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And – perhaps as the dining room centrepiece of a Victorian middle-class household – just the thing for keeping guests amused at the dinner table.

Fill the shallow tray on the top with water, set the ‘egg-timer’ swinging, then sit back and marvel at the ceaseless cascade of water. It’s all done by applying basic scientific principles: exploiting the pressure changes which occur when the glass bulbs fill/empty of their contents and transporting water back and forth through the ‘invisible’ pipes of an elaborate gilt metal frame. It all gives the impression of perpetual motion.

Perpetual fountains are scarce objects but in fact this example – stamped J.W. Tuff’s Boston Pat. Feb-7-1871 and standing 21in (53cm) high on a marble base – is the second to appear on the UK market this year. Back in April one appeared in a London saleroom where it was knocked down for £2400: that illustrated here (with a mechanism which is currently seized) was offered for sale on behalf of a local private vendor by the Doncaster rooms of Wilkinson’s on September 12. It sold to a private collector from the South Coast for £1700 (plus 12.5 per cent premium) but apparently an American museum – no doubt interested in the origin of the patent – were late to learn of the sale and are hoping to give the buyer a quick profit.