REVIEW: Roberts: A Life with Antique Clocks

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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The Memoirs of one of Britain’s Grand Old Clock Dealers


A Life with Antique Clocks. By Derek Roberts. Published 2009 by Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Pa. (USA). ISBN 978 0-7643-3378-1. Hardcover, dustjacket, 128 pages, 29x23 cm. About 80 large color illustrations. US$ 30.- plus postage. Available through the publisher www.schifferbooks.com or through www.amazon.com


Most serious students of British horology will be familiar with the name Derek Roberts. For many decades he not only ran one of England’s most visible retail shops for antique clocks, but Derek has also been a prolific horological author. In the spring of 2010 he has added one more title, a sort of memoirs, reminiscing on his 40 years of horological adventures.

Roberts was a dentist by training who in the early 1970s, together with his wife Valerie, opened a retail clock store and repair business in the village of Tonbridge, a few hours drive south of London. While the beginnings were modest, his focus was always on the higher grade of timekeepers, and eventually he rose to the pinnacle of his profession, handling some of the very best and most interesting clocks in existence. The book under review is an informal telling of his life’s story, combined with a statement of his principles and philosophy, and some general musings about the nature of trading in horological artifacts.

This book provides informative, entertaining and amusing reading for anybody familiar with clock collecting in general, and the British antique clocks trade in particular. For the more scholarly minded reader, however, there is a significant side benefit: The book also contains detailed descriptions – and superb images – of many of the unique and highly desirable pieces his business has handled in the last 40 years; for many of these pieces this is the first and only published record.

If we review his literary output it is clear where his passions lay: Highly complicated clocks, high precision clocks, and highly unusual clocks, particularly mystery, novelty and skeleton clocks. Derek not only wrote what today are considered the standard reference titles on skeleton clocks and on mystery/novelty clocks, but his three volume series on precision pendulum clocks (Schiffer Publishing: 2002 to 2004) really is the only English language book covering that subject thoroughly. The new book contains descriptions and superb color photographs of all these types of clocks from the author’s archives.

This is a book that belongs on any well stocked shelf of horological reference books, and – compared to the more substantial prices of his other books - it is a good bargain.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ. (May 2010)
 

itspcb

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Based on Fortunat's description I bought myself a copy of Robert's book. It is very enjoyable and everything that Fortunat claims. In particular there is a considerable amount of information regarding his business practices which is unusual to find.

Definitely a departure from your normal clock book, and very enjoyable.

Peter
 

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