An extremely rare Victorian gilt brass tripod clock of one month duration made by Thomas Cole, signed Cole, London, on the beautifully engraved silvered dial. The dial with Roman numerals for the hours and outer indications for the minutes and a pair of blued steel hands for minutes, the hour hand with a spade-shaped pointer, with a subsidiary dial below 12 o'clock marked with Arabic numerals for the seconds with a sweep centre blued steel pointer, the main dial engraved within the centre circle with a quatrefoil, arabesques and scrolls. The extremely rare movement with half beat escapement and a spring suspended brass pendulum above a silvered bob below which, and directly above the dial, is a needle that fits into a crutch forcing the pendulum to rotate or twist right and left rather than swing. The pendulum rod can be raised or lowered to respectively speed or slow the clock via a circular plate at the summit of the frame (marked fast or slow). With a plumb line hanging down behind the pendulum to ensure that the clock is exactly vertical which can be corrected by adjusting the three hexagonal-shaped feet via a screw. The angular tripod-shaped frame with the dial suspended between two of the three supports, the dial and tripod supports resting on an engraved circular gilt plate on a shaped ebonised wooden base on a further gilt plate above hexagonal-shaped feet
London, date circa 1850-55
Height 54 cm, diameter of base 25.5 cm.
One of the most creative Victorian clockmakers Thomas Cole (1800-64) produced a wide variety of unusually shaped clocks, of which his tripod clocks were probably his most popular, though as Cole's biographer J. B. Hawkins notes, he made no more than seventy five examples - each having a minor variation. While most of his tripod clocks had angular supports this one is very unusual in that the pendulum is arranged above the dial rather than below. Such was Cole's ingenuity that he still continues to attract admirers.
The majority of Cole's clocks were retailed by the leading London firms of silversmiths and jewellers as well as other clockmakers through their shops or on their exhibition stands. Thus it is often the case that rather than Cole's name appearing on the dial, they are signed R. & S. Garrard, C. F. Hancock and Hunt & Roskell or Dent, H. & E. Tessier, Asprey, Phillips Brothers and W. Payne and Co. Sometimes Cole's name appears in a more obscure part of the clock. Since this clock so clearly advertises his name it can be assumed that it was either commissioned directly from Cole but more likely it was made as an exhibition piece and featured on one of his stands at the international exhibitions. This would certainly seem to be the case since the clock's mechanism, with its rotating rather than swinging pendulum, is extremely rare and possibly unique.
The international exhibitions enabled Cole to promote his novel constructions. His first showing at the Great Exhibition, London, 1851 was a resounding success. In addition to his own display, he had products on stands of at least four different retail firms, each of unique design to prevent a conflict of interests. Cole also exhibited at the Paris Universelle, 1855 where, as his obituary writer noted he was given "a distinguished position for true artistic excellence and superior workmanship." He was awarded a medal for his display at the London International, 1862 when Charles Frodsham, in the official exhibition report, described Cole's work in glowing terms, noting "nothing could exceed the beauty of design and good taste of the varied models and general excellence of workmanship." Cole's work made such an impact that other London makers, notably E. White and W. Vasel tried to copy him but never surpassed the quality of his craftsmanship.
Cole, who was born in Nether Stowey in Somerset, was the son of a local clock maker James Cole. Little is known of his early training but like his elder brother, James Ferguson Cole (1798-1880) he probably learnt the rudiments of his trade from his father. In about 1823 Thomas Cole joined his brother in partnership at 3 New Bond Street, London where they advertised themselves as 'chronometer, watch and clockmakers' and made a series of complex pieces. Among them is a portable astronomical clock signed by both brothers of 1825, which is now in the British Museum, London. The partnership was dissolved in circa 1829 when Thomas went to work independently; by 1838 he was based in Bloomsbury but later moved to Clarkenwell, where his brother also relocated to. By 1845 Thomas Cole was describing himself as a 'designer and maker of ornamental clocks' - as J. B. Hawkins wrote, "They are completely original in their design and format and owe their inspiration to Cole alone. The metalwork of their cases, engraving and attention to detail set a standard rarely exceeded."
Some pieces reflected the taste for the Antique, of which one clock of circa 1850 was set in an urn standing upon a plinth, while a mantle clock (exhibited London 1862) displayed a sphinx and winged caryatids at each corner. In keeping with the vogue for naturalism, Cole constructed a tripod clock, circa 1856 with supports cast as logs, while the pendulum was shaped as a cauldron over a camp-fire. He also produced clocks in the form of a cake basket and others as a candlestick. He also produced a variety of very thin portable desk top clocks, one of which from 1862-4 included in its design the aces of hearts, clubs and spades. In addition, Cole constructed some equally fine but nevertheless unusual strut clocks as well as carriage clocks. He was elected to the Royal Society of Arts, 1861 and also became a member of the Royal Horological Institute.