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Home Headlines The John C Taylor Collection – Part III: An Inventor’s Passion for Time

The John C Taylor Collection – Part III: An Inventor’s Passion for Time

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd

In their 75th anniversary year, Carter Marsh & Co present the world’s most significant private collection of English clocks at Masterpiece 2022 and Winchester

Founded in 1947, Carter Marsh & Co are celebrating 75 years in antique horology. Now considered something of a Winchester institution, Carter Marsh have been fortunate to handle some of the world’s most important and seminal English clocks and watches, which continues today with The John C Taylor Collection – Part III.

This important Selling Exhibition starts in June with Highlights from the John C Taylor Collection at the rejuvenated Masterpiece London Art Fair 2022, and then transfers to Carter Marsh & Co’s Winchester showrooms during July:

  • 30th June – 6th July 2022: Highlights from the John C Taylor Collection at stand 202, Masterpiece London Art Fair 2022.
  • 9th – 30th July 2022: The John C Taylor Collection – Part III, fully catalogued Selling Exhibition, at 32A The Square, Winchester.

Over 35 years, the renowned inventor and multi-millionaire philanthropist, Dr John C Taylor OBE,
was able to assemble an unrivalled collection of iconic horological items, often of museum quality and importance. Driven by his personal appreciation of practical and inventive expertise, and funded by the phenomenal success of his own inventions, Dr Taylor acquired the finest examples from the ‘Who’s Who’ of the historical clock, watch and instrument making world. This part of the collection includes the particularly well-known names of Ahasuerus Fromanteel, Edward East, Thomas Tompion, Joseph Knibb, Daniel Quare, Richard Glynne, and others besides, with prices ranging from £32,000 to £1.5 million.

In their 75th anniversary year, Carter Marsh & Co present the world’s most significant private collection of English clocks at Masterpiece 2022 and Winchester

A short history of Early English clocks

Although the mechanical origins of clocks began centuries before, the seeds of England’s horological dominance were first sown in late Elizabethan London. However, the greatest leap forward took place
in the middle of the 17th century when Christiaan Huygens patented the application of the pendulum to clockworks in 1657. This led to greater, previously unparalleled, accuracy and precipitated a renaissance of scientific and technological advancement.

The scene was set during the English Commonwealth (1649-1660), when the two great rivals in London were the royal clockmaker, Edward East, who attempted to deliver a watch to Charles I just a few days before he was beheaded in 1649, and the great innovator, Ahasuerus Fromanteel, who infamously (as it turned out) had allied himself to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. As the Fromanteels launched the radical new pendulum in 1658, two contrasting ‘new and old’ schools of clockmaking emerged from these two leading and competing workshops. Despite his lack of direct royal favour, by the mid 1660s Fromanteel’s new and innovative approach to clockmaking won out. However, Edward East was the great survivor, and soon changed his methodology to match the refinement of the Fromanteels’, even ordering clocks from his rival to maintain his commanding royal patronage. The collection encompasses unprecedented examples of exceedingly scarce clocks by the Fromanteels, Edward East, their workmen, and the schools that followed in their manner.

London thus became the centre of horological innovation in Europe and, as domestic clocks became one of the most sought-after status symbols of the day, a fiercely competitive clockmaking market grew. Meanwhile, the capital had also become a city of tolerance, a welcome refuge for some of the finest Huguenot and Walloon craftsmen, fleeing from persecution of Protestants in France and the Spanish Low Countries, whose talents and artistic designs were a great influence in this and other fields.

Clocks were very expensive for good reason; as well as technical clockmaking, the process brought together many additional skilled craftsmen, including cabinet makers (some now argue that the very first veneered furniture in England were the cases made for clocks), spring makers, pattern makers for mounts, chasers, bell founders, gilders and engravers, to name but a few. Everything would have been specified down to the last detail by the best clockmakers, and during the 1670s our most well-known and revered makers emerged in Thomas Tompion, Joseph Knibb and Daniel Quare – but it was Tompion, ‘The father of English clockmaking’, who would perfect this process.

Thomas Tompion (1639-1713) is regarded as the greatest clockmaker of all. He was the son of a blacksmith and admitted to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers as a Brother in 1671. His most important early patron was the genius polymath, Robert Hooke (1635-1703), who recognised his ability and opened doors to the influential thinkers and scientists of the day, through the newly formed Royal Society. From then on, Tompion’s star ascended; he was appointed clockmaker for the new Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1676, and royal patronage from Charles II soon followed, which Tompion maintained and increased during his lifetime with the succeeding three monarchs. The quality of his work was never surpassed, but over the course of his career he had two highly talented rivals constantly nipping at his heels – initially the challenge was from Joseph Knibb, but by the 1690s, Knibb was supplanted by Daniel Quare. This extraordinary collection includes some of the finest and rarest examples by all three of these giants of English horology.

Some highlights from the John C Taylor Collection – Part III

The much celebrated and iconic Samuel Knibb Cupola clock is a four-sided architectural gem, commissioned by Chalenor Chute in c.1665 for his country residence, The Vyne in Hampshire. That it matches the classical portico found on his home (the first on any English domestic house), is not entirely surprising as both were designed by the Palladian architect, John Webb (1611-1672). The double pedimented ebony clock case represents a classical building in miniature with true architectural detailing, such as cornice drip- mouldings, above a frieze supported by Corinthian columns. It is adorned with ormolu and silver mounts, some of which are also found in stone on The Vyne’s portico, meanwhile the ingenious Dutch-striking movement extends up into the cupola and is accessed through a unique pair of rocking switches which open the doors. Recent research attributing John Webb as the designer of early English architectural clock cases was set in motion by this clock and the Chute family’s repeated links to Webb’s architectural practice. Samuel Knibb worked for Ahasuerus Fromanteel, and his workshop was taken over by his cousin, Joseph Knibb, when he died in c.1670.

The Symonds Knibb of c.1678 is the second surviving example of Joseph Knibb’s extraordinarily beautiful, ebony, silver, and velvet-mounted ‘Phase II’ spring clocks. These are considered by many as the most aesthetically pleasing English domestic clocks ever made, and the first example was specially commissioned by Charles II in 1677. However, the king seems to have encouraged the rivalry between the two most capable up-and-coming clockmakers, by ordering a similarly dressed clock at the same time from Thomas Tompion. When Tompion’s clock was delivered, it was a much more complex Grande Sonnerie striking example, ‘trumping’ Knibb’s clock and, with vital reputations and royal influence at stake, it seems likely that Knibb felt the need to respond. So, it may not be a co-incidence that Knibb’s second ‘Phase II’ clock equalled Tompion’s complexity – arguably, it might also have been destined for the royal court, specifically to show the king that he could match his rival’s abilities. Interestingly, Tompion never made another clock of this precious silver and velvet form, but Knibb capitalised on their beauty and over the next few years, he made an exclusive and undoubtedly supremely expensive, series of them.

The Kent Tompion sundial is the last complete example left in private hands by ‘The Father of English Clockmaking’, and was made in c.1705 for Henry Grey, the 12th Earl of Kent (later 1st Duke), for his seat at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. It retains its original Portland stone pedestal, which is adorned with Grey’s repeated cypher, and is attributed to the renowned sculptor John van Nost the Elder (c.1655-1711). Tompion and van Nost are known to have collaborated before, making a pair of sundials for William III’s privy gardens at Hampton Court, while a famous view of Wrest Park and its gardens, published in Britannia Illustrata, by Kip and Knyff in 1708, apparently illustrates this sundial in front of the house.

This was not John van Nost’s first commission for Wrest Park; in c.1700 he also supplied an extraordinary pair of 9-foot-high monumental lead finials to Grey’s father, the 11th Earl of Kent, which are also on offer here. Known as The Wrest Park Finials, they too were illustrated, in A Plan & View of the Buildings & Garden at Rest by John Rocque in 1737, flanking the entrance to The Duke’s Square.

The Sidereal Tompion, no.483, is his only known clock to show sidereal, as well as conventional mean solar time. A sidereal day measures the rotation of Earth relative to the stars, rather than the sun, which Tompion indicated here via a unique geared, rotating outer chapter ring. During the shorter sidereal day, the stars appear in the sky in the same place at the same time and so, in simple terms, this ingenious and complex clock helped its astronomer-owner to know where to point his telescope. When this clock was commissioned, Tompion’s most important patron was Queen Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, and the moment he got access to the royal purse in 1702, his orders from Tompion were prolific, often complex, and sometimes of a scientific bent. It seems likely that he ordered this unique sidereal specification but, inconveniently, Prince George died in October 1708 and this clock had not been completed. Queen Anne had already proved reluctant to pay Tompion’s outstanding bills, so to help recoup his very considerable costs, Tompion completed the clock in c.1709 in an unusually thrifty, but exceedingly pleasing, ebonised case, selling it instead to the Compton family of Minstead Manor, Hampshire.

Grand Sonnerie striking clocks are scarce, but those by Daniel Quare are supremely rare. By the time this clock was made in c.1695, Quare was reputationally coming to the fore. He had just patented his portable barometers and had surpassed Joseph Knibb as Tompion’s main rival in the top echelons of the London clock trade. Like examples from his rivals, his best clocks, as in this example, are immediately identifiable, and in every aspect this table clock is archetypal of his finest commissioned work. Not only is it of exceptional quality, but it also represents the most complicated strike facility available, combined with remote controls, which allow it to be operated entirely through the dial.

The Ilay Glynne is an extraordinary mechanical equinoctial standing ring-dial, which was commissioned in c.1715 by Archibald Campbell, 1st Earl of Ilay (later 3rd Duke of Argyll), from the leading instrument maker, Richard Glynne. At this time, true precision clocks were emerging, which required more accurate sundials to set them, and this complex mechanical dial can be meticulously oriented, allowing the time to be precisely indicated in the same way as a clock, via the geared, rack-and- pinion driven, glazed dial. This instrument is one of the finest and most imposing of this type known, and the frame is superbly pierced out and decorated with Campbell’s cypher and Ilay heraldic achievements. The Duke’s scientific interests, long political career, as well as his patronage, all contributed to a central role in promoting the Scottish Enlightenment during 18th century, while in 1727 he was a founder of The Royal Bank of Scotland and acted as its first governor – in celebration, his portrait featured on their banknotes from 1989 to 2015.

The Hornby Vautrollier of c.1625 is a solid gold double-cased ‘Puritan’ watch and, as such, it is an exceedingly unusual survivor. Named on account of their plain, undecorated, cases, despite its lack of outer adornment, this example would have originally been very costly indeed. Puritan watches are scarce in any instance, and while a small number survive in gilt-metal and silver, solid gold examples are particularly rare – their residual precious-metal value was such that it is presumed many were melted down and recycled, not only to keep abreast of changes in fashion, but also during times of upheaval and, in this instance, its first survival challenge was the English Civil Wars and resulting Commonwealth.

These and more ‘Highlights from the John C Taylor Collection’ will be on view at Masterpiece London 2022, from 30th June to 6th July 2022.

Masterpiece London is the capital’s leading international fair for viewing and buying the finest works of art,
from antiquity to the present day. Located on the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Masterpiece is an unmissable world-renowned event at the height of London’s summer arts season.

‘The John C Taylor Collection – Part III’ will be on view
in Winchester from 9th to 30th July 2022, with an accompanying printed catalogue.

Carter Marsh is the long- established antique clock and watch business, based in Winchester since 1947. It is owned and run by horological specialists, Jonathan Carter and Darrell Dipper, who advise both long-term and new collectors to the field.