Ahasuerus Fromanteel Cupid Clock

Ahasuerus Fromanteel ClockA recently discovered, English ebony bracket clock attributed to Ahasuerus Fromanteel sold for a remarkable £692,000 on 28 June at Bonhams, New Bond Street, as part of its sale of Fine Clocks and Watches.

Pictured right: Ahasuerus Fromanteel Cupid Clock

The clock, which was found in a private European collection in mid-May this year, and had been in the same family since the 1950s, had attracted a pre-sale estimate of £200,000 – 300,000.

ErezMeanwhile, the highly anticipated sale of an historic and rare clock believed to have been designed for Napoleon’s ‘Exposition publique des produits de l’industrie Francaise’ in 1801, did not disappoint. Having lain undiscovered in Europe for two centuries, it had been estimated at £200,000 – 300,000 and sold for an excellent £322,400. (pictured left)

Other sought after lots included a fine late 17th century timepiece by Thomas Tompion, which fetched £156,000; and a rare 17th century Roman-striking table clock by Joseph Knibb, which made £126,000.

In total, the sale realised £1,632,520 with 93% sold by value.

More on the Ahasuerus Fromanteel Cupid Clock  from Bonhams

This remarkable clock was discovered in a private European clock collection in mid-May of this year. The vendor remembers the clock being in the family home since at least the 1950s but does not know exactly where or when her late grandfather bought it. He was based in Paris and was a keen collector of clocks. Quite how such an important early English clock found it’s way to the continent and has remained undiscovered for over 300 years is a mystery, but such things do happen. The Tompion grande sonnerie table clock sold at Sothebys, London lay for centuries in a German castle; the miniature architectural longcase clock by Blackford of Warwick sold in these rooms in December 2007 was a wonderful discovery that prompted a re-evaluation of early provincial clockmaking, and, of course the Ahasuerus Fromanteel longcase clock sold in these rooms in December 2009 gave us another example from the masters hands.

A late 19th or early 20th century(?) label applied to the rear of the case dates the clock, in a French hand, to circa 1680. This date is patently incorrect, but it does give rise to a theory as to why the clock had the original Fromanteel signature plaque removed. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that the original plaque was removed by a dealer or collector who wanted to ‘improve’ the commercial appeal of the clock to his market at the time. Perhaps a dealer in the 19th century?

Thinking that the clock dated to circa 1680, as the handwritten label states, it is easy enough to see how Etienne LeNoir, as a well respected 1680s Parisian maker, was picked from the clockmakers records and engraved on the nameplate.

Comparing this clock to other clocks by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, such as that in Lees’s exhibition ‘The First 12 Years of the English Pendulum Clock’, exhibit numbers 11 (an architectural clock with similar case and split frontplates signed on the dial only) and exhibit number 12 (the Fromanteel Cupola clock with figural cherub surmount, further illustrated in Dawson, Drover Parkes plate 193 and signed on the movement only) and in particular the grande sonnerie table clock sold at Christies in 1982 and subsequently illustrated on the back cover of Dawson, Drover, Parkes (signed on the movement only and illustrated here for comparison purposes), it is our belief that this clock can be conclusively attributed to Ahasuerus Fromanteel. Each of these three clocks is signed only once. In all major respects the current case and that of the last mentioned clock are identical, and were certainly made in the same workshop.

The advert taken out by Fromanteel in the ‘Mercurius Politicus’ of October 1658 has become famous throughout the horological world. Ahasuerus’s son, Johannes, went to The Hague in 1657 to work with Salomon Coster in order to learn ‘the secret’ of the new type of clock that had revolutionised timekeeping. Early Coster clocks are extremely rare – he died in 1659 – but two that survive were exhibited in the ‘Huygens Legacy’ exhibition in 2004 at the Paleis Het Loo. Interestingly, they both share some very pertinent similarities to the current clock.

Exhibit 8, the earliest extant pendulum clock, c1657, has a velvet covered dial, gilt brass chapter ring and a case hinged on the left hand side.

Exhibit 10, an hour striking Hague clock circa 1659 has a velvet covered dial, a gilt brass chapter ring and a case hinged on the left hand side that is locked with a winding key.

These clocks, or others just like them, would have been in Coster’s workshop while Johannes was working there. The fact that the current lot exhibits such similarities to the early Coster clocks opens up the possibility that on his return to London, Johannes’s made at least one clock in the way in which he had been taught, i.e. with a velvet dial, a gilt chapter ring and a case that was hinged on the left-hand side and was opened by the winding key. Like those from The Hague, it too would have been signed on an applied plaque on the dial plate.

The beautiful gilt brass hands are Continental in style – they compare very well to the pair on a clock, circa 1662, by one of Costers contemporaries in The Hague, Claude Pascal, see ‘Huygens Legacy’ exhibit number 12. It is quite possible that Johannes brought these hands back with him – literally with his belongings – in 1658, or he may have subsequently ordered them from a contact he made during his sojourn.

It is obvious that Johannes’s experience in The Hague was a major influence in the design of the dial of this clock. Like those made in The Hague, this clock would have been signed on a signature plaque below the chapter ring. The holes still survive in the dial plate and one side even bears a ‘pip’ mark so typical of Fromanteel movements.

The dial is not entirely Coster-inspired,though; applied spandrels were not used in early Dutch clocks and the current examples are identical to those used on the architectural spring timepiece by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, circa 1659 (see Huygens Legacy exhibit 19), and the architectural table clock by him circa 1662 (exhibit 23 in the same exhibition). Like the Fromanteel longcase clock sold in these rooms in December 2009, the current spandrels are secured with a single screw and set upon a locating pin cast or rivetted into the dial plate. To the best of our knowledge, no other early maker used this system of fixing spandrels.

It is not inconceivable that this clock is one of the very first that he made on his return to London, with the same dial that had proved so popular in the Hague.

The particular elements of the dial that are Coster-inspired are
1. The gilded rather than silvered brass chapter ring
2. The velvet-covered rather than matted dial plate
3. The brass rather than steel hands. In this last respect, the current hands are very similar to a pair on a clock by

The movement, however, is not continental in feel – it runs for 8 days rather than 30 hours and it uses fusees coupled with the spring barrels.

As far as we are aware, this clock is unique within the Fromanteel ouevre in having a velvet dial.

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