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Collections / Original collections / Watches, clocks / Curious Clocks
Curious Clocks

Clocks - The Basics
History of the Wristwatch
Curious Clocks
On Collecting Clocks.

Antique Clocks
 Private collections of this section

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Their ingenuity mechanised the sundial and made it possible to tell the time in the dark. Later, instruments of greater accuracy appeared. It was Yorkshire clockmaker John Harrison who invented an accurate timekeeping mechanism for use at sea. Harrison`s 18th century chronometer was the first clock to keep regular time on a ship being buffeted on stormy oceans, helping make Britain ruler of the seas in the days of Empire. The clocks we are going to tell you about may not be so scientifically accurate as to make them the most important of such instruments, but are collectable because of their sheer ingenuity and curiosity value. They are novelty clocks that can still occasionally pop up at antique and collectors` fairs, though perhaps not quite so often as they once did. They are priced more reasonably for the average person`s pocket than are the scientific wonders produced by the world`s top horologists. Their owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, picked most of them up for the proverbial song. They came from private houses, collectors fairs, and antique shops.

Telling the time in the middle of the night was always difficult in the days when electric illumination was not widespread. It meant that one had to get out of or lean out of bed to light a gas jet, or perhaps a candle. However, some bright spark invented a clock that depended upon the early electric dry battery to answer this problem. The clock roughly resembled a model brass cannon. Its barrel contained a lens that allowed the illuminated clock face to be focussed to shine on to the bedroom ceiling or wall. The clock, conveniently placed on a bedside table, has a treen push button switch at the end of a short length of cable - long enough to be operated from the comfort of the beg Prior to climbing between the sheet. It was necessary to focus the lens and check out the aim was correct.

Another strange clock in the collection is a Davidson`s Patent Automatic Memorandum Clock, which appeared around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and was produced by John Davidson. As the name suggests, this wooden-cased clock was designed to serve as an aide-memoire. The clock case contained a normal clock mechanism behind a clearly designed standard white enamelled face. There was also a battery compartment for the dry battery that operated a bell alarm. On top of the cabinet, above the clock face, was an ornate casket with a lift-up lid. Opening the lid reveals a horizontal enamel clock-face. This is fixed in the centre of a horizontal turntable working from the clock`s mechanism. All around it, radiating outwards from the dial, are GO sloth - one for every minute of the hour. These clocks were designed to accept specially made bone tablets upon which a message could, if necessary, be pencilled. A tablet could be placed in the slot corresponding to the desired time. When this arrived, the tablet would drop through a slot, its weight tripping a switch to cause the electric bell to ring!

A brass-cased Gravity Clock came from Germany in the early part of the 20th century. The clock itself was designed to slide up and down two vertical pillars. To wind up the mechanism the clock was pushed to the top of the Supporting pillars. Its weight caused it to steadily slide down the two pillars, thus activating its mechanism. Its pendulum, visible through die glass dial, kept swinging until the clock reached the base of the support. To rewind the clockwork the clock was again raised to the top of the pillars to start its slow descent all over again. A real curiosity!

The Victorian and the Edwardians, enjoyed buying such mechanical novelities. Another interesting German clock incorporated a running water fountain in which spring water pours from a traditional lion`s head spouting into a trough. Well, that is the illusion intended, though a revolving spiralled glass rod effectively imitates the falling water effect. The rod stretches straight front the lion`, mouth to the basin and is turned by a separate clockwork motor. The effect is quite realistic.

The Germans had always been noted for mechanical novelties. Their carved wooden cuckoo clocks, made in the Black Forest area, became a world-famous product. The Germans were also fond of making clocks in the form of smallish seated dogs with large eyes. Large because their eyes needed to be seen in order to tell the time they recorded. No traditional dials for these types of clock, their eyes told the time! Twelve divisions radiate from the pupil of each eyeball, which slowly revolve independently, turned by the clockwork mechanism within the head. Each division is numbered, the right eye indicating hours, the left showing the pausing minutes. Two examples were in the collection, one carved from wood, the other, a slightly smaller version, moulded from hard composition, probably towards die end of the 1930s.

More expensive horological novelties offer a variety of actions ranging from pocket watches with moving figures to musical clocks. Their higher value is brought about by the intricacy of the workmanship entailed in their production. Marvellous musical bracket-clocks were popular. A Victorian example I was shown, could not only strike the hours but offered a selection of melodies played on a number of timed bells. The melodies included Evening Hymn Sicilian Mariners` Hymn, Portuguese Hymn, Old 100th Psalm, Ye Banks and Braes, Rule Britannia, and, naturally enough, being an item of Victoriana, God Save the Queen. A small dial on the clock face shows this selection of melodies and a pointer is rotated by hand to pick out the tune required. Another dial and pointer permit the choice of Strike or Silent. This particular clock has three mechanisms - one for the business of time-keeping, one for striking, and the third for operating the musical bells.

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