Many in the art world will know of Professor E. T. ‘Teddy’ Hall through his work in archaeometry, the science used to establish the age and origins of much of the world’s ancient art and artefacts, using tests such as thermoluminescence.
Professor Hall made global headlines as the man who used his testing methods at the archaeology and history of art research laboratory, which he established at Oxford University in 1955, to expose the Piltdown Man ‘fossils’ as having been stained to appear ancient and to date the Turin Shroud to the medieval era.
But this famous scientist and inventor, who died in 2001, was less well known as a horological enthusiast. His Oxford home was filled with different clocks and other timekeepers and this week his collection will have its first public airing when 50-odd lots go under the hammer at Christie’s King Street on Friday, July 11 immediately after the auctioneers’ mixed-owner sale of clocks.
The clocks and scientific instruments in the Professor Hall sale range from a rare early 18th century longcase regulator by Thomas Tompion that features sidereal and mean time, estimated at £150,000-250,000, to a brass mahogany and marble rolling ball clock by Dent dated 1973 (estimate £800-1200). There is also an orrery and a planetarium and even a Swiss version of the famous Enigma coding machine. Other horological highlights include an English early 18th century clock by Joseph Williamson which is rare in showing only solar time (estimate: £20,000-30,000) and the astronomical skeleton clock pictured right, made by James Gorham, London c.1835, for the mathematician John Herapath that not only displays mean and sidereal time but also drives a terrestrial and celestial globe, estimated at £120,000-180,000.
Other precision clocks include a highly complex German mahogany cased electric wall regulator made by Sigmund Riefler of Munich and dated 1913 which was made for the Royal Belgian Observatory at Uccle, estimated at £40,000-60,000, but perhaps the ultimate illustration of Professor Hall’s passion for precision timekeeping is The Littlemore Clock, the electro pendulum clock which he made himself with a view to obtaining the ultimate in accuracy. This was achieved by laying a 12-ton concrete bed beneath a layer of polystyrene to minimise vibration in his garden in Oxford, and the Professor achieved an accuracy rate of one second in 25 years.
The Littlemore Clock will not be included in the sale on the 11th, instead it is offered for sale by private tender with written offers to be submitted to Christie’s clock department by July 18.