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PUBLISHED: 06:49 20 October 2014

Auctioneer Rebecca Mayhew in the sales room at Durrants Auction Room.

Picture: James Bass

Auctioneer Rebecca Mayhew in the sales room at Durrants Auction Room. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

When a person sees a collection of antique clocks, the first couple of questions invariably are: “Why clocks?” and “How long have you been collecting?” The how long is, of course, easy to answer, but the “why” can stump the collector. There is no simple or quick explanation to what is quite often a deep-rooted passion.

A rare lantern clock by Henry Child of London.A rare lantern clock by Henry Child of London.

Antique clocks offer a lot. They were in their time quite sophisticated scientific devices and were certainly individual – European monks made the first mechanical clocks in the 13th century. They were usually thought of as complex instruments, and were often made by prominent scientists or designed by mathematicians, astronomers or the top makers of the day. Not everyone could make clocks, in fact it required a seven-year apprenticeship and the making of a “masterpiece” to be granted the freedom to be able to make clocks and call yourself a journeyman or clockmaker. Clocks were, more or less hand built, and a good maker would only build a handful of clocks a year.

The primary function of a clock is, of course, to measure the passage of time, but antique clocks can tell the age of the Moon’s cycle and display its phase. They can show the day of the week, the month and the date. Clocks strike the hours, often the quarters and provide an alarm to wake by. Clocks can also show the times of high tide and play a melody or march at hourly intervals. They can even show the position of the planets in our solar system.

Clocks are, in essence, antiques in motion – the pendulum (a concept discovered by Galileo) on a longcase clock swings to and fro every second and it is eerie to think that this same pendulum may have been counting seconds for more than 300 years, still as accurately today as when it was first built.

Clocks represent the best in design through the ages, with their creators using the best materials made available to them. The dials were often elaborately engraved, some being silvered – well before electroplating was invented. Brass decoration was gilded to demonstrate the wealth and flamboyance of the times and the owner. Both cases and dials could be painted to illustrate country life, trade with the Chinese or voyages to the four continents. Almost all antique clocks were signed by the clockmaker, giving his name and the town where he made the clock.

Clocks are indeed fine antiques and represent many facets of history, and there is great joy to be had in researching both the clock and the maker. The early makers of fine antique clocks were themselves individuals with their creations being just as unique as the maker, for there are no two antique clocks that are the same.

As with all antiques, the value of clocks has fluctuated over the years, with today’s minimalistic lifestyles having a negative effect on the value of longcase clocks in particular so, as a collector, now is a relatively good time to buy. Smaller mantle clocks, carriage clocks and table clocks, particularly those with more complicated movements and more than one melody have kept their value reasonably well. And of course, as for all antiques it’s all in the name as well. For instance, clocks by the legendary Archibald Knox (whose 150th anniversary is this year) are always great sellers at auction.

Fortunately, there are many types of antique clock and many that are still affordable today for those who wish to start a collection.

For further information, contact Rebecca Mayhew on Rebecca.Mayhew@durrants.com; 01502 713490.

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