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Exhibit № 17: The Symonds Knibb. Circa 1678

Exhibit № 17: The Symonds Knibb. Circa 1678

An exceptional and extremely rare Charles II ebony veneered and silver-mounted Phase II Grande Sonnerie striking table clock with tic-tac escapement by Joseph Knibb, London

£725,000


Height

13¼ inches high (345 mm)

Case

The archetypal Phase II case, ebony veneered onto an oak carcass, with a cushion domed top with fine quality chased silver acanthus repoussé mounts to the sides and front, surmounted by a silver arcaded foliate-tied handle with turned pommels and upturned-leaf base plates. The flat-top main cornice moulding over the square front door with typical opposed silver winged cherub head scroll escutcheons, the left pin-hinged and swivelling to reveal the key-hole, and the top rail inset with an ebony pierced sound fret. The side apertures with further ebony pierced sound frets, and the inset glazed back door framed with half-round mouldings. All resting on the conforming plinth moulding, typically and correctly, without feet.

Dial

The 7 inch (178 mm) square brass dial covered with black velvet and applied with a delicate solid silver chapter ring with Roman hours, fleur-de-lys half-hour markers and Arabic minutes, every 5 within the division ring. The silver hour hand delicately pierced and chamfered, the silver minute hand is tipped with a blued steel and silver pierced pointer. The centre of the dial is set with a finely pierced and engraved signature roundel, with tulips and foliage and signed in an arc Joseph Knibb London. The three winding holes with silver beaded ferrules, as has the date square below XII, and the corners are applied with Knibb’s earlier pattern of cast and chased silver winged cherub spandrels. The dial is fixed to the movement by four latched dial feet, and to the case by two typical screw-turns to the back, at III and IX, into the carcass behind the mask.

Movement

The delicate three-train fusee movement with nine typical finned baluster pillars, latched to the triple divided front plate for individual train assembly, with triple gut line fusees and spring barrels, the knife edge tic-tac escapement with short bob pendulum. The left hand (IX) train striking the quarters and hour (on the hour only), governed by an outside numbered countwheel, striking the quarters and the hour, all on the smaller bell above. After striking the quarters an internal lever trips the right hand (III) train, governed by a further countwheel numbered for every hour, releasing the hours to be struck on the larger ‘porkpie’ bell above. The fire-gilded backplate with a line border, symmetrically engraved with tulips and open flowers, scrolling foliage, typically signed in an arc Joseph Knibb Londini Fecit above a concentric patera around the centre barrel arbor (to match the centre of each countwheel) with emanating flowers and crossed leaves directly below.

Duration

8 days

Provenance

Sotheby’s, 26 March 1964, lot 65;

Sotheby’s, 26 May 1982, lot 9, sold to RA Lee for £82,500;

Private collection USA, until sold in 2001, direct to;

John C Taylor Collection, inventory no.70

Literature

Symonds , Furniture Making in 17th and 18th Century England, 1955, p.217-219, 233-234;

Lee, Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, p.83, 109 and 124, pl.77, 109, 130 & 131;

Antiquarian Horology, Sept. 1964, Lee, ‘Knibb Family Clockmakers’, p.236, fig. 31;

Dawson, Drover and Parkes, Early English Clocks, 1982, p.317, col. pl.17;

Antiquarian Horology, Autumn 1989, Winterton, ‘English Grande Sonnerie Clocks’, 1989, p.309;

Horological Masterworks, Oxford, 2003, p.138- 141;

Huygens’ Legacy, The Golden Age of the Pendulum Clock, Holland, 2004, p.146-7;

Garnier & Hollis, Innovation & Collaboration, 2018, p.300-301

Escapement

Knife edge tic-tac with short bob pendulum

Strike Type

Grande Sonnerie striking via internally linked outside countwheels

Exhibited

2003, BADA Fair, Oxford Horological Masterworks preview;

2003, Horological Masterworks, Oxford Museum for the History of Science and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, exhibit no.29;

2004, Holland, Het Loo, Huygens’ Legacy, exhibit no.53;

2018, London, Innovation & Collaboration, exhibit no.96

Joseph Knibb’s clocks display an elegant simplicity of structure and, as is often mentioned, his cases and dials have a gracefulness rarely achieved by other makers. Indeed, he is one of only a few makers whose individual style can be instantly identified, and throughout the 1670s and 1680s we can see a clear evolution in his designs, which enabled RA Lee to categorise his table clocks in phases I, II, III and IV.

These phases were not absolutely sequential; of course the Phase I clocks, which are usually larger in size and have feet, come first and, as the fashion was moving towards smaller and more ‘portable’ clocks, in the late 1670s the Phase III clocks were then introduced. The Phase II clocks were produced over a time that bridges both his later Phase I and his Phase III productions, they are of a similar ‘feet less’ and smaller form to his Phase III clocks and thus are distinguished by their velvet dials and silver mounts, and they are rightly considered some of the most elegant and strikingly beautiful English clocks ever produced.

The final Phase IV spring clocks became current in the late 1690s, and had ‘conventional’ double-return top mouldings with elaborate carrying handles, losing their immediately identifiable ‘Knibb’ form. Produced mostly by John in Oxford, after Joseph’s move back to the country in 1697, this change echoed current fashions but, arguably, it also reflected the brothers’ commercial decline after over 20 years ‘at the top’ in London.

This is a superb early example of Knibb’s celebrated Phase II series, and like almost all of Knibb’s complex clocks, it has had elements reinstated, but these appear true to Knibb and the Grande Sonnerie system is absolutely ingenious, designed as it is within the constraints of normal countwheel governance, but here Knibb has worked to even out the power required for each of the two strike trains. This arrangement strikes the quarters and hours every quarter and the hours only on the hour; the left hand train (IX side) strikes the hour and quarters (150 blows every 12 hours on the smaller bell) and after each of the three quarters are struck; the other train (III side) is internally tripped, taking over striking the past hours (234 blows every 12 hours on the larger bell).

This example is the second of only nine recorded Phase II clocks by Joseph Knibb. The first appears to have been commissioned by Charles II and is dated 1677. Thus the King probably started an expensive trend that Knibb was happy to continue to capitalise on. As these were likely his most expensive productions, the Phase II clocks that followed would only have been made to order for his wealthiest customers, but only the three earliest examples have expensive fire-gilding to their backplates, a practice that Knibb had generally dispensed with by c.1680. The current clock is no.2 on the following date-ordered list:

1. Roman striking, tic-tac escapement, royal and dated 1677, George Daniels Collection sold Sotheby’s, 6 November 2012, lot 130, for £1,273,250 (now in this collection, inventory no.146).

2. Grande Sonnerie, tic-tac escapement (the current example), circa 1678, RA Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, plate 77.

3. Grande Sonnerie, tic-tac escapement, circa 1678-79, Sotheby’s 16th Oct 1972, lot 46, The Hamburg Collection.

4. Striking with pull quarter repeat, circa 1680, RA Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, plate 78.

5. Full Grande Sonnerie, circa 1680-85, CH St.J Hornby Collection, c.1900; private collection USA.

6. Roman striking, circa 1680-85, RA Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, plate 79.

7. Full Grande Sonnerie, circa 1680-85. Horological Masterworks, No. 32, John C Taylor Collection (exhibit 21, The Nicholls Knibb, in this catalogue).

8. Striking with pull quarter repeat, circa 1680-85, Exceptional English Clockwork, no.12.

9. Striking with pull quarter repeat, circa 1685, Christie’s 21 November 1990, lot 91.

 

A Royal connection?

It is interesting that, concurrent with the production of Knibb’s first Phase II ebony, silver and velvet clock, Tompion was also making his first commission for Charles II, which was referred to by Robert Hooke in his diary entry of 24th June 1677, as the Kings striking clock with swash teeth. The only reasonable contender to fulfil Hooke’s description appears to be Tompion’s first two-train Grande Sonnerie clock, the Silver Tompion, which is presented in exactly the same manner – ebony and silver-mounted with a velvet-covered dial.

That there was an element of competition between these two up-and-coming makers during 1677 is both logical and unsurprising; they were becoming celebrated in the circles that mattered and while both had already made important scientific commissions, prior to this Tompion had not actually secured a commission directly for the king. As Knibb went on to produce this now celebrated series of Phase II clocks, we tend to associate this sort of dial application in London with him. However, Tompion had already presented his two Greenwich regulator dials in a similar manner in 1676, but unlike Knibb, the Silver Tompion seems to have been the first and last time that Tompion presented a domestic clock in this manner.

Was it significant that Tompion chose to finish his clock in exactly the same manner as Knibb’s important royal commission of the same date? Perhaps partially, and it does seem to inextricably tie the two clocks together, but it was usual practice for the customer to specify finish and so it appears the king probably ordered the same for both. There is no doubt that the king’s approval did much to enhance reputation and influence patronage from elsewhere and, if these two clocks were ordered in the spirit of competition by the king, one would have to conclude that Tompion’s Grande Sonnerie striking silver clock initially won out over Knibb’s Roman notation example.

However, this clock shares exactly the same Grande Sonnerie strike and finish with the Silver Tompion, and if one accepts the rivalry process but takes it one step further; is it possible that the second Phase II example (the current ‘Symonds’ clock) might actually have been made in response, to equal Tompion’s clock, as a subsequent competitive answer by Joseph Knibb for Charles II?

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Product Description

Joseph Knibb’s clocks display an elegant simplicity of structure and, as is often mentioned, his cases and dials have a gracefulness rarely achieved by other makers. Indeed, he is one of only a few makers whose individual style can be instantly identified, and throughout the 1670s and 1680s we can see a clear evolution in his designs, which enabled RA Lee to categorise his table clocks in phases I, II, III and IV.

These phases were not absolutely sequential; of course the Phase I clocks, which are usually larger in size and have feet, come first and, as the fashion was moving towards smaller and more ‘portable’ clocks, in the late 1670s the Phase III clocks were then introduced. The Phase II clocks were produced over a time that bridges both his later Phase I and his Phase III productions, they are of a similar ‘feet less’ and smaller form to his Phase III clocks and thus are distinguished by their velvet dials and silver mounts, and they are rightly considered some of the most elegant and strikingly beautiful English clocks ever produced.

The final Phase IV spring clocks became current in the late 1690s, and had ‘conventional’ double-return top mouldings with elaborate carrying handles, losing their immediately identifiable ‘Knibb’ form. Produced mostly by John in Oxford, after Joseph’s move back to the country in 1697, this change echoed current fashions but, arguably, it also reflected the brothers’ commercial decline after over 20 years ‘at the top’ in London.

This is a superb early example of Knibb’s celebrated Phase II series, and like almost all of Knibb’s complex clocks, it has had elements reinstated, but these appear true to Knibb and the Grande Sonnerie system is absolutely ingenious, designed as it is within the constraints of normal countwheel governance, but here Knibb has worked to even out the power required for each of the two strike trains. This arrangement strikes the quarters and hours every quarter and the hours only on the hour; the left hand train (IX side) strikes the hour and quarters (150 blows every 12 hours on the smaller bell) and after each of the three quarters are struck; the other train (III side) is internally tripped, taking over striking the past hours (234 blows every 12 hours on the larger bell).

This example is the second of only nine recorded Phase II clocks by Joseph Knibb. The first appears to have been commissioned by Charles II and is dated 1677. Thus the King probably started an expensive trend that Knibb was happy to continue to capitalise on. As these were likely his most expensive productions, the Phase II clocks that followed would only have been made to order for his wealthiest customers, but only the three earliest examples have expensive fire-gilding to their backplates, a practice that Knibb had generally dispensed with by c.1680. The current clock is no.2 on the following date-ordered list:

1. Roman striking, tic-tac escapement, royal and dated 1677, George Daniels Collection sold Sotheby’s, 6 November 2012, lot 130, for £1,273,250 (now in this collection, inventory no.146).

2. Grande Sonnerie, tic-tac escapement (the current example), circa 1678, RA Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, plate 77.

3. Grande Sonnerie, tic-tac escapement, circa 1678-79, Sotheby’s 16th Oct 1972, lot 46, The Hamburg Collection.

4. Striking with pull quarter repeat, circa 1680, RA Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, plate 78.

5. Full Grande Sonnerie, circa 1680-85, CH St.J Hornby Collection, c.1900; private collection USA.

6. Roman striking, circa 1680-85, RA Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, plate 79.

7. Full Grande Sonnerie, circa 1680-85. Horological Masterworks, No. 32, John C Taylor Collection (exhibit 21, The Nicholls Knibb, in this catalogue).

8. Striking with pull quarter repeat, circa 1680-85, Exceptional English Clockwork, no.12.

9. Striking with pull quarter repeat, circa 1685, Christie’s 21 November 1990, lot 91.

 

A Royal connection?

It is interesting that, concurrent with the production of Knibb’s first Phase II ebony, silver and velvet clock, Tompion was also making his first commission for Charles II, which was referred to by Robert Hooke in his diary entry of 24th June 1677, as the Kings striking clock with swash teeth. The only reasonable contender to fulfil Hooke’s description appears to be Tompion’s first two-train Grande Sonnerie clock, the Silver Tompion, which is presented in exactly the same manner – ebony and silver-mounted with a velvet-covered dial.

That there was an element of competition between these two up-and-coming makers during 1677 is both logical and unsurprising; they were becoming celebrated in the circles that mattered and while both had already made important scientific commissions, prior to this Tompion had not actually secured a commission directly for the king. As Knibb went on to produce this now celebrated series of Phase II clocks, we tend to associate this sort of dial application in London with him. However, Tompion had already presented his two Greenwich regulator dials in a similar manner in 1676, but unlike Knibb, the Silver Tompion seems to have been the first and last time that Tompion presented a domestic clock in this manner.

Was it significant that Tompion chose to finish his clock in exactly the same manner as Knibb’s important royal commission of the same date? Perhaps partially, and it does seem to inextricably tie the two clocks together, but it was usual practice for the customer to specify finish and so it appears the king probably ordered the same for both. There is no doubt that the king’s approval did much to enhance reputation and influence patronage from elsewhere and, if these two clocks were ordered in the spirit of competition by the king, one would have to conclude that Tompion’s Grande Sonnerie striking silver clock initially won out over Knibb’s Roman notation example.

However, this clock shares exactly the same Grande Sonnerie strike and finish with the Silver Tompion, and if one accepts the rivalry process but takes it one step further; is it possible that the second Phase II example (the current ‘Symonds’ clock) might actually have been made in response, to equal Tompion’s clock, as a subsequent competitive answer by Joseph Knibb for Charles II?

Additional information

Dimensions 5827373 cm