The engineer’s chronometer. William Wilson and the Adler.

 

dial

Last Summer I bought on eBay this fusee chain driven watch with detent escapement, dia 50mm, hallmarked Chester 1858, signed on the movement ‘William Benton of Liverpool, No. 5115’, and on the dial ‘Chronometer watch by William Benton 148 Park Road Liverpool’.

In the description of the watch, the seller had written ‘Opening below to reveal a highly decorated dust cover “Stephenson’s Rocket, Steam Train”, and clean fully working highly decorated “Steam Paddle Ship”.’

What the seller failed to point out is that the watch is inscribed on the dustcap ‘WILLM WILSON / LIVERPOOL / AD 1859’. It is my belief that this was the English engineer William Wilson (1809-1862), and that the locomotive illustrated on the watch is not the Rocket but the Adler (German for: Eagle),
the first locomotive successfully used commercially for the rail transport of passengers and goods in Germany.

The only known photograph of the Adler

The only known photograph of the Adler, built in 1835 and sold to a scrap dealer in 1850.

In 1835, George & Robert Stephenson in Newcastle were contracted by the Bavarian Ludwig railway company to build an engine for their first railway to run from Nuremberg to Furth. They sent the new locomotive packed in boxes, and their engineer William Wilson was contracted to rebuild it there. The train was a huge success and Wilson stayed with the Ludwig railway company for another twenty-five years, driving the train in all weathers. In 1859, William was covered in glory by the German railway company. In 1862 he died and was buried in Nuremberg, where his descendants are still living.

While Stephenson’s Rocket has only four wheels, the Adler had six wheels (wheel arrangement 2-2-2 in Whyte notation or 1A1 in UIC classification). The engraving on the watch shows a locomotive with six wheels. The image of the ship engraved on the watch may refer to the steamboat Hercules which in September 1835 had been used to transport the boxes containing the locomotive from Rotterdam on the Rhine to Cologne.

When in September last year I went to Nuremberg for the Ward Francillon Time Symposium, I arranged an appointment with Stefan Ebenfeld, the director of artefacts and library at the Museum of the German Railway (Deutsche Bahn Museum) in Nuremberg. It turned out that the museum had no personal artefacts of Wilson’s, and we agreed that the museum would buy the watch from me for the price I paid for it.

For anyone interested in more details, there are entries on William Wilson and the Adler on Wikipedia.

Allan C. Purcell

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Put down your pens. The Oxford Examinations School clocks.

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Located on the High Street, in the heart of Oxford, the Oxford Examinations School was built between 1876 and 1882 and made the reputation of its architect, Thomas Jackson, who incorporated materials from old buildings to construct the school. Among them, Christopher Wren’s pulpit from the Divinity School forms the Examiners throne in the North School, and many now regard the building to be Jackson’s masterpiece.

In 1883 Charles Shepherd (Jr) installed a master clock and slave system with 19 slaves. This was replaced with an expanded Gents master system, with 28 slave dials, in 1959. The current dials, which are some 30 inches across, are replacement dials, having possibly been installed along with the Gents system.

 

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Most of the original wooden housings of the slave clocks are still fitted with the old Shepherd terminals which connected the slave clock to the system. This is the only remaining evidence that there was once was a Shepherd clock system. However, the original Shepherd master and a slave clock are still around, and can now be found in the reserve collection of the History of Science Museum, Oxford.

 

 

The slave unit is described thus: “Slave unit to the Shepherd electric master clock (78037), the mechanism closely resembling that of the master. The slave unit receives the impulse every two seconds and moves the hands of the dial. The unit has two hands but no dial. Mounted on wooden board, with unfitted Perspex cover”.

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The Gents slave system still operates in the Examinations School even though Gents ceased the clock side of their business in 1999 and terminated the contract. The 28 slave dials are divided up into three sub circuits; one C73 and two C74 relay units, with a power supply, trickle charger and battery back-up.

At present, the whole system, (master and all slave clocks) is undergoing a major overhaul and service.

 

Author: Johan ten Hoeve

 

 

 

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Was there high-quality, wholesale, clock movement manufacture in seventeenth-century London?

There is a fascinating article in the latest edition of Antiquarian Horology, just starting to arrive through people’s letterboxes, setting out a remarkable research question which cries out for some crowdsourcing of data—hence this blog post. For those who don’t receive a physical journal, the editor has conveniently made it the sample article for this quarter. You can download it here.

Hands of a clock signed John Davis of Windsor, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.

Hands of a clock signed John Davis of Windsor, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.


The article updates and highlights an observation made forty years ago, that there are a host of common features observable on a range of late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century English clocks which, taken all together, suggest the movements may have originated from the same manufactory, despite being signed by a range of well-known makers.

Put simply, it is suggested a range of prominent makers (or perhaps retailers) bought in largely finished movements from a single source, and arranged for their casing/signature/final finishing.
This is clearly a very well-understood practice in the watch world from a relatively early date, and was certainly common practice in the clock world later on. For example, Thwaites produced movements for a wide range of other clockmakers and clockmaking firms, and on a large scale. The question remains, how early did this standard practice emerge, and is there sufficient physical evidence to allow us to draw firm conclusions?

Distinctive click-spring from a clock by Edward Burgis, c. 1695–1700

Distinctive click-spring from a clock by Edward Burgis, c. 1695–1700


Jon Parker has collaborated with a restorer and collector who have in turn spent decades documenting the evidence, identifying what they argue are a clearly observable set of designs for clock parts which are highly characteristic and suggestive of a common source. Jon has assembled an article that walks the reader through all these features, with clear illustrations of examples, allowing the reader to make comparisons with any clocks to which they have access. The features range from highly stylised features on the hour and minute hands, to details of hammer heads, and particular shapes of the lobes on back-cocks or hour bridges, or patterning such as the rings on set-up ratchets or count wheels, or the form of click-springs, and much more besides.

The key element is that Jon’s piece is a call to arms! More data is needed. And it is not difficult to look for it. This is a massively worthwhile project to support, and whatever the outcome, if you can supply data you can play a part in improving our understanding of clockmaking practice in London in the period 1660–1720. Please do get involved!

James Nye

Count wheel from a longcase signed John Aylward of Guildford, c. 1695.

Count wheel from a longcase signed John Aylward of Guildford, c. 1695.

Back cock on a longcase clock re-signed for Robert Seignior, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.

Back cock on a longcase clock re-signed for Robert Seignior, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.


Characteristic lozenge-shaped hour bridge, with bevelled edges, Aylward, c. 1695.

Characteristic lozenge-shaped hour bridge, with bevelled edges, Aylward, c. 1695.

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The second edition of Synchronome: Masters of Electrical Timekeeping

 

Synchronome cover, with previously unpublished photograph of Frank Hope Jones.

 

This post was written by Charles Ormrod.

Robert Miles’s landmark work, Synchronome: Masters of Electrical Timekeeping, sold out a few years after its original publication in 2011. Since then, copies of this highly sought-after book have been selling for several times the original cover price of £50. The AHS is therefore delighted to announce that a long-awaited second edition is now available, made to the same standards as the first, hard-backed and thread-bound, at a new low price of just £25 plus postage.

As a humble labourer in the vineyard of the second edition, assisting James Nye with administrative work but certainly not with Synchronome expertise, I’ve had a first-class opportunity to learn about the pitfalls of editing, proof-reading, and the finer points of book production.

The possibility of a second edition was mooted some years ago, and revisions to the first edition had been contributed by Bob Miles himself, Derek Bird, Norman Heckenberg, Arthur Mitchell and others. One of my first jobs was to combine these various sets of revisions into one document, eventually about eight A4 pages long, for presentation to the designer of the first edition, Phil Carr. Phil very generously made no charge for all the work of entering revisions into a new version of the original book’s electronic file.

Examples of the high-quality colour illustrations and diagrams found throughout the book.

 

Double-checking the changes and exploring disagreements between contributors led to many absorbing hours searching for clarification. I now know far more than I did about the history of sonar and the extent to which second-world-war sonar sound-pulses fell within an audible range (which depended on whether the listener was a fit young sailor or an old sea dog). I also learned about the Doppler effect on the sound of swinging tower-clock bells, the problems of reproducing the appearance of pre-war electrical flex, alternative cabinet-making methods applied to Synchronome cases, and the best method of setting up the suspension of a Synchronome pendulum.

The thread-binding machine at Short Run Press, printers of the second edition, with reels of thread showing at the top of the picture.

 

I must admit I hadn’t quite realised that high-quality hard-backed books, such as the first and second editions of Synchronome, really are still made by sewing groups of double pages together with thread. A machine does the sewing of course, but the principle is broadly the same as with the earliest surviving bound books of the eighth century. A thread-bound book is much easier to use than a glued paperback because the pages naturally fall flat when the book is opened, and thread-binding lasts far longer.

The late Bob Miles, photographed for the 2011 first edition.

 

This second edition of Synchronome: Masters of Electrical Timekeeping is dedicated to the memory of its author, who died earlier this year in the knowledge that work on a new edition was under way. The book is available to order on the AHS website via this link.

 

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The Unexpected Visitor

Jonathan Betts.
Almost exactly ten years ago I had John Harrison’s magnificent first marine timekeeper H1 in my workshop at the Royal Observatory. It was being dismantled for study, cataloguing and conservation for the new chronometer catalogue.
I had a film crew with me making a documentary, and they were becoming exasperated at constant interruptions to the filming. Finally another telephone call – a man was outside, asking if he could see me. Embarrassed, I assured the film team I would politely ask him to come back another time, but explained they had to come with me as I couldn’t leave them alone with H1.
Outside, the man apologised for arriving without warning and that he could come back if necessary. He introduced himself, offering his hand and just saying softly “Neil Armstrong”.
One of the film crew laughed and remarked “Ha! I bet with a name like that you get lots of requests for autographs!”, to which the unassuming gent simply replied: “I’m afraid I don’t do autographs”.
It was at that point that we collectively realised that we were indeed in the presence of history. Suffice to say, all anxieties about filming schedules melted away and we all returned to the workshop (but with film cameras firmly switched off!).
Armstrong had long been a Harrison fan and he and his golfing friend Jim, hearing on the grapevine about the H1 research, had taken a detour from a sporting trip to Scotland, to make a pilgrimage to Greenwich.
Neil Armstrong with the H1, 2009

Neil Armstrong with the H1, 2009

For a wonderful hour or so we discussed Harrison and his first pioneering longitude timekeeper and it was clear Armstrong’s reputation was correct – reserved, yet of great intelligence and hugely well-informed; in short, a thoroughly nice man and not at all the showman one imagines when thinking of lunar astronauts.
I always asked visitors to sign my Visitors Book, but understood when Armstrong explained “if you don’t mind, I’ll do it in capitals”.
 
Hearing that Harrison’s second prototype timekeeper, H2, would be next for research in the coming year, Armstrong returned and I spent a little more time with him, getting to know him a little better and was privileged to learn more of the Apollo 11 mission, from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
As he and Jim left on that occasion I asked Jim to sign my book again, and as they got back into their car, Jim whispered to me “I think you’ll find Neil signed properly this time too”.
And indeed he had, something I shall always treasure.
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Star Of The Show

Trepenhausautomat by Faul Firchow, Berlin, c.1905

Trepenhausautomat by Faul Firchow, Berlin, c.1905

At the Mannheim electric clock fair, now in its twentieth year, one unusual item usually attracts a lot attention.

This year (2019) was no exception. The images show an early form of German ‘treppenhausautomat’, loosely a ‘staircase lighting timer’. Lighting, and therefore electricity consumption, has always been expensive.

An intriguing question, worthy of some serious research, is the economic justification for the complicated (and also expensive) electro-mechanical devices used (late 19th/early20th C) to reduce consumption.

 

 

General arrangement view showing clock movement to the top and lighting control motor below

General arrangement view showing clock movement to the top and lighting control motor below

In large houses, or multiple-occupancy blocks, it’s always made sense to add press-button switches to control stairwell lighting—the lamps remaining lit for a set period before being switched off.

Modern switches incorporate integrated circuits, but for a long-time such devices used a pendulum clock as the timebase.

 

 

 

 

 

Dial arrangement, with variable contacts to control the lights

Dial arrangement, with variable contacts to control the lights

The object here dates to c.1905, and was sold by Paul Firchow Nachfolger, from 3 Belle-Alliance-Strasse in Berlin. The clock mechanism is a standard volume production element, unsigned, and perhaps from Lenzkirch.

The hands are arranged to carry an adjustable set of contacts which will make a circuit, naturally for night hours, but with the capacity to set the operating hours (accommodating seasonal variations).

 

 

 

 

 

Top view of the motor, and variable width drum, through which the circuit flows for 3 minutes

Top view of the motor, and variable width drum, through which the circuit flows for 3 minutes

Assuming it is night (dial circuit closed), pressing a push-button in the stairwell will activate the motor below the clock, which in turn will revolve the drum.The drum has brass (conductive) sides, embraced by brass slide contacts.

The drum has a narrowed section, and when this arrives between the (wider) contacts, the circuit is broken.

The cycle lasts around three minutes.

The top panel shows ceramic entry ports for various cables: knöpfe (push-buttons), power, lampen (lamps), and two set of widerstand (resistance). The machine will switch 110V and up to 18 amps, so a significant load is possible.

 

 

View of standard volume-produced clock movement

View of standard volume-produced clock movement

 

The clock is a forerunner of more typical, volume-produced ‘black boxes’, but its complex form (and by inference its high cost) is a strong signifier of the importance placed upon saving money and controlling power use.

 

Author, Dr James Nye.

 

 

Top view of the case, showing the marked cable-entry points

Top view of the case, showing the marked cable-entry points

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The Typography Of Revival Watches

Until recently, there had been little research carried out on the typography of wristwatch dials. However, over the past decade, the increased interest in collectable vintage wristwatches appears to have sparked the interest of brands and collectors alike. While wristwatch collectors’ focus has largely been on the variations in logo, layout and content of vintage wristwatch dials, interdisciplinary designer Lee Yuen-Rapati has taken a critical look at the typefaces used, and typographic decisions made, by watchmakers. His Masters dissertation, titled ‘Motivating Factors In The Trends Of Horological Typography,’ formed the basis of an AHS Wristwatch Group talk at The Clockworks in April.

Lee Yuen-Rapati at The Clockworks, April 28, 2019.

Lee Yuen-Rapati at The Clockworks, April 28, 2019.

Lee’s research covered clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, and looked at type and numerals used on the dials, identifying various themes and typographic pitfalls that appeared to be specific to wristwatches. His research included interviews with brands and independent watchmakers about their typographical decisions, the typefaces they use and the importance of type design to their brand.

His talk focused on the typography of contemporary wristwatches that had revived distinct vintage or antiquarian styles. Highlights included the use of system (or default) fonts by high end watch manufacturers, the technical limits of pad printing, the benefits and traps of modern processes involved in dial design (such as the digital workspace) and inconsistent choices made by watch brands when reviving older designs. Examples of recent wristwatches from Longines, Nomos and Stowa were used to illustrate these themes.

As a codicil, Lee discussed recent advances in dial printing, such as the use of physical vapour deposition on the zirconium ceramic dials of the Charles Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer, suggesting that this technology might be taken up by other watch manufacturers, necessitating an increased focus on typographical principles and design choices.

Mat Craddock, AHS Wristwatch Group

Follow The AHS on Instagram @thestoryoftime

Lee Yuen-Rapati: @onehourwatch

Mat Craddock: @the_watchnerd

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Dreaming of a clock in the slums of Paris

 

Every clock that left the workshop or factory on its way to a buyer has, we may assume, been coveted by and, we may hope, given satisfaction to its owner. But most of this goes unrecorded, and where traditional non-fiction sources are silent, we may find some glimpses in fiction.

 

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For vivid descriptions of the life of the workers in nineteenth-century France one can do worse than turn to the wonderfully naturalistic novels of Emile Zola (1840-1902). The book that shot him to fame in 1877 was L’Assommoir; below I quote from the most recent English translation: The Drinking Den, Penguin Classics 2000 rev. 2003, translator Robin Buss. The novel depicts in graphic style the rise and fall of Gervaise Macquart, who worked as a laundress in Paris during the period 1850 to 1870. There are scenes of abject poverty and alcohol is a key character in the story; but there are also comical scenes and uplifting passages. It is a masterpiece. As one author has put it:

‘L’Assommoir is set in the dirt and filth of working class Paris, where life was hard and lives depressingly short. He researched in great detail the impoverished quarter of which he wrote, so that the work is an ethnographic novel and probably the first of its kind’.

In the poor household of the young Gervaise, a chest of drawers takes pride of place:

‘One of her dreams, which she did not dare mention to anyone, was to have a clock to put on it, right in the middle of the marble top – the effect would be quite splendid. Had it not been for the baby that was on the way, she might have risked buying her clock, but as it was she put if off until later, with a sigh.’ (p. 97).

Three years go by before she is able to act on her desire:

‘She had bought herself a clock; and even then this timepiece, a rosewood clock with twisted columns and a copper gilt pendulum, had to be paid off over a year, at the rate of five francs every Monday. She got cross when Coupeau [her husband] said he would wind it up, because only she was allowed to take off the glass globe and religiously wipe the columns, as though the marble top of her chest of drawers had been transformed into a chapel. Under the glass cover, behind the clock, she hid the savings book. And often, when she was dreaming about her shop, she would sit there, miles away, in front of the dial, staring at the turning hands, for all the world as if she was waiting for some particular, solemn moment before she made up her mind.’ (p. 108).

 

This clock closely matches the description of the clock that was so important to the laundress Gervaise Macquart in Zola’s  L’Assommoir (The Drinking Den). Dimensions: width 29 cm, height 66 cm, depth 19 cm. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Antiquités Dubois, Antiquaire généraliste, 29 rue Jean Jaurès, Nantes 44000.

This clock closely matches the description of the clock that was so important to the laundress Gervaise Macquart in Zola’s L’Assommoir (The Drinking Den). Dimensions: width 29 cm, height 66 cm, depth 19 cm. Photo reproduced by kind permission of Antiquités Dubois, Antiquaire généraliste, 29 rue Jean Jaurès, Nantes 44000.

The clock without its glass dome but with its gilt pendulum

The clock without its glass dome but with its gilt pendulum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘dreaming about her shop’ refers to her ambition to make herself independent and set up her own laundry, which indeed she eventually manages to do. Life looks good, she even entertains a large group to a celebratory dinner in the laundry shop.

But it was not to last, and as her life goes in a downward spiral, Gervaise is forced to bring one possession after another to the pawnbroker. She puts a brave face on it:

‘Only one thing broke her heart and that was putting her clock in pawn, to pay a twenty-franc bill when the bailiff came with a summons. Up to then, she had sworn she would starve rather than part with her clock. When Mother Coupeau [her mother in law] took it away in a little hat box, she slumped into a chair, her arms dangling, tears in her eyes, as though her whole fortune had been taken away’. (p. 279).

There is more horology in this novel. She also has a cuckoo clock, which would have been a much less valuable object, but it is never described in detail. Neither is the watch which only once makes an appearance, on the day that she is forced to put it in pawn as well:

‘The little knick-knacks had faded away, starting with the ticker, a twelve-franc watch, and the family photographs.’ (p. 384).

There is also a watchmaker who plays a small role in the story. In the courtyard of the tenement house where she lives are various workshops and shops, including – for a while – her own laundry shop:

‘At the bottom of a hole, no larger than a cupboard, between a scrap-iron merchant and a chip shop, there was a watchmaker, a decent-looking gentleman in a frock-coat, who was continually probing watches with tiny tools, at a bench where delicate things slept under glass covers while, behind him, the pendulums of two or three dozen tiny cuckoo clocks were swinging at once, in the dark squalor of the street, in time to the rhythmical hammering from the farrier’s yard’ (p. 134).

Literary critics may argue that in fiction, clocks and watches are often introduced as symbols, and that therefore novels do not necessarily give a realistic image of the ownership of clocks and watches. Be that as it may, the story of the struggling laundress Gervaise Macquart, who dreamed of owning an ornamental clock and managed to bring one into her poor home, only to have to part with it again, feels very real indeed.

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Mr Satori fuses Quartz

This post was written by Tabea Rude, Vienna Museum.

 

Around one hundred years ago, on May 15th 1918, the newly founded, not yet opened Vienna clock museum receives a generous present: a clock movement fitted with a fused Quartz pendulum rod. It is installed in a most prominent position: right next to the entrance, in a case with a fully glazed front. Visible to every passer-by, it draws attention to the narrow house with its hidden treasures in the heart of Vienna.

Vienna City clock museum

Vienna City clock museum

This donation was the beginning of a long lasting correspondence between the clock museum’s director Rudolf Kaftan and the engineer, donor and inventor Karl Satori.

Correspondence card from Satori to the museum director Kaftan (front)

Correspondence card from Satori to the museum director Kaftan (front)

Correspondence card from Satori to the museum director Kaftan (back): ‘Dear Professor, Thank you very much for your post card and the message that my Quartz pendulums are working very well. I wish you happy holidays and hope to see you soon. I will bring you the promised photography personally. With best wishes, engineer Karl Satori’

Correspondence card from Satori to the museum director Kaftan (back): ‘Dear Professor, Thank you very much for your post card and the message that my Quartz pendulums are working very well. I wish you happy holidays and hope to see you soon. I will bring you the promised photography personally. With best wishes, engineer Karl Satori’

 

 

 

Originally from Hungary, Karl Satori is first mentioned in the proceedings of the international electrical society (Internationale Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft) in Vienna aged 24, explaining Lorentz electron theory. In the following years he delves into astronomical observation and planetary documentation and builds up professional relationships in the astronomy scene.

 

Satori’s drawings of the planet Mars in 1898-1899

Satori’s drawings of the planet Mars in 1898-1899

 

Soon he joins the international astronomical society and files his first patent in 1903: An electrical rewind system for clocks.
His professional career blossoms, allowing him to invest in his own private observatory in Vienna. Around the same time, he is also given the opportunity by the Vienna electricity works to build up his own laboratory and to equip the Viennese Urania observatory with an electric time system which synchronized all public clocks in Vienna. This supplies the time signal as so called ‘Urania-Zeit’ to all telephone owners.

Electric time system synchronising Vienna public clocks

Electric time system synchronising Vienna public clocks

 

The clock room in the Urania observatory

The clock room in the Urania observatory

 

Besides his involvement in astronomy and several other clock related patents, he was also very keen in exploring pendulum materials and different methods of air pressure and temperature compensation. Recognizing the unfortunate jumps steel pendulum rods experience during temperature changes and their reaction to magnetic fields, he experiments with fusing Quartz into seconds pendulum rods. In 1912 he files his patent of the Quartz pendulum.

The Quartz pendulum as advertised in the ‘Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde’ September 1913

The Quartz pendulum as advertised in the ‘Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde’ September 1913

 

One year later he opens his own precision workshop for mechanics and clock making. Satori expands, fuses Quartz, files patents and ensures that the Vienna clock museum is placed to show the most cutting edge Viennese horological technology of its time.

 

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Redisplaying the York automaton clock

This post was written by Daniela Corda

 

Hercules, hour strike reassembly (photo  courtesy of York Museums Trust)

Hercules, hour strike reassembly (photo courtesy of York Museums Trust)

 

Over summer 2018, Matthew Read, Director, Bowes Centre, and I were commissioned to condition survey, part disassemble, pack for transportation, and reassemble an eighteenth-century automaton clock on behalf of York Museums Trust.

York automaton clock (photo  courtesy of York Museums Trust)

York automaton clock (photo courtesy of York Museums Trust)

 

Originally assembled during the 1780s, this highly ornate clock was most likely designed for the export market and – although unsigned – has long been attributed to the London inventor James Cox (c.1723-1800).

The compilation of written and photographic condition surveying helped update museum records, inform current and future care, and outline operation options.

Pop-up conservation workshop, The Burton Gallery, York Art Gallery (photo courtesy of York Museums Trust)

Pop-up conservation workshop, The Burton Gallery, York Art Gallery (photo courtesy of York Museums Trust)

Reassembling the two main movements (photo courtesy of York Museums trust)

Reassembling the two main movements (photo courtesy of York Museums trust)

 

In its new permanent location in the Burton Gallery at York, the clock is on open display for the first time. Preventive measures were taken during reassembly such as the insertion of Melinex® film behind the case frets to restrict dust entering the case.

Under normal operation, the clock performs a 360-degree audio-visual show that includes rotating glass rods simulating waterfalls; automata pastoral scenes; spinning stars; jewelled contra-rotating flowers, and dancing cast-figures. In addition, the clock plays a sequence of seven melodies on a nest of eleven bells, striking the quarters too.

A detailed treatment report from York Castle Museum, dated 1982, indicates the clock has undergone many repairs, alterations and layers of reinterpretation, including the replacement of a pipe organ with a nineteenth-century Swiss musical box mechanism.

In its present state the clock has six main functions:

  1. Clock mechanism: indicating hours, minutes, seconds, 1/5th seconds, date and age of the moon
  2. Quarter striking
  3. Hour striking
  4. Automaton musical train
  5. Automaton drive mechanism
  6. Swiss musical box

The majority of these dynamic elements are able to function, thanks to major renovation upon the object’s acquisition in 1974. So, although the clock can run, the overriding question is; should the clock run?

As the single dynamic historic object on show at the Gallery, running the clock adds tangible and intangible value for visitors, but comes at the cost of further cumulative damage. The present arrangement is to run the clock’s main movement, authorising the ticking sound, the hour and the quarter striking, but only to operate the automata elements at scheduled times.

Digitisation methods are being considered to build into wider conservation plans. Following prior research into microcontroller electronics, this object can benefit from implementing digital strategies such as recording audio aspects, reversibly relieving the mechanical movement from operation, and therefore wear, without experiential losses.

This ostensibly straightforward project highlighted inevitable emotional, mechanical, philosophical and conservation collections care questions. The clock can be seen at York Art Gallery with automaton demonstrations on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 14.00.

 

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