Among the clocks sold in London this summer, there were some of the glitziest and most expensive timekeepers to go under the hammer in recent times, many of them made for the Chinese market.
The ultimate exotic export timekeeper featured
Sotheby's Treasures sale on July 4. It was one of those
all-singing, all-dancing paste-set musical automaton clocks made in
the second half of the 18th century for export to the East where
they were known as 'Sing Songs'.
The principal automaton element in this instance
was a model of an Asian elephant whose trunk, ears and tail are all
articulated and can move in conjunction with a choice of six tunes,
while the canopied howdah is topped by a finial of typical
paste-set spinning Catherine wheel form.
The pachyderm is set on a rockwork base inset
with the clock dial, while the musical movement is contained in a
canted corner lower section applied with ormolu mounts.
This impressively sized 3ft 4in (1m) high
creation is signed by Peter Torckler, a figure about whom
relatively little is known beyond the fact that he is listed in
London trade directories in 1780-83 working in Clerkenwell,
London's clock and watchmaking district. He could also be the same
Peter Adolph Torckler born in Riga who arrived in Calcutta in 1795
and was a partner in the mercantile firm of Howell and
Torckler's elephant clock does have a grand
later provenance, however. As discussed when this clock last came
up for auction, at Bonhams in 2002, a card inscription that had
been inserted into the clock and was included with the lot this
time, recorded various repairs made by one Khawaja Mustafa,
clockmaker at the Imperial Qajar court, in the early decades of the
It is thought that the clock was probably
acquired by Naser Al-Din (1831-96), Qajar Shah of Persia.
When the clock was offered at Bonhams it had
been acquired by the vendor's mother in the 1960s from an antiques
dealer for whom she worked and who is thought to have purchased it
at an auction held in 1925 when the Pahlavi took over from the
Sotheby's vendor bought the clock at Bonhams for
£250,000. This time around it was put up for sale at a much higher
£1m-2m, a reflection of the huge increase in demand, principally
from the Far East, for Chinese-taste clocks and their subsequent
rise in value.
It found an Asian buyer at a mid-estimate
Having sold an Edward East longcase for £260,000
in May (see ATG No 2044)
Christie's added a second longcase by a notable Golden Age
horologist to their tally with a silver-mounted, ebony-cased
example by Johannes Fromanteel which was included in their July 5
Johannes, the son of Ahasuerus Fromanteel, was
apprenticed in 1651 but worked in the Hague with Salomon Coster,
where he studied the application of Huygens' newly invented
pendulum clock, a significant technological leap forward. His 6ft
2in (1.8m) high clock signed to the dial is fitted with a movement
of four latched and ringed pillars with bolt-and-shutter
It has unusually constructed barrels, possibly
later replacements and an early anchor escapement.
This piece was formerly in the celebrated Samuel
Messer Collection, sold by Christie's in 1991 when it was bought by
the London dealer Henry Phillips for £130,000. This time around it
came with an estimate of £300,000-£500,000, a pretty punchy guide,
perhaps, but a measure of how much top-end Golden Age clocks have
increased in value. It sold towards the lower end of that margin at
There were three other clocks included in the
Exceptional sale, all geared towards Far Eastern interest, being
either Chinese-made or Chinese market pieces and all exceeded their
They were a George III period, ormolu-cased
musical automaton table clock made by Henry Borrell c.1795 for the
Chinese market that realised £620,000 and two Chinese ormolu-cased
and paste-set clocks of Qianlong period made in the Guangzhou
workshops: a white marble double-gourd clock that went for £380,000
and a musical and automaton timepiece table clock with contemporary
European mechanisms that sold for £460,000.
The buyer's premium at both Sotheby's and
Christie's was 25/20/12%.