- Museum number
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.
- Production date
- c.1580- c.1600 (circa)
Height: 8.25 inches
Length: 10 inches
- Curator's comments
The following text is the entry for this object from the unpublished catalogue of pre-pendulum clocks by John Leopold, former Assistant Keeper of Horology at the Museum. This information is unedited and should be used accordingly.
Probably Polish (Wroclaw?), early 17th century.
Chapuis/Gélis (1928) 215, 217.
Lloyd (1958) 110.
HJ 102 no.1221 (June 1960) 370.
Lloyd (1964) 41.
Goaman (1967) 43.
Maurice (1976) 115, fig.340 (compare fig.341).
Chapuis/Gélis (1928) 215 has: "Bien que le méchanisme soit malheureusement délabré il est aisé d'en retrouver les functions." They then say that milking took place while the hour was struck, and that the eyes and the tail of the cow moved with the milking. They call this type very rare and date it ca.1600.
In his letter of 24 Feb.1930 H.V.Batten writes as one of the jobs he has done in the past: "Repaired and put into working order a striking clock with automatic figures, woman milking cow, Dutch, 1640" (Ar. 28).
No signature or mark. Scratched on the underside of the copper base, in mirror-writing: "H S 1839".
The clock is constructed as follows. The platform with the figures is pinned to the top of the movement, and rests on the band. The base is pinned to the underside of the movement, and the iron baseplate with the bun-feet is screwed to the base. All parts of case, dials and figures are gilded on the visible sides only, except for the base plate which is plain, and the (later) regulator dial which is of silver.
The band of the case is of copper, bent out of strip and brazed at the join. It is strengthened at top and bottom by two profile rings; these rings are cast strips, brazed at the join. The rings are riveted to the copper band by brass rivets.
The base is of copper, raised out of sheet. It has a series of sound-openings. Three iron feet riveted to the base secure the base plate.
The baseplate is of iron; it is secured to the feet of the base by nuts (one nut missing). Four bun-feet of brass are riveted to the base plate. The plate has been hammered to avoid fouling the hammer.
Band and base are chased with strapwork, fruits and draperies.
Platform, dials and figures.
The platform is a cast brass plate; it is pinned to the movement by four brass feet which are riveted to the platform by thick rivets (ornamentally engraved). The brass plate is engraved with arabesques containing fruits and flowers. Under the cow a steel disc with two steel pipes is screwed from the underside; these pipes, whcih contain the arbors for the motion of the cow, are covered by a gilded brass sleeve.
The platform carries two dials; a third dial has been added subsequently. The two original dials are: the hour-dial and an undivided dial for the "hand" that unlocks the striking at will. Both dials are brass disks attached with rivets, surrounded by profile brass rings also riveted to the platform. Both dials are badly worn from over-polishing. The smaller one has spiral tendrils as ornament; this ornament may have included a few letters, but these have now almost disappeared, as has the hand. The main dial is divided I - XII with half-hour marks around a band divided for the quarters (the band has almost disappeared); inside the band there is a division 13 - 24 centred by spiral tendrils. Its hand is the figure of the farmer (see below). The third dial, for the later regulator, is a silver disc secured by a pinned brass ring. It is divided I - VIII with half-way marks, and has a star ate the centre. The dial has a brass hand.
The figures on the platform are all cast of brass, gilded on the outside only.
The figure of the farmer, which stands over the main dial, serves as its hand; the figure is pinned to the hour-hand arbor and points at the hours with a steel rod. The brass figure is made up of several cast parts, which can be partly dismantled: the head (itself built up out of three parts) is screwed to the back, which in turn is screwed to the main assembly. This main assembly consists of a base, two legs, a disc connecting the upper legs, the torso and two arms, all of which were cast separately, and riveted and brazed together.
The cow consists of two halves, held together by a screw; there are locating pins through the snout and the breast. The two halves are cast in several part, the legs, horns, ears and the back being separate pieces, riveted and brazed together. The tail, which originally was pinned, is now riveted. The feet have locating pins but are not otherwise attached to the platform: the cow appears to have been originally secured by a pin through the double pipe that contains the arbors for its motions (there will have been a shaped sleeve here) but is now held by the levers of the internal construction.
Toward the rear the back of the cow has a hole, through which the device can be charged with milk. A 19th-century silver funnel has been provided for this purpose (funnel unmarked) .
The milkmaid consists of the main portion, the back and the stool, all of which are held together by screws while the entire figure is secured to the platform by a screw into the stool. The main portion was cast as a single piece but has brazed inside it a shaped plate to secure it to the stool. From shoulder to shoulder a pipe has been riveted in the figure; in this pipe the arms fit loosely, held and controlled by steel screws with eyes for the wires that impart the motion. The back of the figure is separate and can be unscrewed to allow access to the mechanism. The stool consists of the seat and three riveted legs.
The upper left leg of the milkmaid now has a hook to a hold the 19th century silver bucket (bucket unmarked).
Plated movement, constructed largely of steel but with brass front plate. Four cylindrical pillars, riveted to the steel back plate and screwed under the dial; the pillars were originally screwed at both ends (see Conversions). Steel wheels; all train-wheels have three crossings except the great wheels which are solid.
All trainwheels and the hammer-arbor run in brass bushes, except the barrel of the going train which runs in steel. The greatwheels of both trains run in round bushes; all other holes except the 2nd wheel striking have been re-bushed. The early bushes sit in (roughly) square holes in the steel plate. In the brass plate many holes have been re-bushed, but there are no traces of earlier square holes.
20 ║ 54 50 45
── ║ ── ── ── 25 (x 2)
12-hour 7 60 ║ 6 8 6
Spring: brass barrel, the caps pinned over four studs each; both caps have raised portions at the centre. Steel set-up wheel with raised boss; 15 ratchet teeth, steel decorative click, brass clickspring. The caps retain the slots for the original cross-bar hooking of the spring, and the arbor has the slanted slot. The barrel has been converted to a new spring by brazing in a brass ring to reduce the height. The present spring is blued; 17.5 x .3 mm; the inner end is hooked over a stud (the spring being wound on a brass sleeve around the arbor), the outer end is hooked on a steel stud in the wall.
Great wheel: reversed fusee of brass, cut for gut, 62 turns, steel nose. Split fusee; 23 ratchet teeth for winding. Steel wheel of 12-thickness to sink the steel click and clickspring. Conventenional stopwork, screwed to the back plate.
Hourhand wheel: friction-tight on the arbor which carries the star for unlocking the stiking.
Contrate: pinion replaced.
Escapement: pinion of the scape wheel (and probably the arbor) replaced. The scape wheel runs in a screwed potence and a screwed counter potence; both have steel end-plates. Steel cock with an open pivot hole at the top; filled holes in the plate suggest that there originally was another cock. At the bottom end the verge is supported by a steel cock screwed to the steel backplate. The balance has subsequently been made heavier by brazing an extra ring around it. There now is a balance spring with a slide-regulator, which is geared to the arbor of the regulator dial.
The pinion-of-report and the hourhand-wheel are placed on a brass bridge screwed to the front plate. The wheel is friction-tight to the arbor that carries the steel star for unlocking the striking.
56 ┌ 48 45 40
── │ ── ── ──
7 ┤ 8 5 5
4 ║ ┘
12-hour 7 52 ║
Spring: cased spring, brass casing. Spring later; not blued, 17 x .4 mm (much too narrow for the barrel, which was made for a spring of ca.32 mm). Spring now hooked on a steel stud in the casing; there is a slot for the original hook. Inner end now hooked over a stud, but the arbor retains the slanted slot of the original hooking.
Greatwheel: split construction; 16 ratchet teeth for winding. Wheel single thickness and clickwork not sunk.
2nd wheel: 6 lifting pins. The pinion-of-report is a lantern of 4 cut into the end of the arbor. The arbor carries the cam for the milking action (see below).
3rd wheel: single cam. The cam, of brass, is riveted to the wheel.
4th wheel: steel stud near the arbor for locking.
Fly: open brass fly.
Detends of steel; the unlocking arm consists of two parts connected by pin-and-slot. The arbor of the detend is extended through the base and has a square at the end: see Commentary.
Unwarnend striking with hammer-lifting off the 2nd wheel, overlift off a cam on the 3rd, and locking on the 4th wheel. 2nd and 3rd wheels are marked to facilitate assembly of the train.
Hammer and bell can only be attached after the base has been pinned to the movement.
There are two separate motions: the movement of the eyes of the cow and the milking-action of the seated figure.
The motion of the eyes is continuously taken off the balance. Two curved pins on the ring of the balance engage a thin arm, which over a set of levers transmits the motion to the wooden eyes. The pivot of arbor of the thin arm rests on a steel endplate. The eyes are held by a brass frame screwed to the inside of the cow; the main arbor has two steel endplates which swivel to allow the arbor to slide out.
The miling takes place during striking, and is gouverned by the 2nd wheel of the striking train. On the brass front plate this arbor carries a steel disc with six ridges. The tops of the ridges impart a wig-wag motion to a spring-loaded brass tripping piece, and this motion is transmtted to the articulated arms of the figure by two levers. At the same time the ridges activate another lever, which is connected to the faucet in the cistern inside the cow; the pivot of this lever rests on the same steel end plate as the arbor for the eyes (see before).
The brass cistern-assembly is screwed to the inside of the cow; it can be filled through a hole in its back. The actual cistern for the milk consists of the tub, which is brazed, and covered by a screwed-down lid. The tub has four lugs with screw-holes, but the lid provides for only three screws. The bottom is double: an oval disk has been riveted to the inside of the cistern, and this plate carries the two pipes for the outflow. A plug, through both layers, carries the bottom pivot of the steel faucet, which frees one pipe at a time (the wing of the faucet now badly repaired in brass). - Other signs of early changes in the design are two brass rivets in the front side of the wall of the tub.
The earliest changes to this clock already took place during the original manufacture. These seem to include the changes in the design of the cistern.
The further changes may form part of a single overhaul. The main conversion was the addition of a balance spring, with the attendent addition to the rim of the balance. This probably also caused the changes to the pinions of the going train: originally the last two pinions probably had 5 leaves each (for this compare also the related clock described in the Commentary). This means that the original beat rate, with 10.125 beats per hour, was nearly twice as fast as the present one. For this unusual conversion see Introduction.
Possibly at the same time the pillars of the movement were riveted to the back plate. Originally they had been screwed, and the base of the case was screwed to the extended pillar-ends by a second series of nuts (the base still has the holes with circular rub-marks). When the pillars were riveted a new set of feet had to be riveted to the backplate of the movement, and the base is now pinned to those feet.
Going train: greatwheel - 1 rev. in 4 hours.
duration - 26 hours.
escapement - ca.52732 beats per hour.
Striking train: greatwheel - 33 revs. in 24 hours.
Both trains wind anti-clockwise.
Automaton: eyes of the cow - move with the balance.
milking action - in time with the striking, with milk issuing from
Automaton: height - 220 mm
width - 256 mm
depth - 206 mm
Movement: distance between the plates - 46.5 mm.
HISTORY AND PROVENANCE.
Octavius Morgan collection; when Morgan acquired the piece is not clear, but possibly just before or soon after it was overhauled in 1839. It is assumed that Morgan added the silver funnel and bucket.
Octavius Morgan bequest, 1888; reg.1888,12-1,122.
In 1928 Chapuis and Gélis described the mouvement as being in bad condition ("délabré"); in their description they get some of the motions wrong (the eyes were thought to move with the milking, and the tail was supposed to move). Some time before February 1930 the piece was restored to working condition by H.V.Batten, and it was therefore presumably displayed in the newly arranged gallery (see introduction).
No other clockwork automaton that produces a liquid as part of its motions is known to survive from the period. However, Hainhofer mentions on two occasions (1629 and 1645) a mechanical swan that drank a glass of water, doubtless made in Augsburg 1).
The construction of the movement seems curiously "upside-down", typical for automata that have eyes moving with the balance. This motion necessitates placing the balance under the platform and not on the back (as is the usual arrangement), while the winding squares remain at the bottom. In the present automaton this discrepancy is enhanced by the fact that the largely steel movement has the front plate of brass. In such movements one expects the back plate to be the brass one. Indeed it seems likely that the movement was originally conceived to be mounted the other way around. For steel movements with a brass back plate see the Introduction; they appear to have been fairly widely used in the present Poland.
The use of a brass plate in the steel movement is not the only indication that the origin of this automaton is not quite straightforward. There exists a large group of late-16th-century clockwork automata on embossed copper-gilt bases; most of these objects are unsigned, but one is marked FM, thought to be Philipp Miller, and another can be tentatively ascribed to Georg Roll, both of Augsburg. Indeed it is very likely that the whole group was produced in that city 2). At a first glance the present automaton appears to be part of this group, but there are significant differences. The Augsburg group have bases that are more elaborately profiled and more richly decorated, and they are differently constructed: the band and the flared base form a single piece that carries the chased platform to which the figures and the movement are attached. In the BM-automaton the band has comparatively simple decoration and no profilation, the platform is not chased but it is a thick cast plate, and base and band are separate parts so that the construction of the object had to be different. Moreover, the curiously composite construction of the cast figures is not consistent with one of the great metal-casting centres. It is suggested therefore that the present object, although inspired by Augsburg examples, was actually made in a different centre. The use of a steel movement with one brass plate (the automata of the Augsburg group all appear to have all-steel movements) suggest a more easterly origin, possibly Wroclaw.
An automaton with a dog has been recorded, having a rectangular repousse base with unusually flat sides reminiscent of the base in the present automaton. The dog is reputed to have belonged to the Polish Prince Jakub Sobieski 3).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has a clock with a movement which is clearly related to the present automaton. It is a square horizontal table clock (in the 19th century re-constituted as an elaborate crucifix clock) having a steel movement with plain cylindrical screwed pillars and a brass back plate, and a female figure with a pointer for a hand. The striking train of this clock has the unusual feature that the countwheel doubles as the great wheel 4).
Maurice has drawn attention to a bronze figurine of a woman milking a cow by the Master of the Genre-Figures (Netherlands, 1600-1620), which he considers to be the pattern for the figures on the present clock 3). The general representation is undoubtedly similar, but there are significant differences between the figures, which leave a direct connection between the two somewhat doubtful; certainly the present figures are not casts from the bronze figurine.
The square on the extended arbor of the striking detents may have carried an arm for intentional release of the mechanism (possibly by a cord through one of the openings in the plate). There is no pinhole in the square to secure such an arm, but the square may subsequently have been shortened.
Bucket and funnel were probably added by Morgan.
1) Gobiet (1984) nos.949, 951, 1421; the first of these swans was covered with real skin ("vberzagnen").
2) For this group see e.g. Maurice (1976) figs.272, 274, 276, 285, 289, 290, 294 (ascribed to Georg Roll), 295-297, 300, and 301 (marked "FM").
3) Kwiatkowska (2000) fig.X.
4) Reg.29.52.11. Although this clock is considerably smaller than the present automaton it has a similar traincount:
24 ║ 54 50 40 46
── ║ ── ── ── ── 17 (x 2)
12-hour 7 24 ║ 6 5 5 6
(contrate and scape wheels replaced).
78 50 40 40
── ── ── ──
10 5 5 5
(2nd wheel has 10 lifting pins; random locking on the 4th).
3) Maurice (1976) fig.341.
In the steel movement plate several bushes are square brass plugs; these square plugs appear to be original. Square holes in round brass plugs: Roll/Reinhold globe V&A.
The copper base has holes under the movement pillars, with circular scratches to show that this was originally where the base was screwed.
Cistern brazed with white (silver) brazing; in the striking-detend assembly the brazing is yellow. The scape wheel also has yellow brazing on the band; in addition the pinion has been brazed to the wheel (yellow).
The great wheels have red brazing.
Looked under the slide regulator: nothing.
Near the slot for the scape wheel there is at the centre a rectangular filled hole, presumably the steadying hole of the original cock.
Under the platform the arbors for both spring barrels are longer than customary.
The extremes of the plates have what appear to be locating holes: in both plates at one end, in the brass plate only at the other end.
Many steel parts have apparently been sandpapered, by Batten?
The spring loading the striking detent and that for the hammer lifting have the same ornamental ends and are both OK.
The band of the case has been marked to go on this way, with the shells pointing up. I tried it upside-down, but it does not fit properly.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (Pauline Wholey – 2019)
Chapuis/Gélis (1928) A.Chapuis & E.Gélis, Le Monde des Automates, 2 vols. (Paris 1928).
Lloyd (1958-1) H.A.L(loyd), `A.H.S. Visit to the British Museum', AH 2 no.6 (March 1958) 109 110.
Lloyd (1964) H.A.Lloyd, The Collector's Dictionary of Clocks (London 1964).
Goaman (1967) M.Goaman, English Clocks (London 1967).
Maurice (1976) K.Maurice, Die deutsche Räderuhr, 2 vols. (Munich 1976). Page numbers refer to vol.1, fig. numbers to vol.2.
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.
- On display (G38/dc4)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number