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Early 19c. Russian Skeleton clocks

Oled

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Hello Colleagues!

Most probably most/many of you know what early 19c. Viennese table skeleton clocks are, and have seen several examples. They were usually weight-driven, highly decorated, highly priced and highly desired for any collector. Mathias Wibral, Casper Brandl and other similar clockmaker names make clock collector's heart beat faster :). But probably not so many knows that weight-driven table skeleton clocks were very popular in Russia too and were produced here also at the same time period, in the first half of 19 c. I guess nowadays in Europe and US only very little is known about clockmaking in Russia in 19c., but that's also because the situation in Russia is quite the same. For the whole Soviet period information about technological progress of the Tzar's times were unfavored subject for historical investigation, so there are no specific books, only very few articles exists. The only small booklet with names of Russian clockmaker's written by V.L.Chenakal was published in 1970-s in England (!). But hopefully it will be changed in the future, so for now I will try to shed some light on the subject, and if it will be interesting for you I will continue with more examples. Enjoy!

To begin with, I must admit that the earliest known examples of table skeleton clocks made in Russia most probably were made from the Viennese models. Moreover, some of the earliest clocks made in St. Petersburg bear the name of Mathias Wibral (or Wiebral) and "Patent", indicating that there was some active agreement between clockmakers. All these clocks are dated to 1820-s. But who was the actual clockmaker? That's the interesting story and I will give you the answer in the next post with pictures.

Best regards,
Oleg

1825_Wibral_Patent_Auction_1.jpg 1825_Wibral_Patent_Auction_3.jpg 1820_Wibral_patent_my_01.jpeg 1820_Wibral_patent_my_02.jpg 1820_Wibral_patent_my_05.jpg w_Wien clock1.jpg w_Wien clock2.jpg w_Wien clock4.jpg ГИМ БР-1323.jpg
 

Oled

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One of the places where such clocks were made was John (or Johann) Forman's workshop and clock store. It was located in very center of St. Petersburg at the Isakievskaya square from 1797. He employed local journeymen and had apprentices which learned trade making clocks as was used at that days. Most probably one of the persons who made "Wibral-Patent" clocks there was his journeyman - Carl Fredrik Blomquist (1796 - 1836). He was Born in Pohja, Abo (Finland was Russian Empire at the time), in clockmaker's family, his father Fredrik Blomquist (1740-96) and brother Magnus B. Blomquist were master clockmakers in Abo. In 1810-s Carl Fredrik worked in St. Petersburg until 1820 when he received Master clockmaker. From 1821 he returned to Finland and worked in Abo. Wall clock signed "C.F. Blomquist, St.Petersburg" (images courtesy of Steam Mill Clocks LTD) and table regulator signed "C.F. Blomquist, Abo" (collection of Ekenäs Museim, Finnland) has skeletonized movements and features which are extremely close to "Wibral - Patent" examples in the earlier post.

Later examples of C.F. Blomquist's clocks have more robust design, one of which has pin writing on the movement plinth: "Verfertigt von H.H.Keppler 1824 7/12" (made 7 December 1824 by H.H. Keppler). In 1823-25 clockmaker Hans-Henrik Keppler (1801-64) worked as journeyman in C.F. Blomquist's workshop in Abo, and before that in 1819 - 22 he learned trade in St.petersburg in the workshop of clockmaker Wehrle.

There were more regional clockmakers who learned the knowledge of making very popular type of table weight-driven clocks in St. Petersburg and continued at home provinces, like J.G.Hillman from Narva, etc. (images courtesy of www.uhrmacherverzeichnis.de)

dealer_steammill_highres_1482853134207-5706431792.jpg dealer_steammill_highres_1482853141988-6159646108.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_12.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_13.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_02.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_03.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_04.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_07.jpg blomquist-carl-fredrik_08.jpg hillmann-j-g01.jpg hillmann-j-g06.jpg hillmann-j-g07.jpg
 

Oled

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In 1830-s John Forman's workshop continued to produce "Wibral-Patent" skeleton clocks as they were extremely popular in public due to sophisticated design. Design of the clocks have changed with the fashion and became more elaborate. A lot of gilded bronze of highest quality was used since it was also produced in St. Petersburg.

From around 1835 John Forman's son, William (Vasiliy) inherited the workshop and continued the trade. They produced all kinds of clocks, not only table ones, but also hall and wall regulators, chronometers, etc. They also made clocks to order, which were excellently decorated and signed by the name of workshop owner. Famous Russian poet Pushkin also used to repair his watches and clocks at Forman's.

ГОМ-7570 Wibral in Wien Нижегородский муз-зап.jpg МУЧ-3668-14 (1).jpg МУЧ-3668-14 (2).jpg МУЧ-3668-14 (7).jpg МУЧ-3668-14 (9).jpg
 

Oled

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Table skeleton clocks were produced not only in St. Petersburg, the capital city, and North-West, but throughout all central Russia. Moscow was one of the regions where craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics was established from medieval ages. There were a lot of skilled clockmakers, who produced all type of clocks from the complex ones to simple, affordable to the public. From 1820's table skeleton clock was one of the options proposed by clockmakers to order or made for stock. It was either weight-driven or spring powered clocks, like the example here made by Moscow clockmaker Lasar Semyonov in 1824.

Moscow clocks of that period were taller then Petersburg ones, had slightly different proportions and appearance: instead of polished classical columns they had combined engine turned gilded brass stands and the cutout pattern of their rectangular movements was very common for all the makers throughout 1820-s and first half of 1830-s.

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Oled

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Unfortunately, as it was a common practice at the time, most of the clocks made by Russian clockmakers were unsigned. There were several reasons for that, one of which was they were sold not by clockmaker itself, but by the merchant stores. And sometimes, probably, store owner wanted his customers to pretend they bought foreign clock, as foreign goods always were more expensive and desirable in Russia. In fact, during the reign of the tzar Nicolas I, very high custom duties were set for all the foreign luxury, bronzes and clocks, making all that very expensive to import. The consequence of this was the rapid development of local mechanical, bronze and clockmaking industries in 1820-40-s. And since people rumor's were English clocks are the best from the best and most reliable, Russian clocks in construction were made technically very close to English examples.

Going back to the subject, Moscow region skeleton clocks of 1830-s became more detailed and elaborate, clockmakers started to order new designs from brass workshops in the styles which was popular. And popular was so called "Birmingham bronzes", the technique employed in making all the beautiful solid images of bronzes or brass using the patterned steel rolls. This technique actually changed everything in the way Moscow brassware started to look like in 1830-s and 1840-s.

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Oled

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From around 1835 Moscow clockmakers started to experiment with coloristic appearance of clocks, e.g. silvering of brass parts became very popular, most probably this was a common technique for the other brassware including candlesticks, etc. But it was really good as created very nice contrast with gilded parts. Also, Gothic theme became very popular on the wave of passion for the historical styles developed at that time. You can notice gothic motifs and arches stamped on the column bases and in the shape of the movement cut-outs of the spring-driven clock pictured on last photos below. That current clock is also interesting because of it's escapement wheel shape. Before mid-1830-s only pin wheel escapement was available on such kind of clocks, but in 1830-s Graham dead beat escapement was adopted by all the makers. Russian clockmaker Ivan Nosov used it's own escapement invention called "double wheel", which wheels were different in teeth shape, and you can see here on this clock he decided to use only one wheel of it to perform as a normal Graham-type escapement.

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Oled

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Since the late 1830-s and into 1840-s another important feature has been added to the appearance of such clocks. It was "Bohemian" cut-glass Gothic-style columns produced by A.V.Maltzov's crystal glass factory in Gus, Vladimir region near Moscow. With blue or red overlay and gilded mounts they looked just stunning. At the same time clockmakers started to fit complicated time and strike movements, usually with spring powered drive.

The last photo here was taken from Derek Roberts - "Continental and American Skeleton Clocks" book, where this surely excellent Russian clock was described as Viennese. If somebody has the book, I would be very grateful if you can send me a better scan or photo to PM or email. The clock on the photo was shot in New York at Fanelli Antique Timepieces, Ltd store. Don't know if they still exist, but maybe we will find the current owner :) Same picture was published in "A Collector's Guide to Clocks" by Derek Roberts at page 93.

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Oled

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The late period clocks became even more elaborate and complex in appearance. A lot of engine-turned Birmingham bronzes were used on the same beautifully colored cut-glass columns, giant dial bezels with shaped outer sides were artfully crafted. But after around 1850 production of such type of clocks was slowly ceased mostly because of their high price and complexity comparing to the mass-product factory clocks. The era of the factory clocks has begun...

Well, now we just have to enjoy the beautiful examples that were created by the craftsman clockmakers of the past. Thank you for reading!

Best regards,
Oleg

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zedric

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Oleg - thanks for posting this. While most of us won’t ever have the chance to buy or see one of these in person, it is still interesting to see and hear more about them.
 
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WIngraham

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Oleg, thank you for your presentation on these clocks. The clocks shown are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship. They are new to me, the information and pictures are greatly appreciated.

Will
 
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Oled

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I would like to thank all of you who read the article, my main interest was in consolidation of info about that beautiful timepieces and make it available for people. The sands of time almost concealed the story :) I guess the term "horologist" should be renamed in "horo-archeologist".
 
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daveR

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Hi Oled. Very interesting information and good to see such a wide range consolidated. A lot of work.
And by the way good to see you still around here.
David
 
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