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Isis Playing the Zither
"Isis Playing the Zither"
Automaton by C. E. Nixon
by Hal Davis (MMD 000328) and
Michael Woolf (MMD 000329)

isis2b.jpg (82 kb)

About 1945 I saw a short color film, possibly a Popular Science film, which showed "Isis Playing the Zither" and the man that had built her.  It seems to me that they said he was a dentist, though I could be wrong about that fifty-five years later.

The man walked around and opened doors and panels to show the interior workings and explained a little bit about Isis, then did something that caused Isis to play the zither.  The camera zoomed in for several tight shots showing the actual mechanism doing the actual playing of the zither.  It wasn't something hidden out of sight that was playing -- it was the actual instrument right there on her lap.

Of course, I was totally fascinated by that film and have always remembered it.  I wonder whatever became of those Popular Science films.  Do you suppose they still exist somewhere?

The photograph is from a book published in Czechoslovakia about thirty five years ago.  The only text under the photo is "Isis playing the zither, made by C. E. Nixon."  The inscription at the bottom of the automaton in the photo says "I am all that was, and is, and is to be, and no mortal hath lifted my veil." *

The name of the book is "Mechanical Musical Instruments", by Alexander Buchner.  It's by the Batchworth Press, London, and was printed in Czechoslovakia.  There is no date or any copyright notice in it anywhere that I could find.  Translated by Iris Urwin.

I think at the time that it was the most money I'd ever spent for a book of any sort, seventy-five dollars.  At the time my wife wasn't very happy about me spending so much for a book but I survived the storm.  It's an interesting book.

Hal Davis
Sun, 26 Mar 2000 18:18:56 -0800

* The inscription is from the temple of Neit (Greek: Neith), the virgin huntress of ancient Egypt, goddess of war and domestic arts, and quite obviously identified with Athena and Artemis by the Greeks.  Her name signifies "I came from myself."  This deity represents not only creative power, but also abstract Intelligence, Wisdom or Light.  (Ref

Subject: Faux Automaton "Isis Playing the Zither"

I first saw Isis in Harrah's Automobile Museum in Reno in about 1982.  (Harrah's bought it from the Nixon estate in 1962.)  I recognised the piece from both the Buchner book and Roy Mosoriak's "Curious History of Music Boxes."  Harrah's museum sold Isis at auction in 1985.

We next met at the MBSI Meeting in Teaneck, New Jersey.  Isis had been restored by the eminent automaton rebuilder and magic specialist John Gaughan, who demonstrated several pieces including Isis.  As a magician myself I am proscribed from revealing any secrets, so let me simply state that Isis is best described as a "faux automaton."

For a description of the piece and the eccentric inventor and owner, Dr. Cecil Nixon, see "Secret Life of a Satanist" by Blanche Barton, publ. by Feral House, Los Angeles, ISBN 0-922915-03-2, pages 71-74.  This work deals with the life of Anton LaVey, founder of the San Francisco Church of Satan!  One of his disciples was the Hollywood occult character Kenneth Anger, author of "Hollywood Babylon" 1 & 2.

Michael Woolf, New Zealand
Wed, 29 Mar 2000 23:01:52 +1200

01 April 2000

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