In clock collecting, the gold standard of original condition can be a difficult one to meet. Clocks almost always needing repairs or replacement parts to keep functioning day in, day out for centuries.
However, it is the vulnerability of their wooden cases which was
apparent at London's pre-Christmas horological offerings. Across
the board, the most sought-after signatures on dials appeared in
modified or replica cases - or even without a case at all - and
nearly all the top sellers had been altered in some way.
The highest clock price of the season was seen at
Christie's (25/20/12% buyer's premium), who now put clocks into
their decorative arts sales.
The 12-lot selection at King Street on November 3 included a
small c.1675-80 table clock by Thomas Tompion. The ebony case, with
alterations to the plinth, was just 12¼in (31cm) high, handle down,
and was one of the few early prenumbered examples from this
Golden-Age maker which have gilt-metal repoussé basket tops, here
modelled with birds, swags and foliate designs.
It had a 6in (15cm) square dial and an eight-latched pillar
movement with strike and pull quarter repeat. The top and bottom of
the backplate were gilded and engraved with Dutch tulips, with a
plain central section covered by a false plate.
This feature, apparently unique for a Tompion clock, concealed
the lever for the repeat mechanism, possibly to hide its technical
innovation and prevent copying.
It also covered the bolt-and-shutter maintaining power release
lever, possibly a later amendment replacing an earlier preselect
system for the repeat work.
Formerly in the Vehmeyer collection in the Netherlands, it sold
to Richard Garnier at £250,000 against an estimate of
Above: the small ebony table clock by Thomas Tompion sold
for £250,000 at Christie's.
Bonhams (25/20/12% buyer's premium) now hold the only dedicated
clock sales in the capital and it was standing room only at their
sale of Fine Clocks, Barometers and Scientific Instruments on
There was a shaky start with the failure of the projected top
lot, a rare quadrant with the badge of King Richard II, dated 1396,
which stalled at £140,000, just shy of its lower estimate. This
left the following 128 clocks and barometers some ground to catch
up, but keen bidding in the room and on the phones, together with a
couple of after-sales, totted up selling rates of 76 per cent by
lot and 75 by value, totalling £1m. Private buyers carried off most
of the top lots.
A Tompion miniature ebony table clock, numbered 215 and dated
c.1693, led the day here too. The movement had seven latched
pillars with pivotted verge escapement, inside rack striking and
rise and fall pendulum regulation. The high-quality engraving on
the 5½in x 4½in (13 x 11cm) dial was by Graver 155, responsible for
the front plate of the British Museum's Mostyn Tompion.
The movement was housed in a high-quality, well-proportioned
replica case of ebony on a white oak carcass, 11in (28cm) high,
handle up, almost certainly made in the 20th century. This was the
fifth time this clock had been on the market in 28 years. Last sold
at Sotheby's, London in 2005 for £70,000, it took £140,000 at
Bonhams from a UK collector on the phone. Auctioneer James Stratton
thought that in its original case it could have climbed to
Above: the miniature striking clock by Thomas Tompion in a
replica ebony case - £140,000 at Bonhams.
There were 11 carriage clocks on offer, of which the three
examples by English makers were the most keenly contested.
A rare mid-19th century repeater in an engraved gilt-bronze case
by James McCabe, complete with its original brassbound mahogany
travelling case, saw a room-versus-phone battle. Estimated at
£8000-12,000, it was won by paddle 219 in the room at £28,000.
However, it was another mid-19th century example, one by Charles
Frodsham, which took the top carriage clock price. This giant
engraved gilt-brass timepiece, 12in (30cm) high, was of exhibition
quality, with a fusee movement and Earnshaw-type chronometer
escapement and was of one-month duration with power reserve
It was numbered AD 1/FMSS on the silvered circular
dial and was unique in that it did not follow the standard
numbering system used by Frodsham.
It was speculated that it may have been produced to commemorate
Frodsham's year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
in 1855 and shown at the Paris Exhibition that year.
It came with its original mahogany travelling case with a
pull-out slide which revealed its original tipsy key. Estimated at
£30,000-50,000, it was contested by two phone bidders up to £90,000
when they were beaten by a late-entry phone bid of £95,000 from a
The highlight of the longcases was a rare late-17th century
example by another highly collectable London maker, Joseph
With a provenance from the Wetherfield collection, the one-month
duration mechanism was in a 6ft (1.95m) high walnut marquetry case.
The hood had barley twist columns and the trunk door had corner
inlays of ebony and walnut and inlaid roundels flanking an oval
marquetry panel above a large circular lenticle and an
eight-pointed inlaid star.
The 10in (25cm) dial had a Knibb-style skeletonised chapter ring
and the six-pillar movement had Knibb's characteristic butterfly
rating nut for the pendulum suspension spring.
It sold just under its low estimate to a UK collector in the
room for £110,000.
A very similar 17th century small longcase had all the
appearance of one from Knibb's workshop. It again had a
skeletonised chapter ring and was in an attractive - "glowing" as
James Stratton described it - inlaid marquetry case, with rising
Indeed, it is illustrated in R.A. Lee's definitive book The
Knibb Family Clockmakers, where he attributes its olivewood
case to Knibb's case-maker and notes the Knibb influence in its
However, it lacked the magic name on the dial, being signed
Robert Dingley, London and sold, as expected, at
One buyer for whom the Knibb "look" was enough, bought a good,
small 20th century Knibb reproduction longcase in a burr walnut
case. This one had a plain chapter ring and a substantial movement
with Knibb's Roman striking and 1¼ seconds pendulum. It took £6000,
a price which many 18th and 19th century longcases now struggle to
The results for two other ostensibly quite similar clocks make
for an interesting comparison.
Both were 17th century table clocks signed Eduardus East,
Londini and in later cases, with upper estimates of £10,000.
So why did one, housed in a replica ebonised case, sell to the
trade at a midestimate £8000, while a UK collector took the other,
in a rectangular polished wood case, up to £40,000?
Certainly the lower-priced one had a plainer dial with all-over
matting behind the chapter ring, while the other had fine quality
foliate engraving to the corners and a larger finely engraved
The main difference, however, was in the movements and, said
James Stratton, showed how the output from the same workshop could
vary, with the less expensive movement in a traditional East style,
while the pricier one showed a different feel and lightness of
touch in its manufacture.
This difference in quality was perhaps a result of the
commercial symbiosis which had developed between workshops, who
would buy in movements from each other.
Another bracket clock which easily outstripped its estimate was
signed William Webster, Exchange Alley, London and
dated to the second quarter of the 17th century. This was in a
substantial walnut case, 17.5in (45cm) high, which had many
features found in cases used by the noted clockmaker John
Chief of these are the brass-bound mouldings, brass framings to
the doors and frets, and the chamfered case corners.
The break-arch dial had a silvered chapter ring, matted centre
with date and mock pendulum apertures, floral and foliate spandrels
and strike/silent ring in the arch. The twin fusee movement had
verge escapement, rack striking and trip repeat. Although clocks by
Webster do not command such high prices as those by Ellicott, the
quality of its case saw this example soar past its modest
£6000-8000 guide, selling to a collector on the phone for
Lantern clocks have been seeing something of a re-evaluation,
according to Mr Stratton. Certainly all eight here sold well. An
online UK collector took three, including the most expensive - a
rare First Period (1580-1640) striking example with early features
such as shallow floral engraving to the dial plate and filigree
frets rather than the later dolphin style.
As is often the case with lantern clocks of this age, it was
unsigned and had been converted from balance wheel to anchor
escapement. It sold at £22,000 (estimate 6000-8000).