The collection grew directly out of the formation of the library. Benjamin L. Vulliamy reported that he had made the first purchases for it at the sale of Alexander Cummings effects on July 1st 1815. It is the oldest dedicated watch and clock collection in the world. It is wide in its scope, representing both the technical and decorative aspects of horology.
A number of catalogues of the collection have been produced over the years, the first in 1875 and the last in 1975 by Cecil Clutton and George Daniels, both Past Masters of the Company. Although sadly also out of print it may be found in second-hand booksellers. It is an essential item for the library of any serious horologist.
Of particular interest are clocks in the collection made by members of the Company. One of the most prized being a watch by our first Master, David Ramsay, the silver case in the form of a six pointed star. It is embellished with scenes from the bible. The engraving of the case, which is signed ‘de Heck Sculp’ is thought to be Gerard de Heck working in Blois c.1609-29. The movement is signed ‘David Ramsay Scotus me fecit’.
There is also a table clock by one of our first Wardens, Henry Archer, who, the year following the formation of the Company, was appointed Deputy Master, whilst Ramsay was out of the country. It would appear that he must have died shortly after as he was never appointed Master. The clock is a curious combination of an English movement in an earlier French case.
One of our longest lived members was Edward East who lived to the age of ninety four years. He was a founder member of the Company, twice Master and the only Treasurer the Company ever had. His life spanned six reigns and the Commonwealth. He is represented in the Collection by a number of watches and clocks.
Probably the most well-known member of the Company is Thomas Tompion 1639-1713. He was one of a group of leading clockmakers in the so-called ‘golden age’ of English clockmaking, the last quarter of the seventeenth century. He was admitted to the Company, by redemption, in 1672 having served his apprenticeship with his father, a blacksmith in Ickwell, Bedfordshire, later gaining further experience with a clockmaker, Samuel Knibb in Newport Pagnall before coming to London. He was Master of the Company in 1703. The collection has a number of his clocks and watches including a four month, long case movement.
One of the most notable of the next generation of clockmakers was George Graham FRS, 1675 – 1751. He was apprenticed to Henry Aske at the age of 13 in 1688 for a period of seven years, becoming a Freeman in 1695. He became journeyman and later partner to Thomas Tompion.He was one of horology’s great inventors. He invented the dead beat escapement, the mercury compensated pendulum, for temperature compensation, and also perfected the cylinder escapement first developed by Tompion. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and was Master of the Company in 1722. He is represented by a number of fine watches and clocks in the Collection.
No account of the Company’s collection would be complete without the mention of a provincial clockmaker from Barrow-on-Humber in Lincolnshire – John Harrison (1693 – 1776). Spending most of his working life in Lincolnshire he was not a member of the Company. Known as ‘the man who found longitude’ he spent the greater part of his working life trying to perfect a chronometer that would keep accurate time at sea, the Admiralty having offered a prize of £20,000 for such a timekeeper. The story of how he eventually won the prize, or most of it, is well told elsewhere. In the process of doing so he submitted five clocks to the Admiralty Board of Longitude, known as HI – H5. It was with H4 that he eventually won the prize and to prove it was not a ‘fluke’ he was required to reproduce H4.
This was H5 which is one of the highlights of the Company’s Collection, HI – H4 being in the National Maritime Museum at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The Company’s collection of Harrison Manuscripts is regarded as exceptional.
Space does not allow details of the many other wonderful examples of the clock and watchmaker’s art to be found in the Collection, but The Bridgeman Art Library have images of many of the important items.