Review: Evans, Carter & Wright: Thomas Tompion - 300 Years - (2013)

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001

The definitive biography and oeuvre overview of Thomas Tompion,
the best clockmaker of the golden age of British horology

Thomas Tompion - 300 Years - A celebration of the life and work of Thomas Tompion. By Jeremy Evans, Jonathan Carter and Ben Wright; with a foreword by David Thompson; Photography primarily by Andy Green. Published 2013 by Water Lane Publishing (Stroud, Glouchestershire, UK, in a limited edition of 750 copies, plus a luxury edition limited to 100 signed copies). ISBN 978-0-9927561-0-9. 664 pages; 31cm x 25 cm; hardcover, cloth, dust jacket. Countless illustrations, mostly large format and in color. Includes a ‘catalog’ section of 281 pages, describing 121 items in detail, plus an exhaustive table of all known pieces [revised and corrected list based on Evans’ 2006 publication], a 46-item Bibliography and a substantial Index of 11 pages. Available from the publisher at for UKP 175 (ca. 300 US$) plus shipping (Luxury edition is UKP 500). NAWCC members may borrow a copy from the NAWCC lending library.

Most horological historians of England would agree that the most celebrated craftsman making timekeepers in England during their golden era of clock production is the London based craftsman Thomas Tompion (1639-1713).

Until a few months ago there was only one comprehensive scholarly book describing his life and his output, and that book was published over half a century ago. (R.W. Symonds: Thomas Tompion, His Life and Work, First published 1951 by B.T. Batsford). The only other Tompion monograph of substance was Jeremy Evans’ book ‘Thomas Tompion at the Dial and Three Crowns’ (published 2006 by the Antiquarian Horological Society), consisting of the text of the richly illustrated Dingwall-Bellowe lecture on Tompion by Evans (given in 2003), accompanied by the Tompion serial numbers list which Evans had assembled in the course of 35 years of research.

A new comprehensive book on Tompion and his output was overdue. Much of the facts had already been meticulously assembled by the lead author over the decades, but – as the tercentenary of Tompion's death was approaching - it became clear that an infusion of new blood was needed to get an updated, comprehensive book to the public by the 300[SUP]th[/SUP] anniversary of Tompions death. Two young horological dealers, Tompion enthusiasts and scholars of the classic era of British clocks, Ben Wright and Jonathan Carter, rose to the challenge, and worked with Evans to meet the deadline.

The resulting book represents a milestone in British horological scholarship and publishing: It unites in one hefty publication (over 4 kilograms) most of the existing knowledge about Tompions life and oeuvre. It is not a ‘narrative’ that anyone will read cover to cover, but rather an authoritative resource that a horologist will turn to again and again to check some fact related to Thomas Tompion or his vast oeuvre.

The book is structured into six distinct sections, each of which could easily by itself stand alone as a valuable publication on Tompion:

1. The book starts with “A Chronology of Events in the lives of Thomas Tompion and those around him”. This is a 122-page list of dated events stretching from 1597 (The first documented use of the Tompion family name, by a blacksmith in Bedfordshire) to the 17[SUP]th[/SUP] of October 1743 [The burial date of the widow of James Tompion (a watchmaking nephew of Thomas Tompion, and the last Tompion horologist) in the churchyard of the church where Thomas Tompion had been baptized 104 years earlier]. This section, strictly chronological, lists on each page ten to twenty ‘events’ relevant to the Tompion story on a given date (sometimes even giving the hour) and often quoting original source material. On most page-spreads there are - along the right margin - three captioned, small illustrations showing people, locations, events or objects relevant to the listed events. No narrative, just several hundreds of timed facts surrounding the life of Tompion.

2. “A Study of Tompion’s Domestic Clocks” (81 pages) documents in considerable detail the way the Tompion workshop was organized to produce a large number of both spring-driven clocks (42 pp) and longcase clocks (20 pp). The role of third-party ‘outside’ craftsmen is examined, and production techniques are described. A 7-page section explains the Tompion system of numbering (some of) his clocks. Virtually every page of this section is illustrated with detailed color photographs (up to 12 per page) documenting specific features of clocks, and how they evolved over the years in Tompions workshop. Dials, hands, spandrelscase feet, name engravings, etc are discussed, and the functionality of three different repeating systems (Silent Pull-Quarter Repeat, Striking and Pull-Quarter Repeat, Three-Train Full Grande Sonnerie Striking and Trip Repeat) are explained and illustrated in full detail. For numerous examples fully detailed train counts are provided. A discussion of decorative plate engraving takes up 12 pages, and 19 pages are devoted to case details of spring driven (9 pp) and long case (10pp) Tompion clocks.

3. “Tompion’s Customers and visitors to his shop” with ‘only’ 38 pages this is the shortest of the six sections. Starting with the sovereign houses of Europe [England and Scotland (6 patrons), France (2), Germany (3), Denmark (1), Netherlands (2), Italy (2), Spain (1) and Sweden (1)], and then moving on to ‘British subjects and others’ (alphabetically from Thomas Bruce Ailesbury, who ‘on 19 March 1689 paid Mr.Tompion mending 2 watches £1:2;6’ all the way to a Dr. Zanches, who ‘met Hooke at Tompion’s on a rainy day, 16[SUP]th[/SUP] January 1690’). This chapter contains mini-biographies (mostly illustrated) of 132 prominent persons of his time known to have either visited the Tompion workshops or ordered a timekeeping device from him.

4. “Tompion’s Watches & Watchmakers” (52 pages) primarily documents 34 specific examples of typical pocketwatches produced in his workshop. Over 5000 watches were made there overall. In the collective conscious of the horological community, Tompion is known primarily as a clockmaker, but in reality, in his life, in his business dealings, and in the activities of his workshop, watches were as important, if not more important than clocks. In this section of the book a selection of 34 specific Tompion pocket watches is presented in a short descriptive text, each illustrated with one to six images. Some individual tradesmen working for the workshop are identified, some train counts are documented and there is a table of punch marks found on Tompion watches, and some matches between names and identities are suggested. That section concludes with the astonishing observation that “of Tompion’s assumed watch production about 80% remain unaccounted for”.

5. The “Catalog” Section, which is in the opinion of this reviewer the core – and the most valuable part- of the book, with 281 pages, accounts for nearly one third of the length of the book. 131 items are documented in detail. In the six subchapters of the catalog listed below, each clock or watch typically merits about a half or a full column of text. Each entry lists ‘Name’, Number, Date, Dimensions, Case, Dial, Duration, Movement, Escapement type, Strike type, Provenance and Comment, and features one to six images (ranging from a quarter page size to full page size. Images typically showing both movement and case, sometimes dial close-ups, or unusual case or movement details. This results in catalog entries ranging from one to four pages in length for the 131 items with full catalog entries.

5A. “Spring Clocks”, 68 pages, 33 clocks
5B. “Grande-Sonnerie Spring Clocks”, 37 pages, 11 clocks
5C. “Special Spring Clocks”, 29 pages, 8 clocks
5D. “Longcase Clocks”, 42 pages, 20 clocks
5E. “Special Longcase Clocks”, 44 pages, 16 clocks
5F. “Miscellaneous Clocks and Instruments”, includes timers, sundials, towerclocks and barometers, 21 pages, 12 items
5G. “Watches”, 29 pages, 19 watches

6. “A Concise Check List of Clocks, Watches and Instruments from the Workshops of Thomas Tompion and his Associates” This is a revised, augmented, updated and corrected version (60 pages, in table format, includes its own reference sources) of the list first presented in Evans’ 2006 book. It is a priceless reference tool, and hopefully will be updated and maintained for the benefit of future generations of horological researchers.
An eleven-page Index concludes this amazing publication.

For any horological enthusiast with a serious interest in the core era of British clockmaking there is little choice. This is a ‘must-have’ and core element on your ‘British Horology’ bookshelf. Admittedly, the book is not cheap, but as pointed out before, because this single volume really combines the material and insights usually spread out over multiple publications into one massive book, so it is a good value. In addition, it is beautifully produced, features gorgeous photography by somebody who understands clocks, is well printed and solidly bound.
The three authors, who self-published the book, deserve high praise for their willingness to share their insights, their expertise and their knowledge accumulated over decades.

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ - March 2014

Tom McIntyre

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Aug 24, 2000
I just received my copy yesterday. I visited Jeremy Evans at the British Museum Horological Student's Room in 1985 to show him a couple of watches I had recently bought and ask his opinion on them. One was a fake Tompion and the other a pretty nice george Graham cylinder with serial number 6410 stamped or scratched in all the available locations. We had a great conversation and looked at lots of watches. He told me my watch would be included in his book on Tompion, but it would be a few more years before he was able to finish it.

Several years earlier in 1968 I had been taking a short course at Cambridge and had an afternoon free to tour the town that I used to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum. Remarkably, the museum was essentially empty of a Wednesday afternoon. I had just begun collecting clocks and was admiring the collection when I came upon the Tompion and Banger tortoiseshell spring clock with Grand Sonnerie trip repeat. I stared at it for about half an hour. It was without a doubt the most beautiful clock I had ever seen. Eventually temptation overcame me and I pulled the repeat cord.

Before the second note had struck, the curator of clocks was standing next to me inquiring into my behavior. I confessed I was a new collector from Canada (where I was living at that time) and had succumbed to the temptation to hear the repeat sound. He was quite stern, but did not have me arrested and we talked a bit about fine clocks and paying them proper respect. I decided then and there to adopt the clock as "My Tompion." I never got back to see it again while it was on display but was looking forward to a visit a few years ago when Chapter 159 was touring the UK and Scotland and we had arranged a day in Cambridge. I was very disappointed to discover that My Tompkins was no longer on display since it had nearly been taken in a burglary some years before.

Now at last with the Tompion book in hand I have pictures of both the inside and outside of My Tompion as well as my Graham cylinder occupying its proper place in the list of watches.

I decided that given my long association with these pieces, I would buy the deluxe edition of the book. It is truly a marvelous artifact in its own right with half calf binding and gilt edges to the pages. The book is a true work of art.
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Registered User
Mar 13, 2015
I can sympathise with your feelings about the sheer brilliance of Thomas Tompion's clocks.
My aunt married the son of a very wealthy welsh builder, enobled by Lloyd George, and in their magnificent Tudor mansion
where we spent Christmas in the 1950's and early Sixties, was a Tompion Bracket clock.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Tallow Chandlers Hall in ondon.
There in teh Courtroom is a Thomas Tompion Longcase clock, which has on it the fact that it was made especially for the Tallow Chandlers.
Apart from remval during the Wr, that clock has been in that room for almost 300 years.

In 2012, inheriting some money, I determined I wanted a really fine watch.
I started looking at modern wrist watches by famous names Patek Philippe, IWC, Jaeger le Coutre, etcbut decided to spend say £20k on a wrist watch that could be lost was madness.
I have a beautiful Longines, the thinnest automatic ever made, and a Junghaus workhorse for everyday...
So i decided to look at an antique watches and to my surprise in November 2011, Christies had 2 antique watches, one by Daniel Quare, the other by Thomas Tompion wer for sale within my budget- hopefully!

Sadly i forgot about the 1 hour European time advance (Doah!) and went on site, online, five minutes after ther were sold - below my limit!
But I was hooked!

Fob watches were the iphone of teh 18th century with many important mechanical advances by clever watchmakers1

So the same month i went on line and bought at the Hong Kong sale a Thomas Gray watch and John Holmes, both shown on their respective web pages on this site.
I still hanker after a genuine Tompion!
Three bodies are being sold today by Drewetts . To my mind these natique master pieces are vastly under priced. No one could make them today for the prices most of them sell for.
On top of that you have the history and mystery of who previously owned them?
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