Unlocking an 18th-century Mechanical Table


With a turn of a key, this table transforms into a desk. See how it operates and how it may have been used.

When activated, the top automatically slides back and the drawer below opens, revealing lidded compartments and a book rest. The mechanism is powered by interior springs, which are tightened by winding another key.

J. Paul Getty acquired the Oeben mechanical table in 1949. He wrote about its arrival in his diary on December 31, 1949.

The mechanical table was partly open when unpacked. I succeeded in closing it but couldn’t get it to open by turning the key. Possibly I had wound it too tight. Then I couldn’t get the key to turn. Mitchell said it was a great table. There are about 15 in the world, about 5 in America…..

A follow-up animation shows how this table is constructed: 

Produced for The J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition Paris: Life & Luxury in 2011.

Video displayed in the exhibition on touch screen kiosk; also published online.

Director: Paco Link
Producer: Lien Nguyen
3-D Animator: Piotr Kaczmarek
Writer: Anne Martens