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Joseph Knibb, London. Circa 1682-85.

Joseph Knibb, London. Circa 1682-85.

A very fine and rare Charles II ebony and gilt-brass mounted Phase III double-six Grande Sonnerie striking table clock with skeleton dial.

£245,000


Height

12¼ inches (312 mm).

Case

The archetypal Phase III case with ebony veneers and mouldings onto an oak carcass. The cushion domed top with cast gilt-brass acanthus mounts to the front and sides and surmounted by Knibb’s own foliate-tied gilt-brass handle. The flat-top cornice moulding with foliate-urn finials to each corner, above a square front door with typical cast and chased S-scroll escutcheons to the vertical rails, the left pin-hinged, and a silk-backed pierced ebony fret to the top rail, the sides with rectangular glazed apertures. The base has conforming plinth mouldings, typically and correctly, without feet.

Dial

The 6¾ inch square fire-gilded brass dial, signed along the lower edge Joseph Knibb London and the corners applied with Knibb’s later pattern of cast and chased gilt-brass winged cherub spandrels. The very fine close edge matting extending behind the delicate skeletonised chapter ring with pierced Roman hours and dot half-hour markers, with every Arabic minute engraved within the division ring. The centre set with a chamfered date square below XII, three winding apertures, and archetypal finely pierced and chamfered blued steel hands. 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 massive but delicate plates have ten latched vase-shaped pillars, the triple-split frontplate is divided for each train, holding their individual wheelwork, fusees and barrels, now with later chains. The going train has a knife-edge verge escapement with short brass pendulum rod and pear-shaped adjustable bob. The IX side quarter strike train is governed by a small outside countwheel, quarter-slotted for the detent lever, engraved 1-4, and with four pins to lift the pivoted link lever and trip the hours. The III side hour train with massive brass countwheel, divided to strike the hours at all quarters and twice engraved 1-6 at each hour (four times for every quarter), and pin-fixed to the fusee arbor. The fully engraved backplate has fine symmetrical scrolls and foliage with open and closed tulip flower heads, and is signed Joseph Knibb Londini Fecit in the lower centre, all framed within a single line. The movement is further secured, in the early manner, by two pins resting against the backplate into the seatboard.

Duration

8 days

Provenance

Private collection Devon, sold at Bearnes of Torquay, auctioneers, 9 March 1995;

Vitale collection, New York, USA, sold Christie’s 26 November 1996 for £84,000;

Private collection UK;

Anthony Woodburn and sold 2003;

Private collection UK.

To date, only six Grande Sonnerie Phase III table clocks with distinctive skeletonised dials by Joseph Knibb are known to have survived. These clocks utilise his most sophisticated strike method, and all have triple-divided frontplates; devised specifically to enable the clockmaker to access the complex linked wheel trains without having to disassemble the entire movement.

This fully developed Phase III form of case was first categorised by RA Lee in 1964, ‘The Knibb Family, Clockmakers’, and is often argued as the most aesthetically pleasing of all styles of English 17th century table clocks. What is indisputable, is that in combination with a skeletonised dial and highly complex movement, this Phase III example represents Joseph Knibb’s best work at the height of his powers and success.

Knibb’s double-six Grande Sonnerie striking system

The countwheel striking system is, theoretically, relatively simple and straightforward and had been in use in England to govern striking clocks since at least the 15th Century. However, countwheel striking depends on all elements running sequentially and as a result the system cannot have a repeat option, and if it gets out of sequence it will strike incorrectly against the time indicated, which then requires manual release of the countwheel(s), until the number struck matches the time shown by the hands. Joseph Knibb approached his construction with a view to simplicity and lightness of touch, so that his clocks have a delicacy and fineness that, not only served to crucially reduce inertia and friction, but resulted in the most aesthetically pleasing of movements.

More than any other maker, Joseph Knibb offered an intriguing array of different strike options within his clocks; most were introduced prior to the general uptake of rack and snail striking and were governed by countwheels. Some of his striking systems with two bells require both concentration and understanding, and this may go some way to explaining why his unusual Roman striking clocks (see The Hildesborg Knibb) were made in such small quantities, while the rarity of his complicated double-six Grande Sonnerie countwheel clocks (such as this example) can be further explained by their complexity and difficulties in their manufacture, leading to an undoubtedly very high original cost.

Knibb used double-six hour striking specifically to save on power in the strike train, and the first six hours are struck normally, but the strike reverts to 1 blow at VII o’clock, through to 6 blows at XII o’clock. The double-six Grande Sonnerie method requires a total of 288 blows every 12 hours: 120 blows from the quarter train and 168 blows from the hour train. The double-six hour countwheel is divided: 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2 etc., through to 6, 6, 6, 6 but twice, to make 12 hours.

On the backplate, between the quarter and hour countwheels, is a pivoted hour trip lever mounted on a post. The quarter countwheel has four external pins to engage the tail of the trip lever. As the external pin engages the trip lever, it in turn lifts the hour countwheel detent and releases the hour train. Because the timing is governed by the quarters coming to an end, no warning system is required for the hour train, which is released immediately. The striking is governed by the slots in the hour countwheel and controlled using the same method with a hoop wheel and detent. The course of a single rotation of the hour countwheel takes 12 hours.

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Product Description

To date, only six Grande Sonnerie Phase III table clocks with distinctive skeletonised dials by Joseph Knibb are known to have survived. These clocks utilise his most sophisticated strike method, and all have triple-divided frontplates; devised specifically to enable the clockmaker to access the complex linked wheel trains without having to disassemble the entire movement.

This fully developed Phase III form of case was first categorised by RA Lee in 1964, ‘The Knibb Family, Clockmakers’, and is often argued as the most aesthetically pleasing of all styles of English 17th century table clocks. What is indisputable, is that in combination with a skeletonised dial and highly complex movement, this Phase III example represents Joseph Knibb’s best work at the height of his powers and success.

Knibb’s double-six Grande Sonnerie striking system

The countwheel striking system is, theoretically, relatively simple and straightforward and had been in use in England to govern striking clocks since at least the 15th Century. However, countwheel striking depends on all elements running sequentially and as a result the system cannot have a repeat option, and if it gets out of sequence it will strike incorrectly against the time indicated, which then requires manual release of the countwheel(s), until the number struck matches the time shown by the hands. Joseph Knibb approached his construction with a view to simplicity and lightness of touch, so that his clocks have a delicacy and fineness that, not only served to crucially reduce inertia and friction, but resulted in the most aesthetically pleasing of movements.

More than any other maker, Joseph Knibb offered an intriguing array of different strike options within his clocks; most were introduced prior to the general uptake of rack and snail striking and were governed by countwheels. Some of his striking systems with two bells require both concentration and understanding, and this may go some way to explaining why his unusual Roman striking clocks (see The Hildesborg Knibb) were made in such small quantities, while the rarity of his complicated double-six Grande Sonnerie countwheel clocks (such as this example) can be further explained by their complexity and difficulties in their manufacture, leading to an undoubtedly very high original cost.

Knibb used double-six hour striking specifically to save on power in the strike train, and the first six hours are struck normally, but the strike reverts to 1 blow at VII o’clock, through to 6 blows at XII o’clock. The double-six Grande Sonnerie method requires a total of 288 blows every 12 hours: 120 blows from the quarter train and 168 blows from the hour train. The double-six hour countwheel is divided: 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2 etc., through to 6, 6, 6, 6 but twice, to make 12 hours.

On the backplate, between the quarter and hour countwheels, is a pivoted hour trip lever mounted on a post. The quarter countwheel has four external pins to engage the tail of the trip lever. As the external pin engages the trip lever, it in turn lifts the hour countwheel detent and releases the hour train. Because the timing is governed by the quarters coming to an end, no warning system is required for the hour train, which is released immediately. The striking is governed by the slots in the hour countwheel and controlled using the same method with a hoop wheel and detent. The course of a single rotation of the hour countwheel takes 12 hours.

Additional information

Dimensions 5827373 cm