“I never made a conscious decision to build an early clock collection,” he says. “It was my passion to understand the progression and innovations that led to me buying most of [these] items. I considered [each purchase] through the eyes of an inventor, entrepreneur and manufacturer – a very different perspective to most horologists and commentators.”
Now in his 80s and ever the practical man, Dr Taylor is overseeing the sale of much of his collection through Winchester dealership Carter Marsh. The first tranche of ‘the world’s most significant private assemblage of English clocks’ was offered with considerable success in June and July to be followed by a second bite at the cherry from November 6-27.
Jonathan Carter, director at Carter Marsh, said this first part comprising 46 pieces was 85% sold. Individual sales included the £1.2m Mudge Green, one of two shagreen-cased marine timekeepers made by Thomas Mudge (1715-94) as he pitched for the Longitude Prize in 1777.
“Despite the challenges of Covid, the summer of 2021 was exceptionally busy so the Part II exhibition represents the climax to a quite remarkable year for us,” added Carter.
“It is immensely gratifying to see that the horological market is in such a healthy state. Of course these items represent a once in a lifetime’s opportunity, but really this is entirely thanks to the continuing passion and interest of horological collectors worldwide.”
Dr Taylor’s success began in the mid-1960s with the design of a series of bimetallic over-temperature controls for all portable domestic heaters. Averaging sales of 250,000 units per week for more than 55 years (they are still in production today), it yielded the funds to buy the very best.
“There are three essential ingredients to starting a successful collection: time, inclination and money – and I was lucky enough to have all three,” he says.
A fourth component when building a collection of this gravitas is the availability of masterworks. Clock collecting in the past two generations has afforded access to the ‘aces’ that are simply not available in some disciplines. So many of these pieces are museum quality and of great historical importance.
True accuracy in clockmaking was initiated by the introduction of the pendulum in 1657. This second part of the collection includes one of the very first pendulum clocks dated 1658. It is signed by Salomon Coster (c.1623-59) of The Hague and but possibly made by the London clockmaker John Fromanteel (1638- 82), who was one of several artisans under contract to Coster at the time.
It is one of only five surviving Coster early pendulum timepieces, of which three are in museums: two in the Netherlands and one in the Science Museum, London.
Last sold as part of the Spaans collection at Christie’s Amsterdam in 2007 when it made €471,000, it is priced today at £950,000 – the biggest number in the Part II catalogue.
Taylor’s collection included a trio of clocks from Thomas Tompion’s full grand sonnerie series – movements that could strike both the quarter and the hour every 15 minutes (or 4992 chimes a week). Across his career Tompion (1639-1713) made just 13 of them for the wealthiest of his blue-blood clients.
The original owner of the £795,000 Pearson Tompion, the last and the most mechanically sophisticated of the three extant numbered full grande sonnerie longcases, is unknown.
However, it was made c.1703 soon after Queen Anne’s succession, when her husband, Prince George of Denmark, finally had access to the funding that enabled him to become Tompion’s leading patron. A case with burr walnut veneers and bespoke construction features confirm that it too was specially commissioned to complement the complex three-train repeating movement. Dr Taylor bought it from Asprey’s at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in 1997 when it was priced at £255,000.
A clock with a definite royal pedigree (one on preview in London in July) is a remarkable miniature striker made for Queen Mary. In the early 1690s she ordered a small but highly fashionable pewter, brass and scarlet tortoiseshell ‘boulle’ clock case from Paris, and then asked Tompion to make a striking movement and an engraved dial and backplate to fit
His bespoke miniature striking clock was delivered in August 1693 at a cost of £40 – the bill still surviving in the royal archives of that year. This unique clock with Tompion’s signature ‘hidden’ within the matting of the dial measures just under 12in (30cm) high. It is priced at £950,000.
Prices for every pocket
With 48 clocks, instruments and related collectables and prices ranging upwards from £500, it is not all six-figure sums.
“What is particularly exciting about this section of the collection is that there are items here of extraordinary rarity for every pocket – just as they were at the time,” says Carter Marsh partner Darrell Dipper.
“There are many interesting and more affordable items besides, by makers such as Sutton, Hilderson, Knottesford, Jones, Puller, Massey, Gould, Ellicott, Shelton and Brock.”
These include a striking longcase clock movement made by Abraham Fromanteel (son of Ahasuerus) in Newcastle c.1685 and an early 18th century set of boxwood Napier’s Bones priced at £2500 each.
Probably made to mark his eventual acceptance as a freeman of the city of Oxford is a copper trade token issued by the great Joseph Knibb c.1688. Minted in small quantities with a value of just a farthing, it reads Joseph Knibb Clockmaker in Oxon to the covers and depicts a clock face and the initials IK to the reverse. It is priced at £3500.
The show titled Dr John C Taylor Collection Part II: An Inventor’s Passion for Time runs in Winchester from November 6-27 with an accompanying catalogue full of scholarly information about every clock and instrument on offer now available. n