£16,500 clock adds to the maker’s – and seller’s reputation: THE Dent family of clockmakers have achieved lasting fame as the builders of the clock mechanism for St Stephen’s Tower – known to tourists worldwide as Big Ben. But it was not just on the grand scale that they excelled.
Carriage clocks by the Victorian firm are among the best there are and there was a very good one at the February sale held by Gardiner Houlgate – horology being another subject for specialist sales at the Bath rooms in addition to musical instruments and 20th century ceramics. Quality finds a buyer at any time. Fitting the bill at Bath was a 71/2in (19cm) high carriage consigned for sale by a descendant of its original owner. Numbered 1391, it included a Dent patent brass and steel chronometer balance and a single fusee movement. It was signed to the back plate F Dent 61 Strand and 34 Royal Exchange London for Frederick Dent who completed the Big Ben project after his stepfather Edward John Dent died in 1853.
The 3in (7.5cm) circular white dial within a foliate-engraved
surround was also signed and included a subsidiary seconds dial, while to the base was an engraved ownership inscription Henry Draper, Kenilworth, October 1856.
In fine condition in its morocco leather travelling case (there was a little spotting to the gilding and the front glass was possibly a replacement), it appeared on the market for the first time since new with the £5000-7000 estimate the vendor had been quoted by one of the London rooms.
Naturally, Nicholas Houlgate – who had held up the catalogue print run to shoehorn it into the sale – was delighted to see the clock go at £16,500 to the specialist trade, and was of the opinion that the vendor had made a wise choice in auction houses.
This was the 24th specialist sale for the Bath rooms who make a virtue of not trying to emulate the London rooms and sweeping up the sort of meat and potatoes material that might by sniffily received in Bond Street.
With more than 700 lots, these sales are always a decent litmus test and this one seemed to confirm the general impression that clocks and watches are standing steadier than most in the winds of recession.
Mr Houlgate estimated over 70 per cent of the watches had sold and more than 80 per cent of the clocks, “very much better than last year” – evidence that the market had moved a few per cent in the right direction in recent months. Of around 40 longcases only four failed to sell (and three of those were re-entries from previous sales).
Singled out for attention was a once-great early 18th century lacquered three-train longcase with a 13in (33cm) brass arched dial signed for Henry Thornton of London.
Probably in the Edwardian period this George I clock had been ‘improved’, its massive 8ft 4in (2.50m) red lacquer case over-painted in black lacquer and its five-pillar movement (previously with a tune selector) fitted with a Cambridge chime.
The estimate of £2500-3500 reflected the need for serious restoration before this becomes a £25,000 clock, but more than one dealer was happy to take on the project. It sold at £6800 to a specialist who confirmed it was going straight to the workshop.
Popular for its small size – 6ft 3in (1.90m) high – and its clean, honest condition, a mahogany eight-day by Thomas Baker of Devizes with a 12in (30cm) square painted dial and broken swan neck pediment trebled hopes at £2600.
Making £850 was a single-fusee skeleton clock by W.J. Ray (numbered 1) with a five-spoke wheel and a silvered chapter dial, 141/2in (37cm) high, while a mahogany-cased double-fusee drumhead clock applied with floral mounts and signed to the silvered dial Widenham 13 Lombard Street London, brought £680.
Selling at £1650 (estimate £500-1000) was a double-fusee drop dial wall clock with a 12in (30cm) convex enamel dial housed within a boxwood and brass line inlaid mahogany case. This was a strong price given the need for extensive casework: the buyer was presented with a carrier bag of brass lines along with his purchase.
A mahogany stick barometer by Hughes of London with a bowfront case banded with ebony and with an urn-shaped cistern cover brought £3400 while, with some condition issues, an oak single-train tavern clock, 4ft 8in (1.42m) high with a 20in (50cm) wooden dial signed Allkins, Horncastle over a crossbanded door, sold below hopes at £2000.
Gardiner Houlgate, Bath
Lots offered: 707 Lots sold: 538
Sale total: n/a
Buyer’s Premium: 15 per cent