Offered by Richard Redding Antiques
Leading antique and fine art gallery, specialises in the finest French clocks.
An extremely rare Regency gilt brass skeleton clock by James Moore French of eight days duration, signed on the central white enamel minute dial French, Royal Exchange, London. The clock featuring three dials, the one to the left with Roman numerals for the hours, the one at centre with Arabic numerals 15/30/45/60 for the minutes and the one to the right, again with Arabic numerals 15/30/45/60 for the seconds, each dial with a blued steel pointer. The skeletonised movement with a savage escapement, the wheels, each with six spokes that mesh directly instead of having pinions, with a horizontally aligned escape wheel with six spokes, a 3½ inch balance wheel with three arms that carry the rating nuts and a helical spring, the small wheel at the top of the balance arbor carrying two impulse pins that engage the fork of the pallets, the two carved wires with steel balls on their ends acting as a governor to prevent over-banking. The brass open framed case shaped as a classical temple surmounted by a ball and spire finial on a stepped base, with a pedimented top on which the hour, minute and seconds dials are attached, the top supported on a rectangular platform above fluted pilaster columns at each corner, the four pilasters surmounted by a ball and spire finial, with an angular stretcher at the base of the pilasters that are raised on ball feet and are supported upon a surrounding rectangular stepped mahogany base, housed in its original rectangular mahogany framed glass case
London, first half of the nineteenth century
Height 37 cm, width 27 cm, depth 15 cm.
Literature: F. B. Royer-Collard, “Skeleton Clocks” 1981, pl. 10-8, illustrating an almost identical skeleton clock, inscribed on a plaque with the name of Robert Roskell of Liverpool.
This fascinating and highly unusual clock was made by James Moore French (1781-1842), who made his name and repute in London as a fine watch, clock and chronometer maker and became a Freeman of the Clockmakers Company by redemption in 1810. Before discussing this gifted maker in more detail, it is worth describing the clock itself since it is a rare horological work of art. Its design was inspired or based on the famous rolling ball clock patented by Sir William Congreve in 1808, of which the original model made by Gravel and Tolkein was presented to the Prince of Wales in the same year and is now in the Rotunda building of the Royal Artillery Museum at the Woolwich Arsenal at Greenwich. Congreve’s rolling ball clock incorporates a ball rolling down a zigzag grooved tray as a means to determine the rate at which the clock runs. The grooved tray is set within an open brass frame, which as here features at each corner columnar supports with ball and spire finials and also incorporates three dial rings mounted on a pedimented structure above.
Congreve’s clock was copied by many clockmakers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the firms of Dent, Thwaites & Reed and Frodsham. Significantly another maker to have been similarly inspired was our clockmaker, James Moore French. His version of Congreve’s rolling ball clock, which was made in about 1830, was once in the renowned Ilbert Collection and is now in the British Museum, London. There are very close similarities between the overall design of French’s rolling ball clock and his present skeleton clock. The example in the British Museum features three dial rings, as opposed to this clock which has three solid white enamel dials. However, in each instance the three dials or dials rings are mounted on the pedimented top beneath a ball and spire finial, while the main open rectangular brass frame is supported by four columns with ball and spire finials and ball feet, which rest on a wooden base and are housed within their original wood and glass covers. Interestingly the cover of French’s clock in the British Museum is housed in a Sheraton satinwood glazed cover with a domed top which, as here, has an almost identical surrounding stepped base. Of course, the obvious and most significant difference between James Moore French’s rolling ball clock and the present example is the clock’s skeletonised movement, which is fascinating to observe when operating in motion.
Another skeleton clock that is very similar to the present example is engraved with the name of Robert Roskell of Liverpool on a plaque below the three white enamel dials (illustrated in F. B. Royer-Collard, “Skeleton Clocks” 1981, pl. 10-8). Like James Moore French, Robert Roskell (c.1790-65), was a clock, watch and chronometer maker of repute, so it is difficult to determine whether in that instance he was the maker or simply the retailer of a clock made by James Moore French. However, since the present example is signed on one of the dials rather than on a subsidiary plaque, it seems more likely that Roskell was retailing a work that had been made in London by James Moore French.
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