Automata are awesome. Elaborately inlaid cabinets with a million compartments are awesome. When the two come together, the results is a technicolor explosion of awesome.
We have the genius of German cabinet-makers Abraham Roentgen and his son David to thank for this mindboggling combination. In the late 18th century, the Roentgen workshop produced the most expensive, elaborate and highly-prized pieces of furniture in Europe. They were the cabinets of kings, literally. One Roentgen secretary could easily run you the cost of large estate.
The Berlin Secretary Cabinet was their greatest masterpiece and is believed to have been the most expensive piece of furniture made in 18th century Europe. It is huge for a writing desk, topped with a chiming clock and festooned with marquetry panels, secret doors, drawers, counterweight systems and mechanisms that give it life-like complexity. It wasn’t commissioned. The Roentgen’s made it on speculation for King Frederick William II of Prussia. Not being insane, he snapped it up and it was delivered to his court in 1779.
This cabinet is part of the permanent collect of the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In 2012 it moved for the first time since 1779 when it was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an exhibition dedicated to the Roentgens’ furniture. The Met put together this video to show off this marvel of carpentry and mechanics.
Funfact of history: one of Ambraham and David’s descendants, physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, invented the X-ray machine.