Rare Henry Phalibois Automaton of a Chinese Magician and Vanishing Assistant, c. 1920, the magician with papier-mache head, articulated eyelids and in-active jaw, black mohair queue and moustache, standing between a silk-covered magician's cabinet and a large painted die on stand, a fan in his right hand and gong-hammer in his left, on paneled base painted to resemble marble, the electric motor driving three pulleys and thirteen boxwood cams, in Chinese robes and hat, magician 30, standing assistant, 21, seated assistant 10 in., overall ht. 49 x wd. 47 x dp. 21 in.
Note: The sequence begins with both cabinet doors closed. The magician waves his fan and turns to the right as the door of the magic cabinet opens to reveal his assistant standing in the narrow enclosure, blinking and flourshing her fan. He turns to the left as the door to the dice cabinet opens and, with the gong-hammer, he points into the empty interior. The magic cabinet door opens once again to disclose the assistant still inside, the magician points to the left and the right with hammer and fan, and then turns and to the left and, after several passes, beats the gong, upon which the dice cabinet door opens to reveal his assistant sitting inside. She flourishes her fan and nods while the door to the now empty magic cabinet opens. Both doors close, and the magician turns to the center to survey his audience, raising the hammer and fan together with equilibrium as both doors open simultaneously to reveal that his assistant has completely disappeared. As he lowers his arms, the doors close and the magician nods his head at the completion of his trick. The disclosure of each cabinet is accompanied by an electric light that illuminates its interior at suitable moments in the sequence. The slow rotation of the large-diameter wooden cams results in a complete revolution once every three minutes, making this one of the most complex early 20th century magician automata to have been recorded.
A near-identical automaton in evening dress is illustrated in Chapuis and Droz, Les Automates p. 261. Chapuis notes that a Chinese conjurer of the same pattern was exhibited at the International Magic Congress in Paris in 1947. The author attributes both automata to Decamps, who had purchased the stock of Henry Phalibois in 1925. It conceivable that the automaton here is the same one whose appearance Chapuis describes at the convention; it would have been over twenty years old by 1947, perhaps not surprising when one considers that these large display pieces were built for extended touring and display.Another large Phalibois automaton entitled "Poor Father", lot 600 in Skinner's Science & Technology auction on 29 July 2006, was originally one in a series of twenty that formed a traveling coin-operated display in New Zealand. In addition to the version in evening dress illustrated by Chapuis, Henry Phalibois also made the same magician in traditional Turkish dress. A fourth magician automaton in the series, the "Levitation", featured the same magician hypnotizing his lady assistant, and was probably intended as the companion to this piece.
Provenance: A number of original documents pertaining to the automaton's history are included in the Lot. During the 1930s, it was leased by H.L. Mc Farland Animated Displays / Unique Advertising for around $10 per week to different stores in town. Accompanying a number of weekly rental agreements from 1932 are two photographs taken in the window of the Superior Woolen Company Tailors and three testimonials from satisfied businesses that record the beneficial results of having the "Mysterious Illusion" perform in their windows.