smoke a pipe!

Apparently the original Harlequins used in the 1800s were false automatons. This means they were  mechanical, but they were operated by a hidden assistant. True automatons were all mechanical and relied solely upon their inner clockworks to achieve their results.

I recently saw a picture of a Harlequin automaton in the collection of John Gaughan. I don’t know whose Harlequin it was, so it very well might have belonged to Heller. Pierre Mayer, a wonderful modern day automaton creator has built a miniature version out of wood. Pierre Mayer's version is a simplified rendition, but still quite intriguing. And for those interested, please enjoy this short video of Pierre Mayer’s modern Harlequin automaton.

If anyone has information on the location of any of Heller's equipment and props, please drop me an email as I would love to feature them here!

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any other details about the automata built by Opré? I am researching the Georges Méliès > Robert-Houdin > Opré connection.