Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Homage to Tompion

I first fell in love with English tall case clocks when I entered the room at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and met Tompion. I had no idea who Tompion was or that these kind of clocks even existed. I immediately began researching this period and this man and that started a long term affair which occupies a good portion of my time.

R. W. Symonds' definitive book on Thomas Tompion is required reading. As a "retired" scientist who has studied my share of mathematics and mechanics, I can only wonder at the genius of those early clock makers who were able to construct such advanced clockworks that could not only tell time (basic problem solved) but were able to include in their systems devices which could accurately determine the position of celestial bodies, phases of the moon, and even the tides at London Bridge.

It was in 1655 or 1656 when the famous Dutch mathematical genius, Christian Huygens discovered that using a pendulum as a clock regulator, clocks could be made to keep accurate time. The effect was immediate, and in 1658 clocks using pendulums were advertised in London. For the first time in human history it was possible to keep accurate time and everyone who could afford a clock placed their orders.

It is important to understand that the clock works were made by the man who put his name on the dial, but the clock case was made by the local cabinetmaker, who is usually forgotten by time. Men like Tompion, considered the Father of English clockmaking, were so popular that they employed several different craftsmen to make their cases, and all the cases are different.

During the Golden Age of English clockmaking, around 1680, the cases were elaborately decorated with the newest fashion of marquetry veneers, in the Dutch style, after the French fashion. These cases are amazing, with the use of sawn imported hardwood veneers, bone, metals, tortoiseshell, ivory, and mother of pearl inlays. Olive wood was favored, as it polished like marble and had glorious colors in the grain which was dramatic, especially when the moldings were carved from short vertical grain. The olive was also cut in an oyster or sausage veneer which created circles or ovals of pattern.

The Tompion clock at the Met inspired me to make a similar clock for my own house. I acquired the materials from Patrick George, in Paris, and ordered the works made by David Lindow, in Pennsylvania. Lindow cut the hands, made the face and sent it to London for engraving. Every element of the mechanism is authentic to the period.

The only difference is that my name is on the dial.

Note: The Tompion Clock is on the right. My clock is on the left. It has been sold and lives in Dallas, Texas. Each time I make a clock for myself it ends up sold before it is completed...


Anonymous said...

In 1680 this style of mechanism would have had a count wheel striking mechanism,if it is authentic to the period! Not sure why you ommited the pics of the mechanism, would like to have seen that!!Case and dial is very nice indeed. Really like your marquetry work.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I should have included photos of the works. They were made by David Lindow, in Gravity, Pennsylvania. They are new works, made like they would have been in 1680. He is very careful to make period works, and I am very pleased with the results.

The face was engraved in London. The works do have a count wheel striking mechanism, as you point out.