Leaving a legacy: works by famous clock making families are in demand at Bonhams Fine Clocks sale

Fine Clocks
9 Jul 2014
London, New Bond Street

Buyers vied for works by top British clock making families at Bonhams Fine Clocks sale which took place at its New Bond Street headquarters yesterday (9th July).

An important marine chronometer by William Edward Frodsham (1804-1825), second son of the famous clock making family, was one of the sale highlights as it sold for £74,500.

The chronometer, 'W.E.Frodsham 2', was one of 22 chronometers that was on board ship with the young science graduate, Charles Darwin, on a five-year voyage on board Admiralty survey ship HMS Beagle (1831-1836) to South America and the Galapagos Islands. HMS Beagle Captain, Robert Fitzroy, sought to recruit a "gentleman companion" with a scientific background to help record the geology of the region – but more crucially – to reduce the isolation and depression that had led to the suicide of his predecessor on the long voyage. The young scientist, Charles Darwin was chosen from a number of University candidates.

The Beagle reached the Galapagos Islands in September 1835 where Darwin was fascinated by such oddities as volcanic rocks and giant tortoises. This proved to be a pivotal moment in modern scientific and theological thought that resulted in the overturning of the accepted, centuries old, Creationist view. Darwin's five-year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle has become legendary after he wrote extensively about his experiences in his seminal work On the Origin of Species published in 1859. The book caused uproar in the established Church and amongst traditionalists and ultimately created a rift between Charles Darwin and Robert Fitzroy, a devout Christian.

Charles Crisford, Bonhams Clock Specialist said: "We are delighted to have sold this recently discovered chronometer, the history of which had been unrecognised for several generations. Offering such an historically important object to the market has been a great privilege."

An early 18th century quarter repeating ebony table clock by Thomas Tompion and nephew Edward Banger was the most valuable lot in the sale as it sold for £194,500 to an internet bidder. Thomas Tompion was Master of the Clockmakers Company when this clock was completed. In these early years of the 18th century, while in partnership with his nephew Edward Banger, he was creating some of his most impressive work.

Also among the top lots was an early 18th century silver-mounted tortoiseshell table clock by Peter Garon (lot 49), which sold for £40,000.

A rare 'singing bird' carriage clock (lot 29) soared to £26,250 against pre-sale estimate of £6,000-£8,000. The clock was produced in the late 19th century in France by the Japy Frères family business, run by three brothers from the famous Japy clock making family. Frédéric Japy (1749-1812) was a pioneer in the industrialization of clock making. He radically changed the way clocks were produced, bringing individual craftsmen under one roof and cutting production time in half.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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