John Hyacinth de Magellan, London, Height 478 mm, circa 1786
An important English precision table regulator of museum quality, with superior 8-day movement, rare half dead beat escapement and ½-seconds pendulum. Made in 1786 by the excellent clockmaker James Bullock in London after a design by Portuguese scholar J.H. de Magellan.
Case: small curved clock case on a rectangular base, mahogany veneer on oak, curved top; front glass door to show the dial and turn the concealed winding arbor; the lower part of the corpus has a large oval glass opening to show the pendulum and the silvered scale. Dial: small silvered regulator dial, signed "Curante J. H. de Magellan Londini", two small chapter rings for seconds and minutes, curved aperture displaying the hour disc with Roman numerals I-XII. Movm.: unusual high quality movement, fully enclosed: two high rectangular modules with 4 turned movement pillars each, large drive unit with barrel, chain/fusee and maintaining power built to designs by Harrison, signed inside "J. Bullock London 1786". Screwed-on gear train module, fine balance wheel with 60 teeth, rare half dead beat escapement, wood pendulum, brass lense, suspension spring.
The choice to use second-hand movement plates with filled-in holes was most likely made to save money on the purchase price and to have an attractive retail price; it supports the notion that the clock was intended for research purposes. However, the overall workmanship exhibits characteristics reminiscent of the quality of chronometer movements in the times to come.
Only a few clocks by Magellan have survived, which he had produced by important makers in London. However, this is the first such table regulator we know of; all other clocks are weight-driven. Jonathan Betts (formerly Senior Curator of Horology at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and expert for early precision (pendulum) clocks) suggests, that this timepiece was created for one of the portable set of instruments that Magellan sold for example to the Spanish and Portuguese governments in the early 1780s.
In his comprehensive article on John Hyacinth de Magellan (1722-1790) in the Journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society Betts states, that the scholar Magellan - a native of the Lisbon area - did not specialise in one particular field but was interested in many areas of research such as physics, geology, chemistry, astronomy and botany as well as electricity. He took a keen interest in new developments and findings, methods and tools. A genius in languages - in addition to his mother language Portuguese, he spoke Spanish, English, Italian, Latin, Dutch and perfect French - Magellan felt at home in all of Europe. After settling in London in the 1760s, Magellan regularly visited the most important international research institutions and societies and knew and corresponded with their members.
He was very interested in the industrial production of scientific instruments especially in Great Britain, because at this point in time England was the leading force in these fields. He quickly established a considerable network of astronomers, makers of astronomical tools and clockmakers; he set himself up as agent and retailer for the latest astronomical and navigational instruments including clocks, and delivered them to a great number of European scholars, institution and governments in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal. Even though Magellan was not an actual maker of instruments or clocks, he possessed excellent knowledge on the making of such objects; he introduced his own ideas in the production processes and sold the tools under his own name. The best makers in London - such as Vulliamy, Grignion, Emery, Bullock and others - built a great number of clocks to his designs.
Given that Magellan played such an active role in the procurement of precision pendulum clocks in the 1770s and 1780s, it is surprising that he ordered hardly any marine chronometers. The main reason for this was probably that his customers were not members of the navy but scientists, who required small portable precision timepieces with pendulums and who asked Magellan to supply them. However, the portable precision clocks at the time were still at very early stages of development and only a few makers had begun making this type of clock. We know that Magellan was a friend of the great clockmaker Thomas Mudge (ca. 1715-1794) and his benefactor Count Bruehl (1736-1809). This means that Mudge and Bruehl were two of Magellan’s main sources of information, also with regard to portable precision timekeepers. It is possible that this connection inspired the creation of this unusual small spring-driven precision table regulator with its special half dead beat-escapement, which was explicitly intended for portable use in the field. Jonathan Betts mentions another relationship, since Benjamin Vulliamy picked up on Berthoud's idea of the half dead beat escapement and fitted it in many of his small spring movements. So he could have suggested it to Magellan.
In parts 2 and 3 of his article Betts also decribes the clocks by Magellan that we know to have survived. The last piece he writes about is this table regulator and description is based on the information he received in 1971 from Marouf, at the time a leading auction house in Duesseldorf. It is accompanied by a black-and-white-photograph and Betts writes: "The last remaining complete clock by Magellan is the table regulator shown in illustration no. 31. The clock seems to have a ½-seconds pendulum and was sold during an auction in Duesseldorf in 1971. It was described as: 'A small wooden table clock, J.H. Magellan Londini 1780. Mahogany case. 8-day chain/fusee movement. The clock as such does not actually seem to be dated to 1780, but this estimate seems likely to be correct [confirmed: 1786]. As Magellan was constantly in touch with other leading clockmakers in London, he mentioned a number of interesting developments at the time, with regard to detached escapements in clocks and it is interesting to speculate whether this clock may be an example of such a timekeeper.'"
Source: Jonathan Betts, John Hyacinth de Magellan (1722-1790)
The clock was "lost" after the auction in 1971 and has only recently been rediscovered. Having remained virtually untouched in the same private hands for over 30 years, the fine original condition of this timepiece is unrivalled and a stroke of luck for horology.
Jonathan Betts: John Hyacinth de Magellan (1722-1790)
Part 1: Horological and Scientific Agent, in "Antiquarian Horology Vol 27/5, 9/2003"
Part 2: The Early Clocks, in "Antiquarian Horology Vol 28/2, 6/2004"
Part 3: The Later Clocks and Watches, in "Antiquarian Horology Vol 30/1, 3/2007"
Part 4: The Precision Pioneers, in "Antiquarian Horology Vol 30/3, 3/2007"
Marouf Auktionen Antiker Uhren IV, Lot 99, Duesseldorf 10/30/1971
Case: very good
Dial: very good, slightly oxydized
Movm.: very good, capable of running
Dial: very good, slightly oxydized
Movm.: very good, capable of running