What: When it comes to antique clocks, those crafted by the great English makers of the 17th and 18th centuries are generally considered to be without peer. The market for the most desirable English antique clocks is largely confined to the “golden era” of clockmaking, which began after the invention of the pendulum in 1658. The pendulum revolutionised accuracy and made clocks into must-have objects among royalty and the aristocracy, most of whom turned to great London makers such as Thomas Tompion, Daniel Quare, Henry Jones and Joseph Knibb to build them the finest possible timekeepers. As clocks were now showpieces as much as a means of telling the time, they required cases to complement the fine furnishings beside which they would be displayed – as a result, the best examples combine quality horology and cabinetmaking.
Need to know: The most collectable English antique clocks were made between the late 1650s and the mid-18th century and are generally of the long case (“grandfather”), table or bracket type, although “lantern” clocks – square, wall-mounted clocks topped by a large bell – are also popular and can be valuable. Originality is key and the quality of the mechanism should be matched by that of the cabinet that surrounds it. The most sought after examples by the top London makers are eagerly pursued by collectors and in 2003 a Tompion table clock with a turtle shell case fetched £901,600 at Sotheby’s, setting a European record for an English clock at auction. Prices for pieces by the best makers have remained consistently strong for the past decade.
Top tips: The majority of good quality English antique clocks are signed by the maker, meaning research into individual examples can be relatively straightforward. In all cases, ensure that the mechanism and the case began life together and judge the clock by how well the two complement one another. Note, however, that even the finest clock cabinets are often rough-hewn on the inside – a crude internal finish does not necessarily indicate a poor clock. Clocks made by lesser-known London makers can be of extremely high quality yet are often relatively more affordable than “premier league” examples – and those made by the best provincial makers are less expensive still, with prices starting from as little as £1,500.
Pitfalls: Lack of knowledge and lack of research represent the biggest pitfalls to clock buying. The inexperienced should seek professional advice and look at a large number of clocks before committing.
Forthcoming sale: Tuesday (September 6). Dreweatts, Donnington Priory, Donnington, Berks. +44 (0) 1635 553 553 Online catalogue: www.dnfa.com/donnington
Renowned dealer: Raffety and Walwyn Ltd, 79 Kensington Church Street, London W8. + 44 (0) 20 7938 1100 www.raffetyantiqueclocks.com
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