Antiques & Auctions: Exotic Elephant Clocks Used as Gifts and Bribes; TIMEKEEPERS: `Sing-Songs' First Appeared during Renaissance Period

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Byline: JEFFERY MUSE

TABLE clocks or watches are rare if they were made during the 16th Century.

Many collectors have been bitterly disappointed when offering their prized possession up to scrutiny. An original timekeeper would have no glass covering the dial and though they were also being made on the continent, in France and Holland, before the turn of the new century, so many genuine pieces survive it is believed all have been accredited.

Authentic clocks of the period would be held together by means of catgut if this was a fuse movement, and not a chain. Lacking also would be a controlling spring to the balance and the necessary balance-cock would be unusually narrow and not, as would be expected, cover all the balance.

Inside even the most elaborate of cases would be a movement appearing crude and odd-looking, and obviously hand-made. Frames and wheels were either iron or steel during the first few years of the 1500s but by circa 1530 some clocks include brass plates and some pillars, also in brass. Brass wheels prior to 1550 are very unusual, however, and at about this time in Germany their clockmakers began to introduce screws into their movements, to hold pieces of metal together.

Also from the mid 16th Century cotters and pins began in use, and riveting is present in some notable pieces. In Britain, however, screws are not found until much later in the 1500s, even noticeable by their absence in 17th-century watches.

It is also unusual to perceive winding holes in cases of 16th-century watches. To keep these little gems in motion was quite an effort as the movement had to be taken out altogether before any key could be introduced. A few exceptional examples are wound while still inside the case, by opening the back, but even in these the case has to be lifted in order to do so.

In the Society of Antiquaries in London is a table timepiece by Jacob Zech, the inventor of the fuse movement. It was given to the society by an apothecary named Henry Peckett, of Compton Street in London's Soho district, and on his death his executors duly handed over the rare item in 1808.

The clock had originally been given to the astronomer and mechanician, James Ferguson, by the clockmaker Thomas Mudge, and when Ferguson's effects were sold, Peckett obtained it in 1777. It is a spectacular timepiece and was made for Sigismund I, King of Poland, who gave it to Bona Sforza, the woman he married in 1518.

Even in the late 18th Century this was highly regarded when Britain dominated trade between the Far East and Europe. …