Bontempi and the Six Napoleons

 In my book An Entirely New Country I wrote about a period when Arthur Conan Doyle got involved, as a business venture, with a device called the Sculptograph. It remains my strong belief that his involvement with this device inspired him to write the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Six Napoleons which came out in 1904.

Given that one of the episodes of the new series of Sherlock is entitled The Six Thatchers it seems quite apt to look at this period again.

The device was designed to speed up and, effectively, automate the production of small scale statues or busts and was capable, if given an existing statue (or bust), of producing two copies in seven hours "...that would have required six weeks' work by hand."

I recently discovered a Strand article, from late 1903, on this very device which contains photos of it, its creator and what it could produce. Oh how I wish I'd had access to this article five years ago.

The article interestingly suggests a medical benefit of the machine which may well have been a draw for Doctor Doyle.

The original on the left and the two copies in progress.

"Another very important point in favour of the use of this machine by sculptors and others is that the operator will not suffer in any way from the minute flour-like particles of dust which are known to cause and aggravate pulmonary disease, for owing to the jets of water which continuously flow over the tools and material to keep them cool the refuse flows away in a milky, fluid state. That fact alone is worthy of consideration."

The business venture did not work out for Doyle and it could be the case that the only positive thing he got from the whole episode was the idea for The Six Napoleons. For more on that you'll have to buy the book. The links are in the footer.

Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here


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