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Courtenay Adrian Ilbert (1888-1956)

Courtenay Adrian Ilbert was born on 22 April 1888. He became one of the greatest horological collectors of the twentieth century and a recognized authority on the subject of antiquarian horology. Educated at Eton and Kings College, Cambridge, Ilbert won honours in mathematics and became a civil engineer, concentrating on railway projects in India.

Although he began collecting clocks and watches while still at school, his most active period of collecting was in the 1920s and 1930s. He collected widely and built up one of the most comprehensive collections in the world, covering almost every aspect of the history and development of mechanical horology. He was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and a Fellow of the British Horological Institute; the Antiquarian Horological Society was founded in his dining room at 10 Milner Place, London on the 1 October 1953.

Following his death in 1956, Ilbert's extensive library of books was bequeathed to the British Horological Institute and a longcase clock, made by Tompion for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, was left to the National Maritime Museum. When Ilbert's estate was settled in 1958 his vast collection was destined for the London sale-rooms. There were approximately 2,300 watches and watch movements, 40 marine chronometers, 210 clocks, including the Drummond Robertson collection of Japanese clocks, and various prints, horological tools, watch papers and other items of horological interest. Following protracted negotiations with the government of the time, a private donation of £60,000 by Gilbert Edgar, chairman of the H. Samuel watch retailers and jewellers, and a public subscription organised by the Clockmakers' Company, the entire Ilbert collection was finally purchased for the nation in December 1958.

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