Published: July 24, 2007
A rare and important lantern clock, dating back to the reign of James I (1603‱625), was sold for $286,000 at Bonhams on June 19 †a world record price for a clock of this kind.
Made by William Bowyer in 1623, the brass clock was estimated to fetch between $60/100,000 at Bonhams’ sale of fine clocks. The sale of 110 clocks made a total of $1,085,635.
“This magnificent lantern clock is undoubtedly one of the finest still in private hands today,” explained James Stratton, director of Bonhams’ clocks and watches department. “The date of manufacture of 1623 puts it firmly in the first few years of the production of the type of timekeeper that has come to be known as the English lantern clock. Horologically speaking, the clock predates the pendulum, the anchor escapement and rack striking.
“In a wider context, James I was King of England, the Clockmakers Company had not yet been established and the English Civil War, the Fire of London and the Great Plague were decades away. The engraved side doors of this clock are the only pair known to have survived from this First Period, and offer us two of the most memorable engraved pieces of brass in horology. I was not that surprised by the price. We were expecting it to do well.”
Engraved with a “Memento Mori” (Remember your mortality) scene of a skeleton with Biblical reference and, on the other side, Chronus walking with his scythe, the clock’s decoration reflects society’s widespread preoccupation with mortality and the afterlife during the Seventeenth Century. Puritans of this time were highly preoccupied with Divine Judgment and the afterlife. The clock dates from this period, when salvation of the soul was at the forefront of many peoples’ thoughts and actions.
Timepieces were believed to be apt carriers of the Memento Mori meditation, reminding that time on earth grows shorter with each passing minute. Many public clocks would be adorned with mottos such as ultima forsan (“perhaps the last hour”) or vulnerant omnes, ultima necat (“they all wound, and the last kills”). Even today, many clocks carry the tempus fugit (“time flies”) legend.
Prices have been converted from British pounds to US dollars and include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.bonhams.com .
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