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table clock / novelty clock / clock-case / automaton clock

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Escapement

  • Description

    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.

  • Date

    • 1575-1585
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 8.25 inches
    • Length: 10 inches
  • Curator's comments

    Text from 'Clocks', by David Thompson, London, 2004, p. 34.
    Milkmaid and cow automaton clock
    Poland, c. 1580
    Height 22 cm, width 25.6 cm, depth 20.6 cm
    In the last quarter of the sixteenth century the fashion for clocks with automated figures (and for machines which were solely automata) reached its height at the courts of the Holy Roman Empire and with rich customers in the Ottoman Empire. The so-called 'Tribute to the Sublime Gate', which began in 1548 as a payment from the Holy Roman Emperor to Suleiman the Magnificent to prevent an Ottoman invasion of the Empire, produced a demand for such lavish automated clocks and automata. One of the most prolific centres for the manufacture of these wonderful toys was Augsburg in south Germany. Although unsigned, this particular clock is a rare surviving example of a milkmaid and cow automaton with clock, made in Poland very much in the Augsburg style.
    The oval case is engraved around with strapwork, foliage and fruits, typical of the last quarter of the sixteenth century. There are two original dials on the top, the first an hour dial with chapters I-XII and 13-24 and T-shaped half-hour marks. Above this a farmer stands and indicates the time with a long staff as he revolves. The second original dial is engraved with foliate scrolls and originally had a hand with which the striking and automaton functions were set in motion. The third dial is a later addition, used to regulate the clock, and was probably added when the escapement was converted to balance spring.
    A milkmaid sits on a milking-stool next to the cow. The cow's eyes move from side to side, their motion taken from the oscillating balance in the clock movement below. When the hand on the top is turned, the milkmaid 'milks' the cow, and liquid held in a reservoir inside the cow's body is pumped into a bucket (a later replacement). A hole in the top of the cow's back allows use of a small funnel to fill the reservoir with milk.
    Inside the case is an oval movement with, unusually, a steel back plate and brass front plate. All the wheels are of steel but the fusee and the barrels are of brass, a typical arrangement for a late sixteenth-century clock. There are two gear trains, one for timekeeping and one for hour-striking, controlled by a count-wheel and released by a twelve-point star wheel mounted on the dial wheel under the top plate, which rotates once in twelve hours.
    This piece is a rare survivor. There are few examples of sixteenth century automaton clocks known today and most of them are in the form of lions or mythical beasts. This is the only one known with a bucolic theme and a very rare example of a clock which pumps liquid. In its time it must have seemed a magical entertainment.
    Octavius Morgan Bequest.


  • Bibliography

    • Leopold bibliographic details
    • Johns 2011 p. 131 bibliographic details
    • Thompson 2004 p.34 bibliographic details
  • Location


  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: MCC3796

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