Posted on

British Automaton Clocks

Daniel Clements –

Antique clocks with automaton features, have been built for many thousands of years. You can go back back as far as Roman times to get a mention. The engineer Vitrivius describing alarm clocks with a gong or trumpet feature. From the these primitive automaton’s I am heading for some of the earliest automaton features on antique grandfather clocks.

John Lamborne Cambridge

This superb ‘8-day’ early 18th century burr walnut veneered antique grandfather clock with automaton is by a Cambridge maker called John Lamborne. Further details of this special antique grandfather clock by John Lamborne can be seen by clicking on the link.

This clock dates from around C1720 and is a very rare example of an early automaton on a grandfather clock. The soldiers in the arch move and ring the bell when the clock strikes the hour. This automaton like some of the earliest automatons known works from the striking mechanism.

Clearly the heavy figures to the arch require the power driven from the weight of the clock when striking. An interesting feature on the dial of this clock, is the plaque by the order of the Patentee No. 5. This clocks feature automaton must have been patented.

Cuckoo Clocks

When most people think of automatons they probably will first think of cuckoo clocks.These became fashionable in the 19th century and most examples manufactured were from around C1860. These types of clocks are still manufactured today. The earliest cuckoo clock can be seen around the mid 18th century. Not many from this period still survive today. The automaton bird will again work off the striking mechanism of the clock.  It takes alot of power to drive this type of automaton and so most cuckoo clocks are only of 1 day duration.

I am now going to look at what most people will see or understand by automaton. Automatons work from the pendulum on antique clocks. These type of automaton features swing back and forth with the movement of the pendulum. They can be directly off the pendulum or off the anchor which is driven by the pendulum. These automatons therefore work continually and not just on the hour.

Edwards of London Automaton

More details of this stunning C1790 automaton antique grandfather clock by Edwards can be found here, Edwards Automaton Antique Grandfather Clock . The automaton features a man chopping down the ‘tree of life. The axe moves back and forward as the clock ticks. Various other automaton features you can also find to the arch. I have seen see-saws, rocking swans, rarer badminton automatons like the one pictured below. Adam and eve depictions are found. Others like rocking ships are the most common form of automaton on a clock.

British Naval Power

The British were clearly an important naval power. Many owners like to have a depiction of a rocking boat to the arch. Some depicting famous sea battles. The clock below represents one of these very battles.

The clock above is a superb C1790 Scottish antique grandfather clock and more details again can be found but clicking on this link, Scott Edinburgh Automaton Grandfather Clock .

Grantham Automaton Clock

More details of this exceedingly rare automaton antique grandfather clock here. Grantham Automaton Antique Grandfather Clock .  This clock features an automaton game of Badminton. It is very rare and is again working from the pendulum / anchor. It is a glorious antique clock with wonderful mahogany veneers and of 8 day duration.

Adam and eve Automatons

The clock above is a superb arched painted dial with ‘Adam and Eve’ automaton to the arch.  Adam and Eve depictings usually involve automaton arms holding the apple. Sometimes even the serpent moving on the tree. This clock dates from C1780 and is in a lovely mahogany cabinet.

It is important to note automaton antique clocks of any sort, especially on pre C1800 clocks are rare. I have seen many examples that are faked. Care must be taken if purchasing one of these. I would only recommend buying from a dealer who will give you a money back guarantee that the clock is genuine.


Rare features like automatons can be found on clocks sold at Pendulum of Mayfair. This can add alot to the price. It is relatively simple in some cases to add this feature on a standard clock. Unscrupulous dealers will do this for profit. I have seen many such examples on the market. My advice is to only buy from a long established expert like ourselves. Willing to offer a guarantee that the clock is genuine.

Daniel Clements Follow me on Twitter

Print This Post