Rare opportunity

The Clock Exhibition was a rare opportunity for visitors to see a stunning array of clocks, watches and artefacts that tell a colourful story of the history of timepieces

We invited the collectors to choose some of their favourite treasures and comment on what makes them so fascinating.

David Ramsay Astronomical Silver
& Gilt Oval Watch

David Ramsay silver and gilt astronomical verge watch, c 1619. This 400-year-old watch really puts modern complicated watches in their place! Firstly, the case is a work of art in its own right. The silver top and bottom are engraved with scenes from Ovid but their inside faces have King James I’s coat of arms and a portrait of the King himself.  The silver case band with red detailing has Chronos with his scythe and St James under his sun hat between floral branches.

The movement shows the hour, the day – sign, name and deity, the month – name and date together with the sign of the Zodiac, the age and phase of the moon, and the planet hour – useful in astrology. The movement is gilt and spaced by elegant pierced Egyptian pillars.

The watch is signed David Ramsay Scotte Me Fecit.

Horologium by Christian Huygens

This very rare pamphlet, Horologium by Christian Huygens, printed in 1658, has, as a fold down end plate, the first ever diagram of a pendulum clock. The diagram shows a weight-driven wall clock regulated by a half second, silk-suspended pendulum connected by way of a crutch to a verge escapement with a vertical crown wheel. The unusual features of a large seconds hand (Σ in the diagram) concentric with the hour hand and a counter clockwise minute hand (Ψ) were necessary if a minimal wheel train, combined with a prominent seconds indication, were to be achieved.

Ahasuerus Fromanteel Longcase Clifton Case & Token

Previously Robert Foulkes had told Lee that he had been informed by collector Ilbert that a Mr Saul possessed a very early Fromanteel movement. Eventually Ronnie tracked Saul down in Withering on Sea!

The movement was made by Ahasuerus Fromanteel in c.1657-8 - only very early English clocks have square movement pillars. This feature and upright Roman hour numerals are also on the early Fromanteel clock in the Fogg Museum, Harvard. Apparently, the Lee movement had been later converted by Fromanteel himself to an anchor escapement with 1¼ second Pendulum.

The Clifton Token was discovered by Alan Knight whilst working for Percy Dawson on the restoration of The Clifton Case. The token was hammered into a slot in the base of the trunk; two levers were made to remove the token creating the three areas of damage on the rim of the token; the large flat from hammering the token into the slot and the two nicks from levering it out 300 years later!

Joseph Clifton has not been traced as a case maker in London. It has even been claimed that the significance of the token was just to date the case as a penny is put under a foundation stone.

Ahasuerus Fromanteel Wall Clock

This beautiful early ebony and silver mounted wall clock by Ahasuerus Fromanteel c 1658 is one of a very small number of London-made clocks constructed in the “Dutch style”. It is wall-hung in a simple rectangular case with the dial and movement hinged to the left side.  This clock is technically (fusees and side-by-side wheel trains) and aesthetically (the cast and chaste silver cherub head spandrels are particularly fine) more developed than these other examples suggesting it is of a slightly later date.  Its movement layout became the “standard” for all future English spring clocks.

Samuel Knibb Princes Wood Long
Case Clock

This exceptional architectural longcase clock is by Samuel (signed Samuell) Knibb c.1665-70 and spent much of the last century in America until it was recently brought back to the UK. It is a technical and aesthetic tour de force that was almost certainly made for Charles II. According to an old label pasted inside the case, it spent time in Windsor Castle. The beautifully proportioned case is veneered with Princes Wood, a rare and expensive wood imported from South America. The chapter ring is faced with solid silver and the three-train movement which strikes the hours and quarters is highly sophisticated.

John Knibb Miniature Lantern Clock
with Alarm

John Knibb dated hour striking miniature lantern clock with alarm and floral engraved dial. Unusually, the signature on the fret is dated Johannes Knibb Oxon fecit 1669 as John did not receive his official freedom from Oxford until 1673 and was thus officially debarred from signing his work. Ronnie Lee suggested this may have been a proving piece made for John Knibb’s personal use.

John was born in 1650 so would have been 19 years old at this time. The miniature striking lantern clock with alarm is beatifically conceived and skilfully produced. It is a pleasant thought that John arose each morning to the sound of the alarm! Shortly after the clock was made John was left in charge of the Oxford workshop whilst brother Joseph went to London to take over Samuel’s workshop after his cousin’s premature death probably from the last vestiges of the plague.

Thomas Tompion Selby Lowndes Three Train Full Grande Sonnerie

The Selby Lowndes Tompion N0217, c 1693. The last British King to lead his arm into battle was King William III who fought the Battle of the Boyne on the 1st July 1690 (Julian Calendar or 12th July on our Gregorian Calendar) and Catholic King James II fled the field, leaving victory to the Protestants. The gilt brass finial of a Roman general is an allegory for King William’s victory.

The case is probably decorated for Tompion by Daniel Marot, King Louis XIV’s Huguenot court designer who, in 1685, slipped away from Versailles after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (giving in 1598 French Protestants freedom from persecution by the Catholic state.) Following its revocation, Marot first sought refuge in the Netherlands where he began working for William of Orange, whom he later followed to England after William and Mary were crowned joint monarchs.

Ahasuerus Fromanteel & Edward East Cubic Full Grande Sonnerie Clock

c.1652-5 Looking at the signatures, Edward East & A Fromanteel Fecit, the first is gilded, the second cut through the gilding, added later. When Edward claimed that he made this Cubic Grande Sonnerie gem, Ahasuerus decided enough was enough and added his own claim to have Fecit (made it)!

The wonderful gilded case engravings of Spring Summer Autumn and Winter are attributed to and probably engraved by Wenceslas Holler himself - Winter is almost identical to his engraving dated 1639.

Ahasuerus Fromanteel Cupid Clock

This impressive table clock, c.1662-5 surmounted by a gilded cherub was undoubtedly made by Ahasuerus Fromanteel in his London workshop, although, when it was recently discovered, it carried the signature plaque of a later French maker crudely stuck on the dial.  The case retains its original pierced fish-scale caddy top. However, with its velvet covered dial, gilt brass hands, Dutch striking and (restored) lambrequin (signature plaque) evidenced by holes in the dial, it was clearly made for a continental European buyer.  Both side and front doors open and are secured with an ingenious set of original latches and hasps.

Commonwealth Mercury Fromanteel Advertisement

The Commonwealth Mercury, 1658, was published weekly during the Commonwealth period and this page from the edition of 18 November, which also contains a report on the preparations for Cromwell’s funeral, contains the first known advertisement in London for pendulum clocks “that go exact and keep equaller time than any now made without this Regulator”.  The advertisement by Ahasuerus Fromanteel came just over a year after Huygens had obtained his Dutch patent.  Fromanteel was not just a clockmaker – he was an entrepreneur.  In the next advertisement he is extolling the virtues of his fire engines.  Not only for putting out fires they are also perfect for “washing Vermin off the Trees and Hops and for the watering of Gardens”.

Edward East Architectural
Turnbase Clock

This ebony veneered architectural table clock, c.1663-5 signed Edward East Londini on the backplate, has an old-fashioned look about it when compared to the crisper, more detailed, ebony mouldings on the similar aged clock by Fromanteel. The movement design is also less refined, with no centre wheel, but the motion work to drive the hands giving them a loose feel. The springs are narrower and thicker than those used by Fromanteel. The baluster pillars are riveted to the frontplate, and the backplate is pinned with these visible pins accentuating the early look.

It is thought that East led the traditionalists following this design such as his apprentice Henry Jones, together with John Hilderson and Edward Stanton, all of whom are represented with similar East School table clocks.

Samuel Knibb Ebony Turntable Spring Clock

This spring table clock was made in c.1665-7 by Samuel Knibb, a talented clockmaker who died in about 1670 in his mid-forties. Only five clocks signed by Samuel are known to have survived and all of them are displayed together in this exhibition for the first time. The dial is beautifully engraved with a Tudor rose in the centre and flowers (a dog rose, tulips, lilies and daisies) in the corners. Can you see the hovering dragonfly in the top left corner? This clock was recently discovered in America where it had been handed down in the family from one Captain James Avery (1620 – 1700) who emigrated to America from England with his father in 1630.

John Fromanteel Longcase Clock

Dealers and auction houses are very secretive about where they obtain their clocks. The Spanish Fromanteel ebony longcase, c.1667-9 turned up in Geneva with only information this clock was from Spain. This was believable as the movement and the inside of the case were covered in fine red dust from a dry country.  

The introduction of the long pendulum, beating seconds, made it easy to fit a second hand. With the pendulum and escapewheel hung on the centreline, extending the escapewheel arbor allowed the fitting of a central seconds’ hand and dial. This was a new unique sales feature.
Yet John’s going train is on the righthand side, requiring offset pallets on the anchor escapement with no seconds’ dial! Perhaps this is the first long pendulum before John realised a central escape wheel enabled a seconds’ dial?

Joseph Knibb Silver Mount Velvet Dial Grande Sonnerie
Table Clock

Superb Joseph Knibb silver mounted velvet dial grande sonnerie c.1678-80
table clock with silver dial, mounts, handle, spandrels & escutcheons particularly associated with Knibb clocks. Floral Ebony side frets with a red silk backing allows the bell sound out of the case. This clock is signed on a silver engraved and pierced central mount ‘Joseph Knibb London’. The velvet surrounding the date aperture and three winding holes is protected by silver grommets. The backplate is covered in sweeping symmetrical pierced floral and foliage engraving with the two countwheels engraved with multi-petal flower heads. The hour bell is a low pork pie shape; the escapement is a TicTac, both favourite constructions of Joseph.

This clock is amongst one of the first of the Joseph Knibb series of spring clocks named by Ronnie Lee as Phase II and deservedly one of the most written about special clocks over the years.

Clock exhibition

HELD ON 3rd to 14th September 2018