Novelty Clocks

Novelty Clocks – The earliest surviving working novelty clocks were German automata made in Augsburg in the 1650s involving mechanical figures, either of human or animal form, which performed as the hour struck. They include dogs, and, most extraordinarily for the early date, cockerels which flapped their wings and opened and closed their mouth, often making a crowing sound. The earliest novelty clock in history is the celebrated crowing cock of the Strasbourg Cathedral clock, made in 1354 and now preserved in the Strasbourg Museum.

These astonishing pieces continued to be made until the 18th century, when they fell out of favor, but the novelty clock enjoyed a revival in the Black Forest area of Germany in the 19th century and included the pie-eating man who lifts a fork to his mouth on the hour.


Novelty clock made in Poland 1575-1585 – Copper-gilt oval table clock; sides and base richly embossed and chased with formal scrolls and fruit; top engraved with delicate scrollwork and figures of man with pack and milkmaid and cow (automata); former holds staff and revolves in dial of which staff points out the hours. The British Museum

The French also manufactured novelty clocks to a high standard. There are mantel clocks in the form of a rolling ship on a seascape and clocks incorporating model waterfalls, the effect created by spinning glass spirals, each with an automaton separate from the clock which could run for a few hours at a time.

During the 19th century automaton clocks were made, mainly in France, in forms which reflected the new industrial age and included steam locomotives, water wheels and large steam hammers. Produced in quite large numbers, they form part of a growing collectors’ market today. If you are really lucky you may come across one of the French industrial model type time-pieces which can sometimes be found for a few hundred pounds although they can be worth several thousand.


French novelty clock, circa 1806


A late Victorian plated novelty desk clock and aneroid barometer in the form of a ships wheel, each side with white enamel dial.

pedlar clock

Black Forest Pedlar Clock, 19th century – This s very typical of the sort of novelty clcks manufactured in the Black Forest area of Germany. They have enormous charm and are very popular with Dutch and German Collectors. Made of painted tin and wood, the pedlar cradles the clock in his right arm. A further empty clock case is strapped on his back, to be used for storing the key.


Vitascope automaton timepiece, c 1941; there is growing interest in these eccentric timepieces manufactured by Vitascope Industries on the Isle of Man. The 13.5 cm dial is in the form od raised dot numerals beneath a window in which the automaton, a ship rolling in a changing sky, operates. To start the motor, a knob is spun on the back of the timepiece which then continues to run in a synchronous movement. The motor drives both the hands and the oval drum operating the automaton. A further drum containing a lamp and a sheet of dyed gelatine rotates, simulating a back-drop of a sunrise, noon and sunset. The first patent on the design was taken out in 1941. The bakelite cases were manufactured in green, cream, dark brown and pink. £300-400

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