Sunday, October 28, 2012

Novelty clocks

The earliest surviving working novelty clocks were German automata made in Augsburg in the 1650s involving mechanical figures, either of human or animal form, which performed as the hour struck. They include dogs, and, most extraordinary for the early date, cockerels which flapped their wings and opened and closed their mouth, often making a crowing sound. The earliest novelty clock in history is the celebrated crowing cock of the Strasbourg Cathedral clock, made in 1354 and now preserved in the Strasbourg Museum.

Bradley & Hubbard, Meriden, Connecticut, cast iron novelty Blinking Eye clock, signed, movement with porcelain dial and beveled glass door. Patented July 14, 1857.
These astonishing pieces continued to be made until the 18th century, when they fell out of favour, but the novelty clock enjoyed a revival in the Black Forest area of Germany in the 19th century and included eating man who lifts a fork to his mouth on the hour. The French also manufactured novelty clocks to a high standard. There are mantel clocks in the form of a rolling ship on a seascape and clocks incorporating model waterfalls, the effect created by spinning glass spirals, each with an automaton separate from the clock which could run for a few hours at a time.

During the 19th century automaton clocks were made, mainly in France, in forms which reflected the new industrial age and included steam locomotives, water wheels and large steam hammers. Produced in quite large numbers, they form part of a growing collectors' market today.

C.1900, France/Belgium, a Home Made Folk Art "Fireplace" automaton, with separate movement for the spinning wheel. The clock movement has been adapted from a mantel clock, with levers added to the warning arm and strike shaft, their motion carried down to the automaton by wires. A rear cover comes off for adjusting the wires. The movement for the spinning wheel is an iron plated job with brass bushings, and with a large contrate wheel to allow for winding from the side of the case (note contrate wheel is both crude and worn and will need attention). The little painted lady at her ivory spinning wheel is losing the paint on her face and arms.

Similarly, the fellow to the left who rings the bell to strike the hours is losing his paint. Detail on the little spinning wheel is good. The rear dust cover was replaced maybe 25 years ago. An interesting piece, with age, that should appeal to collectors of folk art. Width 16 inches, Height 16 inches

Collectors' notes:
The early Augsburg clocks are scarce and most of them have undergone some restoration.
The clocks comprising tin figures holding dials are reproduced in cast alloy and many are being passed off as originals. The original figures have painted tin clothes over a wooden carcass whereas the reproductions are painted directly onto a cast body with casting marks and serial numbers on the base.
Prices of novelty clocks have risen steeply in the last years whereas the value of other types of clocks has, in many cases, gone down. 

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