Movements in the Traditional Clock Market

Lonsdale Tompion clock

 Source Carter Marsh & Co.

The sometimes staid market for English horology ended 2015 on a high with the dispersal of two major collections – one sold via a successful trade exhibition, the other at auction in London.

The £15m collection of Golden Age clocks formed by Channel Islands businessman Tom Scott (1944-2012) was arguably the finest of its type – boasting 47 items with direct links to the ‘father of English clock making’ Thomas Tompion (1639-1713) and his successor, George Graham (1673-1751). Christie’s proposed to disperse it from the rostrum but instead the Scott family chose dealership Carter Marsh and an innovative pitch to sell across a five-month period beginning with Masterpiece London in July and then at exhibitions in the quintessential English cathedral city of Winchester.

When this, the best British trade exhibition of the year, closed in late November, the final numbers made impressive reading. Of the 110 items in the collection, only 14 will be returned to the client. Invoices were issued to buyers from the UK, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. 

A trio of grande-sonnerie Tompions

Medici Tompion clock


The Medici Tompion, an ebony and gilt-brass mounted grande-sonnerie table clock presented by William III to Cosimo de Medici, sold for a price in the region of £4,5m by Carter Marsh as part of the Tom Scott collection. Source: Antiques Trade Gazette

Certainly some of the clocks in the softer middle market were priced to sell. However, in other cases the Scott dispersal has gone some way to redress the disparity between the sometimes modest sums paid for early English clocks and the huge figures commanded by the best 20th century wristwatches.

The centrepiece of the Scott collection was an extraordinary trio of grande-sonnerie table clocks striking both the quarter and the hour (or 4992 chimes a week). Tompion made just 13 of them across his career.

The Medici Tompion, an ebony and gilt-brass mounted grande-sonnerie c.1696 presented by William III to Cosimo de Medici, was last sold in 2007 when the asking price was £2.25m. Ticketed this time at £4,5m, it sold to a US collector.

This is the sort of price inflation few traditional European furnishings can claim, but there is new blood buying at the top end of the clock market. Also sold were a second grande-sonnerie made for Leopold I c.1704 priced at £2.6m and the Lonsdale Tompion, a miniature table clock c.1683, for a price in the region of £1.35m. Just 7½in (19cm) high, it is one of a harlequin pair of metal case table clocks (its twin being in the Fitzwilliam Museum) and it may not be fanciful to speculate the pair was made for Charles II and Nell Gwynn. 

Happy returns for Ramsay

David Ramsay 17th Century Astronomical verge watch

Source: Sotheby’s

Last on the market in 1995 when it sold for £25,000 at Sotheby’s, an early 17th century astronomical verge watch by David Ramsay (c.1585-c.1653) fetched a quadruple-estimate £989,000 when it returned to the same rooms on December 15. It was part of a private collection formed over the past 20 years charting the history of British watchmaking. Signed David Ramsay Scotte Me Fecit, it is one of two timekeepers (the other in the V&A) thought to have been made for James I c.1618. The movement includes provisions for the months and signs of the zodiac, the day with ruling planet, the lunar planet and the planet hour while the engraving to the covers by Gérard de Heck (fl. 1608-29) includes a portrait of the Stuart king.

Another notable sale, the Lonsdale Tompion, a miniature table clock with blued steel and brass case c.1683 – sold for a price in the region of £1.25m by Carter Marsh as part of the Tom Scott collection.

About the Author:

Roland Arkell is the Contributing Editor at ATG Media. For almost two decades, Roland has been writing about the British and international art and antiques market for Antiques Trade Gazette, the leading publication for serious buyers and sellers of art and antiques.