Collecting Antique Clocks A Sleeper Awakened
A 'sleeper' is a word used in the antiques trade to describe an item that has not seen the light of day for years. It usually refers to a piece of furniture which may have been languishing in a barn or perhaps in storage, maybe covered in dust, but most of all has not been on the antiques market for years, has not been through the trade, and therefore has not been tampered with. Dealers and collectors love to find a sleeper, and one such is illustrated here.
This is an oak-cased thirty-hour longcase brass dial longcase clock with a single hand. Not that these in themselves are rare items, as there are many such that come onto the market every year. After all they were still being made as late as 1800, over a century after their first introduction. But this particular one was made within a year or two of 1700 by Richard Savage of Shrewsbury, and that is a very early date for any provincial clock. Moreover Savage is one of those early makers we clock nuts just love, because he not only made clocks which are few and far between and for that reason alone are highly desirable today, but because he was the very first clockmaker in that county by whom clocks are known to survive - and for a collector, you cannot get earlier than the first. It is only from a study of the work of such men that we are able to form any concept of how the early provincial clock craft developed. And that was of course a very different development from the origins of the trade in London, which has been very well studied for many years now. Early provincial clockmaking is virtually unknown, almost uncovered territory.
Richard Savage was virtually unknown as a clockmaker until 1979, when Douglas Elliotts book on the Shropshire makers was the first to publish a few facts about his life, but his clocks were still virtually unknown. Since then I have come across five clocks by him, and have been lucky to have owned three of them. Many, in fact most, of his clocks were dated with the year of making and bear the names of the first owners, which means we are able to add a little to those facts Douglas Elliott uncovered from the local parish records.
Savage is known to have worked first of all at Much Wenlock in Shropshire, where he was from at least 1692 till at least 1696, then by 1698 he had moved to Shrewsbury town, where he worked till his death in 1728. Three of his sons trained under him there, but it there is no record of their having completed their apprenticeships, and no clock seems to have been yet recorded bearing any of their names - Thomas, William and Richard. Apart from one old record mentioning a longcase clock by him, all five of these clocks were lantern clocks or wall clocks of a lantern type.
The photographs show the state of the movement of this clock - the brass blackened with age and thick with generations of dust sticking on top of old oil. This is a marvellous, and today quite rare, sight for a collector, because it shows that the clock has not been tampered with or cleaned (well or badly) for many years. But also it means that the movement will probably be well preserved under its protective layer of oil, and it is probably not in a badly worn state, since it may have been sleeping for perhaps a century of its three hundred year life.
On the other hand the case has been regularly polished and has a lovely colour and patina. This can only mean it has been sleeping not in some store or outhouse, where the whole thing would be covered in cobwebs, but in some cottage household somewhere where a house-proud owner gave it a regular polishing, but had either no inclination to have the clock running or perhaps had no knowledge of where to find a restorer. So here we have the best of both worlds in a sleeper - a well-cared-for case and a totally neglected movement.
The miracle is that such items still turn up in this condition. With the massive coverage of antiques today in all types of media, you would think every attic and humble hovel had been scoured for potential treasures. But in fact there are occasional Rip van Winkles of the antiques world which emerge blinking into the light of day - I am referring to the objects not the dealers!
Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes
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