A fine and rare mid 17th century ebony veneered architectural turntable bracket clock James Cowpe at Ffox Hall (sic)

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Lot 145
A fine and rare mid 17th century ebony veneered architectural turntable bracket clock
James Cowpe at Ffox Hall (sic)

Sold for £ 31,200 (US$ 38,571) inc. premium
A fine and rare mid 17th century ebony veneered architectural turntable bracket clock
James Cowpe at Ffox Hall (sic)
The gilt brass rectangular dial measuring 8 and 7/8ths by 7 and 3/4s of an inch with a single line border enclosing engraved stylised-petal corner decoration on a matted ground, the silvered chapter ring with Arabic minutes marked within the minute band, stylised fleur-de-lys half hour marks and a simple inner line, the centre with alternate concentric bands of matting and engraving of particularly fine quality, the larger engraved band with various flowers including tulips, daffodills and fritillaria within intertwined foliage, the smaller formed by a central flowerhead, with sculpted blued steel hands, the movement with thick rectangular plates united by seven substantial baluster pillars, all pinned through the backplate, the large spring barrels with end caps to the distinctively stout fusees, terminating in a knife-edge verge escapement, the strike train with shaped steel 'dogs head' hammer acting on the large vertically-mounted bell mounted on a stand to the frontplate, via a small solid brass numbered countwheel set high on the right hand side of the outside of the backplate, the backplate itself plain except for the copperplate script signature "James Cowpe at ffox Hall" in an upward curve, following the line of the swinging pendulum bob, now contained in a later, exquisitly made architectural case with applied pads over a series of elaborate mouldings to the tympanum over long glazed side apertures within complex moulded frames on a plinth and additional turntable base on ebony bun feet, the silk-backed rear door with two pierced-keyhole panels to allow for sound 47cm (18.5in) high.


  • Comparative literature:
    Dawson, Drover & Parkes, Early English Clocks, ACC, 1982, pp92,109, 155 & 156, figs 114,137,138,202,203 & 204.
    Percy G.Dawson, The Iden collection, ADD, 1987, vol. 1, No 4, pp26 & 27.
    R.A.Lee, The First Twelve Years of the English Pendulum Clock, 1969, Exhibit No. 17, plates 48-52.
    F.H.Green Old English Clocks, 1931, page 2, plate 1.
    The Passage of Time, An Exhibition of Timekeeping Through the Ages, AHS Publications 1999, Exhibit No 17, page 14.

    James Cowpe (or Coupe) appears to have led a fascinating life which probably started with him working for Edward East and ending with him working for King Louis XIV of France. He was living and working at a time of huge social change and horological progress change and yet despite his obvious technical skill and success, this is the only clock known signed by him.

    James Cowpe is listed in Loomes: Lantern Clocks and Their Makers (Mayfield Books, 2008) as having been made a Free Brother of the Clockmakers' Company in September 1654. In 1655 he took his own apprentice, Edward Worthington. By 1662 it is noted that he had "gone away". This date of departure gives us a very small time frame in which to place the production of this pendulum movement, i.e. 1658 - 1662, the first four years of pendulum production. Some 18 years later, in 1680, a 'Jacques Coupe' (his name having lost the 'w' in the French manner) is recorded in Paris as Clockmaker to King Louis XIV. It seems that the ambitious and obviously highly skilled Cowpe had migrated to France to pursue his career and steadily climbed his way to the top position for any foreign worker - servant to His Majesty. Loomes (op cit) illustrates a lantern clock, made in London circa 1680, but signed in French " Coop Anglois Horlogeur du Roy AParis". At some point, James's son Edward joined his father in the workshop and in 1683 he followed in his fathers footsteps and was also appointed Clockmaker to the King (it was common practise for the King to have more than one clockmaker at any one time). As the signature lacks a christian name, it is likely that this circa 1680 lantern clock was imported and sold jointly by them. To complete the family tradition, James's daughter, Elizabeth also rose to the position of clockmaker to the King, signing her work "Horlogeuse du Roi a Paris"

    The style of this clock is almost identical to the work of Edward East (1602-1697) and even though no written record of this exists, it is highly likely that Cowpe underwent his apprenticeship in the East workshop. Although a Master was only allowed two apprentices at any one time, we know from Clockmakers Company records that these rules were often broken, particularly in busy workshops. East was a known Royalist and a Catholic and we know too, that some of his workshop had French origins or connections. The other major workshop of the time was that of Fromanteel, but this was considered as a largely Anglo-Dutch, Protestant environment. It is a fair assumption that Cowpe too, was a Catholic and that he may have called upon the French contacts in the East workshop to move more easily into the French court.

    When he made this clock, John Cowpe was based in Ffox Hall - modern day Vauxhall - on the South bank of the River Thames, just along from Lambeth Palace. In 1216 an infamous Gascon mercenary and counsellor to King John, Falkes de Breaute married the widow of the Earl of Devon. He built a grand house - Faulkes Hall - on his newly acquired land and in so doing, gave the area the name which survives, albeit a bastard form, to this day. The area is best known in history as the site of the pleasure gardens established at around the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, precisely at the time that Cowpe was working there. The landscaped gardens, away from the crowded and polluted city centre, soon became a huge attraction where rich cosmopolitans would meet for rest and relaxation. John Evelyn visited "the New Spring Garden at Lambeth" in 1661 and described it as "a very pretty contrived plantation". It was this type of wealthy, fashion-conscious society that Cowpe hoped to attract as his customers.
A fine and rare mid 17th century ebony veneered architectural turntable bracket clock James Cowpe at Ffox Hall (sic)
A fine and rare mid 17th century ebony veneered architectural turntable bracket clock James Cowpe at Ffox Hall (sic)
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