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Antique Tavern Clocks


Antique tavern clocks have been studied widely and many books have been written. I wish to correct the commonly held view that these clocks started life only as early as C.1720. You may know these antique clocks by another name, they are sometimes called ‘ Act of Parliament’ clocks.

Act of Parliament Clocks

They were later commonly called this as a result of the tax imposed on clocks and watches in July 1797. With the government being short of funds as a result of many years of war, extra ways to increase tax were thought out. The Act imposed a duty of 5 shillings on every clock, 10 shillings of every gold watch and 2s.6d on every silver or other watch. Assessors were sent round to take account of how many clocks you owned above a certain value.

Public Houses Exempt from the Clock Tax

There were certain exemptions to the Act, these included public houses. Alot of these tavern clocks as the name says were housed in public houses. They were exempt from this very unpopular tax. It led to a decline in the clock trade and luckily was repealed after only 9 months of it being in force.

Lacquer and Chinoiserie Decoration

These tavern clocks were usually decorated in lacquer work. They had wooden dials that were made up from usually three sections. They also usually had simple single 5 wheel train movements. The extra wheel in the train generally makes them go for longer than a standard longcase clock, even though they actually have a shorter drop. They usually had brass hands so the time could easily be read against the black painted dial. The earliest dials known were wooden and shaped like a shield. Then later circular dials were introduced and tear drop shapes to the cabinets.

When did they start?

Many books on the subject commonly state the earliest examples of these clocks are from C1720. We have owned for over 10 years, a clock of this form that is pre 1700 in date. It is an amazing tavern clock, it is the only antique clock of this type I have ever seen with an original brass dial, instead of the usual wood form. The antique clock maker is from a family which emigrated to London from Augsburg in Germany. Bushman is a fantastic clock maker and by all accounts the finest clockmaker to come out of Germany! He is mentioned as being on a par with the great Thomas Tompion in some quarters.


Augsburg Influence

If I took a picture of the clock minus the hood it looks like a very early Augsburg table clock. I can see where the idea for the manufacture started. I believe this clock to be one of the first, if not the first,  tavern clock. John Bushman is provable in London between 1661 until just after 1692 ( date of death unknown). We do know he came from the Augsburg area, but you can see the influence from the design of the cabinet work on this clock. Bushman was admitted to the Clockmaker’s Company in 1662. You can see the huge pull of this Guild which I have talked about previously. The best clockmakers from all over Europe came to London. Everyone wanted to come to London and work in the 17th and 18th centuries. It truly was the centre for clock making in the world at the time.

Many people will ask if this clock has 5 wheel train, how does it have a second hand, a sweep centre seconds hand in this case. The movement has a one to one reversing wheel to enable for it to do this. You can see the amazing engraving to the unusual dial and superb unrestored lacquer work to the case. A very rare collectors clock, for more information please contact me direct.