Allan Smith Antique Clocks 'My Articles'.


The folloing 'Articles' are subjects regarding 'My Favourite Things'.
My Favourite Things - Article 1:

Reprinted from March 2006 edition of Clocks Magazine

Roskell Figure 1
Roskell Hood
Figure 2

I've always liked longcase Regulators especially if they have something a bit different about them and would like to share my thoughts regarding the merits of the three mahogany examples, as follows, all of which are early to mid 19C examples with, nominally, 12" diameter silvered dials.

The first one ( fig.1 ) is by Robert Roskell of Liverpool ( also London ) serial numbered 923. I was particularly attracted to this clock by the beautifully executed high count wheel train, six spoke, six pillar movement with six massive screwed pillars and the fact that it runs on a tiny brass bound 3 lbs 12 oz weight. It features the usual Harrisons maintaining power and ( for a glass front ) the usual mercury glass jar with steel shaft pendulum. Quite frankly I think that the mercury pendulum although adding interest does ( in my experience ) little to enhance the timekeeping and cannot justify the additional expense. Robert is recorded at 39, Church St., Liverpool in 1839.This example is 79.5" ( 202 cms. ) tall.

The second example ( fig. 2 ) is by Viner, Regent St., London and comes in a beautifully executed case showing Ionic influence in the well carved detail. Viner's business is recorded 235, Regent St. 1829 - 42.

This clock was allegedly once owned by Lord Astor of Hever and bears two simple, yellow inventory stickers about the size of a modern penny with "ASTOR OF HEVER" printed in black following the inner circumference and C ( presumably for clock ) 25, hand written in the middle. There is also a hand written "Astor C25" label on the wooden dust cover. The five pillar movement is not so spectacular as the Roskell but has jewelled dead beat pallets compared to the Roskell's steel ones and four spoke wheels ( except for the six spoke escape wheel ) rather than the six spoke wheels throughout of the Roskell.

I have tried in vain to ascertain Lord Astor of Hever provenance from the major London auction houses as I was assured that the clock came from an auction when the castle contents were sold "between the wars". You know the sort of thing - press 1 for such and such a department, press 2 for so and so, until you finally get to an answering machine where you duly leave a message which is never responded to.

A trip to Hever Castle proved no more successful, two waist high brass plates on the ground floor testifying to the height of the two floods - 1958 and again in 1968 when all archived records were destroyed. For those of you unfamiliar with Hever Castle - it's moated and the Archives were in the cellars. The very pleasant genteel older ladies who "mind" the place and keep watch on the herds of tourists didn't really have the information I required so, despite my best endeavours I was no further forward.

If any reader can shed light I'd love to hear from them and begin following up any "leads", possibly culminating in a catalogue entry.

As they say on Crimewatch - "somebody, somewhere knows something".

This one is 77" ( 195.5 cms. ) tall.

Roskell Figure 3
Roskell Hood
Figure 4

The third Regulator ( fig. 3 ) has such a skilfully made case and is so beautifully proportioned using really excellent veneers that I couldn't resist it. It's by Hay Mercer of Aberdeen who is recorded at 25, North St. Aberdeen in 1831; at 27, West North St. in 1837 - 51; then at no. 87 until 1854. This means that it's later than it's delicate proportions and "Sheraton" marquetry inlays suggest.

The movement itself is a four pillar, workmanlike "A" plate with Harrisons maintaining power, five spoke wheelwork throughout, steel deadbeat pallets and an unusual "hidden" winding square which is accessed by removing the split pipe mounted hour hand, presumably so as not to upset the symmetry and balance of the dial. The wood rod pendulum with massive brass faced bob is, again, workmanlike, but ordinary. The appeal is all in the quality and proportions of the cute case which measures 73.5" ( 187 cms. ) ex finial or 77.25" ( 196 cms. ) including finial. Because of it's shape the trunk door is hinged at the bottom and drops forward like a drawbridge rather than having the conventional side mounted hinges.

Best of the three? In terms of spectacular movement, the Roskell, provenance, the Viner, looks, the Mercer (below).

One day I may get a Regulator that embodies all three. That would be a certain favourite. If I do I'll let you know about it.

Mercer Figure 5
Mercer Hood
Figure 6

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My Favourite Things - Article 2:

Reprinted from June 2006 edition of Clocks Magazine

Ebsworth Figure 1
Ebsworth Hood
Figure 2
Ebsworth Dial
Figure 3

Although I earn my living as a dealer in antique clocks I started, as many in the business did, as an avid collector, appreciating the tremendous specialist skill and artistry drawn together and blended to make something not only aesthetically pleasing but functional too.

I have been fortunate in handling clocks with exquisitely engraved dials, finely cut wheelwork, in superbly crafted cases of outstanding proportions using the very best raw materials and disparate skills available at the time.

I'd like to share with you a few of my favourites explaining why they are favourites and to point out what I consider their appealing points.

One of my first really good marquetry longcases was a small, pretty, example by John Ebsworth of London circa 1685 with 10" square brass dial, bolt and shutter maintaining power, original rising hood, and outside countwheel striking high up on the backplate. Fig.1,2,3. At this early period many of the cases had olivewood "oysters" instead of the walnut backgrounds found on the slightly later 11" ( and subsequently 12" ) examples.

The first thing I do when assessing a marquetry case is to lay on the floor and examine the base in detail, inch by inch, usually with a mini maglite, as so many have been heavily restored ( to the point of complete renewal ). It pays to go over every square inch of the case, then lay the case down on a convenient bench if possible to inspect the inside of the carcass. Again a mini maglite is useful and convenient, I hang mine around my neck on a nylon lanyard so it's always to hand. Sometimes the light is not needed as the restoration has been so crude that it stands out a mile and requires but a glance before rejection.

The majority of early marquetry cases I've encountered have been converted from rising hood to opening hood door, or at least to slide off hood. Grooves or vestiges of grooves at the rear of the hood usually confirm. It's easy to see why such "improvements" were made in the name of convenience and I'm not too upset by this although of course we all admire and prefer purity. In my experience the 10" and 11" dial versions are the ones most likely to be converted, as by the time of 12" dials ( circa 1700 ) they were essentially opening hood door anyway. Incidentally there are many who, although mindful of the desirability of the early ( 10" ) examples rate the 11" version the more desirable in terms of exact proportion with the 12" coming third. Personally, I feel that each should be viewed on it's individual merits having seen some exquisitely proportioned examples of each type.

To sum up. The Ebsworth was a favourite ( I say "was" because it was sold out of necessity ) being early - circa 1685, having olive wood "oysters" instead of walnut background, it retained it's original rising hood, had bolt and shutter maintaining power and was a particularly original example.

The next good marquetry that came my way I was determined to keep as a "pension fund" item.( Bear in mind that clocks do not attract Capital Gains Tax being mechanical and subject to "wearing out" the same as plant and machinery ). A loophole some might say.

Good proportions, good colour, good, finely cut marquetry, 11" dial and a month going movement were the attractions of my next "favourite" - by William Martin of Bristol circa 1695. Figs. 4,5,6. Amazingly this clock keeps better time than the longcase regulators I have - even with their beautifully precise dead beat escapements, high count wheel trains, mercury jar compensating pendulums and ( in one case ) chronometer maker pedigree. Fig. 4,5 & 6

Ebsworth Figure 4
Ebsworth Hood
Figure 5
Ebsworth Dial
Figure 6

It is believed that William Martin was trained in London before moving to Bristol where he was married in 1689. Certainly the quality of workmanship and stylistic similarities to London work of the time seem to bear this out.

The third and final "favourite" marquetry I decided to keep in my "pension fund2 is by Peter Garon of London circa 1695. Figs.7,8,9. The hands are exquisitely cut and "carved", the marquetry is cut with skill and finesse and is amongst the finest I have yet seen. I particularly like the well executed movement with it's five knopped, ringed and finned pillars, the "between the spandrels" detailed foliate engraving, the very finely and evenly matted dial centre and the signature engraved in the centre of the 11" dial rather than on the chapter ring.

It's worth noting that good colour and very finely cut marquetry can add enormously to the price and desirability of an early clock ( or not ! ). This was particularly evident when I travelled to a large international Spring auction in Scandinavia eighteen months ago to vet a clock for an existing customer of mine who like so many of my customers have become personal friends. We arrived the night before the auction, got an early morning taxi to the venue and allowed plenty of time for examination. It transpired that we didn't need much time at all, the undesirability being obvious, and my input superfluous.

The clock was a 12" version by a very well known London maker ( a "basic" movement with "the name but not the quality ) the colour was "muddy", the marquetry was as though produced with a pastry cutter i.e. no finesse, it was in appalling condition and the seatboard was packed with "stuffers" to centralise the dial in the mask. Big disappointment. It made, to my mind, far, far, more than it should have to a buyer on one of the bank of telephones who I suspect had seen only a skilfully contrived email image ( as my customer and I had seen ) and would soon be facing a horrendous restoration bill "of biblical proportions" as they say. Desirable. I think not.

That could never have been anyone's favourite. Ever.

Garon Figure 7
Garon Hood
Figure 8
Garon Detail
Figure 9

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