Of mice and clocks

 

In his most recent blog, Oliver Cooke discussed watches and clocks without hands as indicators. Another example is the Mouse Clock, in which a mouse making its way up against a wooden board serves as time indicator. Its designer was inspired by the well-known nursery rhyme:

Hickere, Dickere Dock

A Mouse ran up the Clock,

The Clock Struck One,

The Mouse fell down,

And Hickere Dickere Dock.

The rhyme comes in various versions; this is the oldest, published in 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s_Pretty_Song_Book. Could it be based on a real event: a mouse hiding inside a longcase clock, panicking when it struck? In the literature I find only other explanations. One authority suggests it may be an onomatoplasm – an attempt to capture, in words, a sound; in this case, the sound of a ticking clock. Another relates it to the shepherds of Westmorland who once used ‘Hevera’ for ‘eight’, ‘Devera’ for ‘nine’ and ‘Dick’ for ‘ten’ when counting their flock.

The mouse ran up the clock (Woodcut from Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, 1744)

The mouse ran up the clock (Woodcut from Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, 1744)

 

The mouse ran up the clock (woodcut from unidentified publication, probably 18th-century)

The clock struck one, the mouse fell down (woodcut from unidentified publication, probably 18th-century)

 

Be that as it may, just over a century ago it inspired an American businessman, who was also an avid clock collector, named Elmer Ellsworth Dungan, to develop the Mouse Clock. He initially just created one for his daughter, who loved the nursery rhyme, but then decided to take them into production. He took out patents and various models were manufactured. They are nowadays prized by novelty clock collectors, so much so that we are warned to beware of  reproductions, especially for what one dealer calls ‘Chinese knockoffs’.

 

First model of the Mouse clock, 1909 (Photo courtesy Antique Clock Guy)

First model of the Mouse clock, 1909 (Photo courtesy Antique Clock Guy)

A later model of the Mouse clock. Photo Claphams National Clock Museum, New Zealand

A later model of the Mouse clock. Photo Claphams National Clock Museum, New Zealand

A modern Chinese reproduction version of the Mouse clock (photo courtesy Antique Clock Guy)

A modern Chinese reproduction version of the Mouse clock (photo courtesy Antique Clock Guy)

 

 

Details, including several images of the mechanism, and a link to an animated photo of the clock in operation, can be found on these American websites: Antique Clock Guy and Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. In 1966 the NAWCC published a booklet by Charles Terwilliger, Elmer Ellsworth Dungan and the Dickory, Dickory Dock Clock; there is a copy in the AHS Library at the Guildhall.

And speaking of mice and clocks, how about having some fun with the (grand)children with this on-line clock reading game. Read the time correctly and the mouse runs up safely to the cheese in the clock. Read it wrong and the cat gets the mouse.

 

Claphams National Clock Museum, New Zealand started with the private collection of  Archibald Clapham (1882–1963), whose sense of humour and his love for the unexpected or quirky is reflected in the type of clocks he collected. Not surprisingly, these included a Mouse clock (Photo courtesey Claphams National Clock Museum, New Zealand)

Claphams National Clock Museum, New Zealand started with the private collection of Archibald Clapham (1882–1963), whose sense of humour and his love for the unexpected or quirky is reflected in the type of clocks he collected. Not surprisingly, these included a Mouse clock (Photo courtesey Claphams National Clock Museum, New Zealand)

 

 

 

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