ALBERT ODMARK NOTES
It was on a trip to London in July 1965 that I went to see Ronald Lee soon after he had moved to his Bruton Place shop. I wandered around admiring his wonderful clocks and in particular the walnut Knibb with skeletonised dial and month movement. 'You know,' said Ronald 'you really ought to have that'. I knew I should buy it but the £3,250 price tag seemed like an awful lot of money right then, I couldn't really afford it.
'Well' said Ronald, 'why don't you pay for it in six months time?'
I left without buying anything and nothing more was said about the Knibb but back home in Seattle about a month later the shippers rang. They had a longcase clock with them, sent over by a Mr Lee. Ronald had sent the Knibb anyway, somehow he just knew that it was right that I should have it.
Joseph Knibb, 1640-1711, with the possible exception of Thomas Tompion, was the most innovative clockmaker of his time. Once he had established a good client base and his own style, Knibb set about expanding the parameters of horological innovation. He experimented with dials, escapements, different forms of striking, different case materials and more complicated movements. To more humble clockmakers working in London at that time his workshops must have been revered and admired for their cutting-edge innovation.
The present clock exhibits the most extraordinary number of Knibb's innovations including Roman strike, 1¼ seconds pendulum, skeletonized dial, month-going and a carcass made from cariniana wood. CARINIANA
This case has been microscopic analysed and it is confirmed that the case of this clock is veneered on a carcase of cariniana wood (Cariniana spp.). There are ten or more species of cariniana indigenous to Venezuela, Colombia and Central Brazil. All are sizeable timber trees, reaching at least 125 feet in height and with boles three to four feet in diameter. Modern supplies are generally traded under the name Jequitiba, and most is the product of C. legalis, which grows abundantly in Brazil. The wood is generally pinkish or reddish brown, becoming grayer with age. In some respects it most resembles a dull walnut. Cariniana works easily and performs well as a carcase timber, a fact clearly appreciated by some early English clockmakers.
The use of cariniana as a carcase wood in early English longcase clock cases was first documented by the late Ronald Lee. A very small number of examples are now known, ranging in date from circa 1659 to circa 1682. Most are associated with movements produced by members of the Knibb family, although clocks by other makers, such as Simon Bartram and Hilkiah Bedford, have also been found with cariniana cases. This rather select usage may point to a common casemaker whose identity is as yet unknown, and to a limited supply of the timber. It is possible that the relatively brief span of time during which the wood was employed is related to the shortlived florescence of Willougbyland (now Surinam), which was an English colony between 1651 and 1667. Other woods from the region, most notably snakewood (Piratinera guianensis), enjoyed a similarly brief vogue among contemporary furnituremakers before the Dutch conquest of Suriname in 1667 put an end to the trade.
Although skeletonised chapter rings had been made by clockmakers on Continental Europe in the mid 17th Century they rarely caught on in London. This was almost certainly because solid chapter rings were much more simple to make; skeletonise one required a highly skilled clockmaker to work for many hours.
R. A. Lee, The Knibb Family Clockmakers, 1964, noted;
Few Makers in London ever used them, Clement, Barrow, Dingley, Tompion, Seignor, Jones and Joseph Knibb. The first five only used them in isolated instances; there are about six known by Jones, but Joseph made about thirty of a much more refined design than any other maker. The long pendulum used on this clock is almost certainly original. It has simple, yet elegant style and comprises two rods; a clever swivel latch secures the rods together, when the clock should need to be disassembled the latch is be disengaged and the pendulum easily removed in two parts.
John Smith, Horologial Dialogues, London, 1675;
As to their regularity I shall say only thus much, that those clocks, who have their motion regulated by a Pendulum are more excellent than those who are regulated by a Balance, and those, that are regulated by a long pendulum, are far more excellent than those that are regulated by a short one.
It is a moot point as to whether the long 61 in., or Royal pendulum, was first used with the anchor escapement or whether experiments on both lengths were were being made at the same time that the anchor was being developed. The 1¼ in. seconds pendulum had the advantage over a seconds pendulum, as it reduced error owing to its slower swing and smaller arc of swing. They did not gain popularity because the were inclined to 'take over' the case and make it sway slightly, so stopping the clock unless it is firmly fixed to the wall. Knibb used the long pendulums on his more complicted clocks which had long duration movements and tended to be heavier and therefore more stable.
Perhaps Knibb's most notable invention was his Roman strike system. Normally favoured with his movements of month or three-month duration the Roman strike system was so called because the Roman figures on the dial directly influenced the method of striking which used two bells of a different tone. The method was to strike the smaller bell for the Roman I and larger bell for the V and twice on the larger bell for the X. This system was particularly useful for long duration movements because using the normal system 78 blows of the hammer are required every 24 hours whereas under the Roman strike system the power is greatly conserved because only 30 blows are used. When employing his Roman strike system Knibb always used the conventional Roman IV on the chapter ring instead of the usual IIII.
An important Charles II walnut and cariniana, month-going and Roman striking longcase clock with 1¼ seconds pendulum
The case with cariniana carcass, the hood re-donverted to rising with three lacquered brass ball finials to the caddy, S-scroll walnut sound frets above twist columns, iron locking spoon, rectangular trunk door with later(?) lock and escutcheon, the inside of the door pasted with a descriptive label and IDEN COLLECTION inventory sticker, the plinth now with later bun feet, the 10 in. sq. dial with wheatear border engraving enclosing a finely pierced and engraved skeletonised Roman and Arabic chaptering with finely pierced blued steel hands, low-position winding holes, finely chased gilt brass spandrels, latches to the dial feet and to the five slender ringed pillars, thin brass rectangular movement plates, Roman strike on two bells via countwheel planted on the backplate, the escapement with Knibb's butterfly nut spring-suspension system for the 'Royal' pendulum with two-piece brass rod with the original (Knibb's) pivoted double-latch locking device and with further butterfly nut regulation; the pendulum bob and brass-cased weights inscribed with the legend MR. IDEN KNIBB 1¼ ROMAN MONTH
Dawson (Percy G.), The Iden Clock Collection, Antique Collectors' Club, 1987, pp. 146 & 7, fig. 58
The collection of the late Walter Iden Esq.
The collection of the late Dr. L. Phillips, sold Sotheby & Co., 26th March 1965, lot 85 to R.A. Lee.