This remarkable clock was discovered in a private European clock collection in mid-May of this year. The vendor remembers the clock being in the family home since at least the 1950s but does not know exactly where or when her late grandfather bought it. He was based in Paris and was a keen collector of clocks. Quite how such an important early English clock found it's way to the continent and has remained undiscovered for over 300 years is a mystery, but such things do happen. The Tompion grande sonnerie table clock sold at Sothebys, London lay for centuries in a German castle; the miniature architectural longcase clock by Blackford of Warwick sold in these rooms in December 2007 was a wonderful discovery that prompted a re-evaluation of early provincial clockmaking, and, of course the Ahasuerus Fromanteel longcase clock sold in these rooms in December 2009 gave us another example from the masters hands.
A late 19th or early 20th century(?) label applied to the rear of the case dates the clock, in a French hand, to circa 1680. This date is patently incorrect, but it does give rise to a theory as to why the clock had the original Fromanteel signature plaque removed. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that the original plaque was removed by a dealer or collector who wanted to 'improve' the commercial appeal of the clock to his market at the time. Perhaps a dealer in the 19th century?
Thinking that the clock dated to circa 1680, as the handwritten label states, it is easy enough to see how Etienne LeNoir, as a well respected 1680s Parisian maker, was picked from the clockmakers records and engraved on the nameplate.
Comparing this clock to other clocks by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, such as that in Lees's exhibition 'The First 12 Years of the English Pendulum Clock', exhibit numbers 11 (an architectural clock with similar case and split frontplates signed on the dial only) and exhibit number 12 (the Fromanteel Cupola clock with figural cherub surmount, further illustrated in Dawson, Drover Parkes plate 193 and signed on the movement only) and in particular the grande sonnerie table clock sold at Christies in 1982 and subsequently illustrated on the back cover of Dawson, Drover, Parkes (signed on the movement only and illustrated here for comparison purposes), it is our belief that this clock can be conclusively attributed to Ahasuerus Fromanteel. Each of these three clocks is signed only once. In all major respects the current case and that of the last mentioned clock are identical, and were certainly made in the same workshop.
The advert taken out by Fromanteel in the 'Mercurius Politicus' of October 1658 has become famous throughout the horological world. Ahasuerus's son, Johannes, went to The Hague in 1657 to work with Salomon Coster in order to learn 'the secret' of the new type of clock that had revolutionised timekeeping. Early Coster clocks are extremely rare - he died in 1659 - but two that survive were exhibited in the 'Huygens Legacy' exhibition in 2004 at the Paleis Het Loo. Interestingly, they both share some very pertinent similarities to the current clock.
Exhibit 8, the earliest extant pendulum clock, c1657, has a velvet covered dial, gilt brass chapter ring and a case hinged on the left hand side.
Exhibit 10, an hour striking Hague clock circa 1659 has a velvet covered dial, a gilt brass chapter ring and a case hinged on the left hand side that is locked with a winding key.
These clocks, or others just like them, would have been in Coster's workshop while Johannes was working there. The fact that the current lot exhibits such similarities to the early Coster clocks opens up the possibility that on his return to London, Johannes's made at least one clock in the way in which he had been taught, i.e. with a velvet dial, a gilt chapter ring and a case that was hinged on the left-hand side and was opened by the winding key. Like those from The Hague, it too would have been signed on an applied plaque on the dial plate.
The beautiful gilt brass hands are Continental in style - they compare very well to the pair on a clock, circa 1662, by one of Costers contemporaries in The Hague, Claude Pascal, see 'Huygens Legacy' exhibit number 12. It is quite possible that Johannes brought these hands back with him - literally with his belongings - in 1658, or he may have subsequently ordered them from a contact he made during his sojourn.
It is obvious that Johannes's experience in The Hague was a major influence in the design of the dial of this clock. Like those made in The Hague, this clock would have been signed on a signature plaque below the chapter ring. The holes still survive in the dial plate and one side even bears a 'pip' mark so typical of Fromanteel movements.
The dial is not entirely Coster-inspired,though; applied spandrels were not used in early Dutch clocks and the current examples are identical to those used on the architectural spring timepiece by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, circa 1659 (see Huygens Legacy exhibit 19), and the architectural table clock by him circa 1662 (exhibit 23 in the same exhibition). Like the Fromanteel longcase clock sold in these rooms in December 2009, the current spandrels are secured with a single screw and set upon a locating pin cast or rivetted into the dial plate. To the best of our knowledge, no other early maker used this system of fixing spandrels.
It is not inconceivable that this clock is one of the very first that he made on his return to London, with the same dial that had proved so popular in the Hague.
The particular elements of the dial that are Coster-inspired are
1. The gilded rather than silvered brass chapter ring
2. The velvet-covered rather than matted dial plate
3. The brass rather than steel hands. In this last respect, the current hands are very similar to a pair on a clock by
The movement, however, is not continental in feel - it runs for 8 days rather than 30 hours and it uses fusees coupled with the spring barrels.
As far as we are aware, this clock is unique within the Fromanteel ouevre in having a velvet dial.
The single sheet of brass measures 8.25 inches square, is covered with (replacement) dark velvet, and is set to each corner with a gilt brass winged cherubs head spandrel secured by a single screw from the rear and located against a pin rivetted to the dial plate just behind the cherubs' top tress of hair. The chapter ring is of gilded brass and is fixed via four dial feet. It is engraved with an outer minute track, each five minutes marked in Arabic numerals, with Roman hours and an inner quarter-hour track, the half-hour markers consisting of three small balls in a trident form. When found just a few weeks ago, the clock had a shaped engraved brass signature plaque glued on to the velvet, signed, 'LeNoir E AParis', set just above the small rectangular date aperture. This has since been removed from the dial but is included with the lot.
With split front plates and eight latched, knopped and finned pillars. The backplate plain. Each fusee and barrel of different size, but both with gut line. The going train fusee driving a (replaced) intermediate wheel in order to give eight day duration to the (converted) verge escapement. Evidence suggests that the escapement was originally a tic tac. Striking in the Dutch manner, with the hours repeated on a smaller bell at half past the hour, the bells set vertically on steel stands, one on the frontplate and another on the back. The strike regulated by a solid countwheel mounted on the backplate, the pump for the two hammers of a highly unusual design, using a pivotted vertical arbor mounted on the frontplate 52cms (20.5ins) high.