Queensland farm shed reveals 14th century timepiece

(Photo from Bonhams)

An extremely rare time-keeping device found in a bag of spare parts in a Queensland shed is estimated to fetch between GBP150,000 – 200,000 (AU$233,000-$311,000) at Bonhams’ Fine Clocks and Scientific Instruments Sale on 13 December 2011.

Dating from 1396, this quadrant is the earliest of a group of three similar quadrants dated 1398, 1399 and c.1400, two of which are in the British Museum, and the other in the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester.

Like the other quadrants, the Queensland one shows equal hour markings i.e. the period from midnight to midnight is divided into twenty-four equal parts. This technique was one that was developed during the 14th century, with one of the earliest recorded uses of it being Richard II’s abdication on 30 September 1399, which was stated to have been “at about the ninth stroke of the clock”.

On its reverse, the quadrant features a badge depicting a prone stag with a coronet around its throat, a symbol associated with Richard II. The tables on the back of the quadrant give the height of the sun at midday throughout the year.

(Photo from Bonhams)

Its owner Christopher Becker and his brother were playing in the shed of their family’s cattle station in the mid-1970s when they came across the brass quadrant in a bag of pipe fittings. It struck them that it would make an excellent aid for their toy car games but their father, noticing that it was made of soft expensive metal, removed it from the boys.

The quadrant is believed to have been discovered by an ancestor of Becker’s in the mid 1800s in Northern England, before he emigrated to Australia. Christopher Becker’s father attempted to find out more about it in the 1970s, taking it to the Queensland Museum, but they could only tell him that it was an astrolabe.And so it remained on Christopher Becker’s shelf, until earlier this year, when he decided to do some research. He found a number of references to similar quadrants with Richard II markings in a number of scientific journals, and his suspicions were confirmed by the British Museum.

The 13 December auction catalogue is not yet available online, as items are still being invited for entry, but you can keep an eye out for it in Bonham’s listing of its future sales.

ADDENDUM : It failed to reach its reserve price and was passed in.

Categories: Auctions, Clocks, Ephemera, London, News


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