While there were plenty of high-end clocks on offer in the London auction rooms and fairs over the summer season, Bonhams were the only house to offer dedicated clock sales.
This culminated in their select 103-lot
offering on July 9 which majored on British material. It included
the rarest of the 'golden age' clocks offered this season, a Samuel
Knibb table clock, as well as a selection of other early bracket
clocks and longcases, some well-regarded later precision
timekeepers and one or two unusual entries along with some good
examples of British and Continental horological standards.
The 16¼in (41cm) high Samuel Knibb dated to
the third quarter of the 17th century was the highlight of their
sale for many reasons.
Not only was this a new discovery by one of
the earliest members of the Knibb family of clockmakers, but his
output is also scarce and illuminating. Based on the other four
known Samuel Knibb clocks, his work bears similarities to the work
of his contemporary, and the 'father' of the English pendulum
clock, Ahasuerus Fromanteel.
Bonhams would not say much about the origins
of their discovery beyond the fact that it had been consigned from
outside the EU but from a country with UK connections. It had
sustained some wear and tear over the course of its life,
principally to the ebony architectural case which had been entirely
covered in black paint at some point in the last century.
It would have originally had a turntable
base which was now missing, as were the brackets that secured the
original movement, but, as Bonhams specialist James Stratton
explained, on the plus side the movement was essentially all there
bar a couple of wheels.
Little had been done to it for "probably 100
years", he reckoned. The 8½in (21cm) square dial carried a clear
signature and was finely engraved to the spandrels with sprays of
summer flowers and a Tudor rose to the matted centre and retained
the original steel hands.
Anything that increases the known corpus of
a rare maker's work by an additional 20% has to be regarded as a
purchasing opportunity to be seized. The £200,000-300,000 estimate
was probably realistic rather than conservative or bullish.
On the day, Mr Stratton, who was the
auctioneer for the sale, opened the bidding at £120,000 and, after
some initial hesitancy from the room, the bidding set off with a
commission bid and two contestants in the room: Jonathan Carter of
Gloucestershire dealership Carter Wright and Darrell Dipper of
Winchester-based Gerald Marsh Antique Clocks.
They took the bidding to £380,000, at which
point the hammer fell down to Mr Carter.
Afterwards he told ATG that they were
thrilled to have bought what he deemed a seriously good clock and,
though it will need restoring, he confirmed Mr Stratton's opinion
on its original condition while adding that under the black paint
the state of the original case was also good.
The only other Knibb in Bonhams' sale was a
grand sonnerie longcase in a walnut marquetry case by Samuel's
cousin Joseph, whom he is thought to have taken on as an
apprentice. This had a good provenance to the Iden collection but
less in its favour was that it was catalogued as "17th century and
later". Bidding failed to meet the £60,000-80,000 guide and it was
There were rather more examples of the Knibb
family's work to be found in Sotheby's two July sales. Their Treasures
auction on July 3 featured a fine small 11½in (29cm) high ebony and
silver-mounted roman striking table clock by Joseph, c.1680 which
their specialist Jonathan Hills felt was of a quality to merit
inclusion in this select auction. It found a buyer at the lower end
of what was a pretty bullish £300,000-500,000 guide.
Sotheby's July 10 Arts of Europe sale the
following week had a further three Joseph Knibbs: two striking
table clocks of c.1685, one in an olivewood case, the other
ebonised, sold within estimation at £80,000 and £60,000
respectively, and a month-going longcase of the same period in an
associated and rebuilt case offered for sale by The George Daniels
Educational Trust made £68,000.
The buyer's premium at both Sotheby's and
Bonhams was 25/20/12%.