Landmark Horological Manuscripts Far Exceed Expectations

The Dreweatts and Bloomsbury Auctions sale at Donnington Priory of the Horological Working Library of Charles Allix together with Fine Clocks, Barometers and Scientific Instruments on Wednesday 22nd February, was a resounding success far exceeding expectations.

Dido Arthur, the specialist in charge at Bloomsbury Auctions said, ‘This was the most important and comprehensive collection of horological interest to appear on the market for several decades, and the largest collection of manuscripts and other material relating to John "Longitude" Harrison since the 1920s.’

Charles Allix, the foremost dealer in watches in Britain, ran a major horological bookshop from his home in Kent. His knowledge was unrivalled and he wrote many learned articles including the definitive work on carriage clocks. Bloomsbury Auctions was delighted to offer the Allix Working Library which included various landmark manuscripts of international importance.

Out of the eight manuscripts (lots 123-130) by John Harrison, five were bought by Charles Frodsham & Co. on behalf of the Clockmakers' Company, located at the Guildhall in the City of London. The Clockmakers’ Company’s library is by far the largest repository of Harrison manuscript material in the world, so the purchase from Bloomsbury’s sale of 5 of the last surviving manuscripts not secured in museum collections, ensure that these hugely important documents join the main body of Harrison's writings at the Guildhall.

John Harrison (1693-1776) invented the marine chronometer, a device for solving the problem of establishing the East-West position or longitude of a ship at sea, thus revolutionising and extending the possibility of safe long distance sea travel. The problem was considered so intractable that Parliament offered a prize of £20,000 (comparable to £2.87 million in modern currency) for the solution; Harrison took on the scientific and academic establishment of his time and won the longitude prize through extraordinary mechanical insight, talent and determination. He is probably the most famous clockmaker in history; his life-long dedication to the discovery of longitude at sea is now legendary and has been popularised in a best-selling book and television drama.

Amongst the highlights in the sale was lot 125, Harrison’s notes for a petition to Parliament, in a secretary’s hand, with a correction by William Harrison with his autograph; estimated £6,000-8,000 it made a resounding £43,920. Another lot secured by the Clockmaker’s Company was lot 127 a manuscript draft of an unpublished petition to Parliament and the only evidence we have of this pamphlet; this too far exceeded expectations and sold for £46,360 against an estimate of £7,000-10,000.

Harrison was an exceptional man, a working class joiner from Lincolnshire with little formal education who not only solved the pivotal nautical problem of his day, but he also had a life-long interest in music and musical theory. His research proved that the approximation to perfection in music required the division of a scale into nineteen or even twenty-five parts as opposed to the twelve standard intervals. The Allix Collection offered the unpublished notes and amendments to Harrison’s working manuscript ‘True and Full Account of the Foundation of Music’ (lot 128), which he wrote in the 1770s. The four pages offered at Bloomsbury Auctions had become separated from the original manuscript, they carried a presale estimate of £6,000-8,000 and they fetched £13,420. Harrison played the viol and was choir master at Barrow upon Humber and the following two lots consisted of notes possibly for the Barrow choir; each was estimated £3,000-4,000 and each went for £11,090.

Portraits and bronze busts of this key horological figure also fared very well such as lot 134 which is possibly the only contemporary three-dimensional representation of John Harrison, and this made £10,370 (estimated £1,500-2,500). The mezzotint portrait of 1768 after T King (lot 132) which appeared on the cover of the catalogue, was also enthusiastically received and it made £4,270 comfortably over its estimate of £600-800.

Amongst the other highlights in the Bloomsbury sale was one of the most famous of horological books, the first and very rare edition of Regle Artificielle du Temps by Henry Sully (lot 106). The author was an English horologist who established a watch factory at Versaille after moving to Paris in 1714. Much of this work is concerned with the regulating of watches and clocks and it made £7,930 well over its estimate of £1,500-2,000.

This was an extremely successful sale, firmly placing Bloomsbury Auctions as a major leader in the auction of horological works.

To view the sale catalogue online, please click here

For general information please contact: Dido Arthur, tel: 020 7495 9494 / email:

For further press information please contact: Vanessa Clewes Salmon. tel: 020 8458 3288 / email:

Bloomsbury Auctions - 27 February 2012