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night clock / clock-case

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Escapement

  • Description

    Night clock; going-train only; 'silent crank' escapement with short pendulum; light (originally provided by oil-lamp placed within case) shines through the hour numeral apertures in the revolving disc; elaborate ebony-veneered case with gilded-brass mounts, inset polished slabs of semi-precious stones and columns painted to simulate blue marble; concealed drawer in lower portion; painted dial scene contains combination of allusions to the four ages of man and the four times of day; above is Chronos. TRAIN-COUNT. Gt wheel 2nd wheel 140/5 3rd wheel 160/5 4th (inertia arm) 8


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1683
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 99 centimetres (case)
    • Width: 57 centimetres
    • Depth: 30 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Content

        Petrus Thomas Campanus Inventor Rome 1683 [movement]
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Comment

        Volat Irreparabile Tempus = time flies irretrievably
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        Either side of back door
      • Inscription Content

        IH IH
  • Curator's comments

    Text from 'Clocks', by David Thompson, London, 2004, p. 72.
    Pietro Tomasso Campani
    Table night clock
    Rome, 1683
    Height 99 cm, width 57 cm, depth 28 cm
    In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the popularity of the night clock was at its height, and nowhere more so than in Italy. In Rome the Campani family were the best-known makers. In 1655 Cardinal Farnese was ordered to provide a clock for Pope Alexander VII which would show the hours at night, but not in the traditional way that was simply by placing a candle in front of a standard table clock. Three brothers, Giuseppe, Pietro Tomasso and Matteo Campani from San Felice in Umbria, were working in Rome as clockmakers to the Pope, and they set about producing a clock to fit the bill.
    Just a year later, in 1656, one of their clocks was presented to the Cardinal, and such was its success in achieving the goal imposed that the Campani brothers were granted a 'privilege' or patent which, although contested, remained with them. They then went on to make numerous examples of their new invention. As well as producing a clock with its own internal light source, they also invented a new form of silent escapement for particular use in night clocks so that the owner would not be kept awake by a ticking clock in the bedroom.
    This particular clock is inscribed 'Petrus Thomas Campanus Inventor Rome 1683', and its case is typical of late seventeenth century Italian work. It is veneered in ebony with elaborate gilt-brass mounts and inset with slabs of semiprecious stones. The columns are painted in imitation of blue marble and support a complex double pediment top. At the bottom there is a concealed drawer in which the winding key can be kept.
    The dial is painted with depictions of the four ages of man, the four times of day and Chronos, beneath a semicircular aperture in which can be seen a revolving disc with two round holes diametrically opposite each other. Each of these holes reveals one of a series of hour numeral plates, odd numbers in one and even in the other. As the main disc revolves once in two hours, one of the two small apertures with the hour disc behind is visible in the semicircular opening. When one disc disappears out of view on the right-hand side, the next appears on the left with the appropriate numeral visible. The dial is also pierced around the top of the main aperture with quarters I, II, III and with the half-quarters as pierced inverted tear-drop holes. The oil lamp inside illuminates the revolving system so that the time can be seen in the dark, and there is a zinc-lined chimney which allows the heat and fumes to escape at the back.
    The movement is ingenious in its method of achieving a silent operation but perhaps is not a step forward in terms of accurate time-keeping. A large spring drives the gear train of just three wheels, and the third wheel drives a pinion which is linked directly to the pendulum by a cranked lever mounted eccentrically on a disc. In order to carry the pendulum arrangement past its zero point, where it might have a tendency to stop at each revolution, there is a friction-tight fly in the form of a long bar with weights at each end. The rotation of this keeps the whole mechanism in constant motion and without any ticking sound.
    Ilbert Collection.


  • Bibliography

    • Thompson 2004 p.72 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (Members' Room)

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    The Ilbert Collection of clocks, prints and other related material was destined to be sold at Christie's auction house on 6th-7th November 1958. As a result of the generous donation of funds by Gilbert Edgar CBE the sale was cancelled and the material purchased privately from the beneficiaries of the Ilbert Estate.NL1Ilbert's watches were then acquired with further funds from Gilbert Edgar CBE, public donations and government funds. These were then registered in the series 1958,1201.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • CAI.2128 (Ilbert Collection)
    • D132 (Ilbert Ledger)
COMPASS Title: Table Night Clock, made by Pietro Tommasi Campani


COMPASS Title: Table Night Clock, made by Pietro Tommasi Campani

Image description



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