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Perfect timing: the Mostyn Tompion clock

A year-going table clock, ‘The Mostyn’. Made by Thomas Tompion, London, England, c. 1690. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Exhibition preview

THE Mostyn Tompion clock is the finest example by London’s greatest clock maker, Thomas Tompion (1639-1713), and celebrates the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689.

To place it in its context of 17th century London, this stunning and important table clock features in a dedicated Asahi Shimbun Display in Room 3 at the British Museum, and will be on display from November 21 to February 2, 2014

The display celebrates the work of Thomas Tompion and coincides with the 300th anniversary of his death. To this day the clock continues to keep good time and is notably a ‘year-going’ table clock – it runs for more than a year on a single wind. In ‘the Mostyn’, Tompion built a sophisticated timekeeping instrument, a status symbol and a work of art all in one machine.

This timepiece is a spectacular object in both the excellence of the mechanism as well as a work of art.

The case has an ebony veneer and is decorated with elegant silver and gilt brass mounts. A statuette of Britannia crowns the top with a shield combining the crosses of St George and St Andrew. The decorations on the four corners celebrate the union of the United Kingdom with a rose, a thistle, a lion and a unicorn. The dial shows hours and minutes as well as the days of the week in a beautiful sector aperture with a different figure for each day representing the ruling deities over the days of the terrestrial week.

The Mostyn Tompion clock was made around the time of the coronation of King William III and Mary II and was kept in the Royal bedchamber until the King’s death in 1702. The clock was then passed to Henry Sydney, Earl of Romney, Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Groom of the Stole and later inherited by Lord Mostyn.

It remained in the Mostyn family until 1982 when it was acquired by the British Museum. It is now known as ‘the Mostyn Tompion’ after its last owner and its creator.

Thomas Tompion was born the son of a blacksmith in the village of Northill, Bedfordshire and embarked on an ambitious career as a clock and watchmaker in London.

During this period the capital was attracting many successful craftsmen such as goldsmiths, silversmiths, engravers and watchmakers as well as skilled foreigners from the Netherlands and France who, fleeing religious persecution travelled to England to establish their trades.

Tompion supplied time measuring machines that were of national importance at a time of great scientific exploration, including two regulators made for the Greenwich Royal Observatory in 1676.

Tompion also created clocks for domestic use, including long case and spring driven clocks as well as exclusive commissions for specific pieces with complex mechanisms. The ownership of a Tompion clock or watch was the exclusive realm of the wealthy, such as monarchs, the aristocracy and merchants.

Tompion was so celebrated for his contributions to science and clock making that he was buried in Westminster Abbey to honour a lifetime of achievement.

The Asahi Shimbun Displays are a series of regularly changing displays which look at objects in new or different ways. Sometimes the display highlights a well-known item, sometimes it surprises the audience with extraordinary items from times and cultures that may not be very familiar. This is also an opportunity for the Museum to learn how it can improve its larger exhibitions and permanent gallery displays.

These displays have been made possible by the generous sponsorship of The Asahi Shimbun Company, who are long standing supporters of the British Museum. With a circulation of about eight million for the morning edition alone, The Asahi Shimbun is the most prestigious newspaper in Japan.

The company also publishes magazines and books, and provides a substantial information service on the Internet. The Asahi Shimbun Company has a century long tradition of staging exhibitions in Japan of art, culture and history from around the world.

Image caption: A year-going table clock, ‘The Mostyn’. Made by Thomas Tompion, London, England, c. 1690. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Admission: Free.

Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday, 10am to 5.30pm; Friday, 10am to 8.30pm.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

Website: www.britishmuseum.org/

Also at the British Museum: Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art (until January 5, 2014) and Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia (until March 23, 2014).

And in March 2014, Vikings: life and legend will open in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.