A very rare third quarter of the 17th century ebony veneered Roman-striking 'Phase One' table clock with tic-tac escapement Joseph Knibb, London
Lot 95
A very rare third quarter of the 17th century ebony veneered Roman-striking 'Phase One' table clock with tic-tac escapement
Joseph Knibb, London
Sold for £ 126,000 (US$ 166,006) inc. premium

Lot Details
A very rare third quarter of the 17th century ebony veneered Roman-striking 'Phase One' table clock with tic-tac escapement
Joseph Knibb, London
the shaped handle of octagonal section and secured via two folding hasps on a low moulded caddy applied with a winged cherubs head mount, each corner set with a turned ball finial over glazed rectangular side panels to a moulded base on squat ball feet, the front door with pierced silk-backed fret and two escutcheons, the 8 inch square gilt brass dial signed along the lower edge 'Joseph Knibb Londini fecit', flanked by winged cherubs head spandrels,the silvered Roman and Arabic chapter ring with fleur de lys half hour marks and finely matted centre, the three dial feet latched to the twin gut fusee movement with plates united by eight knopped, finned and latched pillars, with tic-tac escapement on a knife edge, striking the hours on the Roman system whereby each five-hourly interval is denoted by a hammer striking a large bell and each individual hour denoted by the strike of a smaller bell, the small numbered solid countwheel mounted just above the centre left of the backplate, the backplate engraved with a single stem issuing four flowerheads and leaves over a pair of engraved flower heads to the lower corners, centred by a winged hour glass and the gently curving copperplate signature Joseph Knibb Londini fecit 34.5cms (13.5ins) to the top of the moulding, 39cms (15.5ins) high to the top of the handle.


  • Provenance:

    A European noble family.

    The illustration above clearly shows this clock in situ at Hildesborg Palace, the private residence of Count Gotthard Wachtmesiter (1834-1920), who was Governor in the south of Sweden, 1880-1892. The photograph was taken in 1908 and another oil portrait (illustrated on page 64) shows the Count wearing his badges of office. He was the son of Francese Lovisa von Rehausen (1803-1837) and Count Carl Johan Wachtmeister (1793-1843). Francese Lovisa was the daughter of a Swedish diplomat, Baron Gotthard Mauritz von Rehausen (1761-1822), the Minister plenipotentiary in London, and Harriet Louisa Bulkely (1776-1834). Harriet's father had amassed a fortune in Lisbon during the 18th century after leaving his Irish home. Parr & Bulkeley, based in the Rua do Alecrim, were the largest entrepreneurial entity in Lisbon's trade with North America during the third quarter of the 18th century. They personally handled 185 of the 1040 vessels from North America, more than twice as many as any of their contemporaries; at one time their imports accounted for one third of all of the grain and flour coming into Lisbon from North America.

    In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was common practise for the nobility to travel to London in order to buy the very best objects for the home - a letter written in 1675 illustrates this point perfectly, it concerns a longcase clock and was written by Sir Richard Legh of Lyme Hall in Cheshire and reads

    "I went to the famous Pendulum maker, Knibb, and have agreed for one, he having none ready but one dull stager which was at 19£; for 5£ more I have agreed for one finer than my Father's and it is to be better finish'd with carved capitalls gold, and gold pedestalls with figures of boys and cherubimes all brass gilt. I wold have had itt Olive Wood (the case I mean) but gold does not agree with that colour, soe took their advice to have it black Ebony which suits your Cabinett better than Walnutt tree wood, of which they are mostly made. Lett me have thy advice herein by the next"

    Perhaps John Bulkeleys grandfather or great grandfather had also visited London's 'famous Pendulum maker' on a trip from Ireland to London?

    The current clock is one of a type that Joseph produced in his first eight years of London life, from circa 1670-1678. These 'Phase One' clocks all share the same case style, but mechanically can be quite different. For a full discussion, see Lee, 'The Knibb Family Clockmakers', Byfleet 1964. At the time of writing, Ronald Lee was aware of only sixteen surviving Phase One examples. Mr Lee saw this example in 1977, at that time it's strike train had been changed to the standard type and the escapement was a replaced anchor. Under Mr Lee's guidance and that of Mr Meyrick Neilson of Tetbury, the movement was restored to the way in which Joseph Knibb had intended.

    Joseph Knibb was born in 1640. It is assumed that he served his apprenticeship under his cousin Samuel Knibb in Newport Pagnell from 1655 to 1662. He began his independent career working just outside the City of Oxford, but by the mid 1660s had moved within its jurisdiction. There was some initial resentment to his becoming Free of the City and it was only through the support of the University, where he matriculated as a gardener, that he was granted Freedom in 1668 on payment of a fine of 20 nobles and a leather bucket.

    In 1670 Joseph moved to London, this was the same year that his past Master, Samuel who had moved to the capital in 1662, died, and it was natural that Joseph should carry on the family firm. London at this time was experiencing something of a re-birth after the Great Plague and the Great Fire, and the scientific and horological sectors were closely intertwined. Joseph was obviously a talented horologist; with just three years under his belt in the capital, he was accomplished enough to supply Professor James Gregory, Astronomer of St Andrews University, with a pair of longcase clocks and a 'split second' weight driven timer capable of showing thirds of a second via it's tic-tac escapement. Gregory boasted of them in a letter to the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed in a letter date 19th July 1673 "I have 2 Pendulum Clocks makinge with long swinges, vibrating seconds, (no) stikinge; and also one little Pendulum Clock, vibrating 4 times a second, also without strikinge for discerninge small intervalls; where there may be a parte of a second in question." These three clocks are still at St Andrews today.

    Four years later, in 1677 Knibb was commissioned to supply a turret clock for Windsor Castle. The Dukes of Sussex and York also had Knibb clocks in their collections and in 1682 Knibb was paid for work carried out for Charles II. He took on nine apprentices, including Edward Massey, John Drew and Brouncker Watts. He was Assistant to the Clockmakers Company in 1689 and is well recorded in the Company's accounts until 1697 when he retired to Hanslop. He died in December 1711.

    Comparable literature :
    Lee,'The Knibb Family Clockmakers', plates 74 and 76.
    Bonhams sale of Fine Clocks, New Bond Street, London, 14th December 2010 lot 96.
    Dawson, Drover and Parkes, 'Early English Clocks', Woodbridge 1982, plates 599, 600, 601 (this example by Thomas Tompion), 602, 603 and 604.
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  1. James Stratton
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