Final Time Museum auction brings in $18.2 million

Sotheby’s three-day sale this month of “Masterpieces from the Time Museum, Part IV” tallied $18.2 million, far exceeding pre-sale estimates of $8 to $11 million.

It was one of the most important timepiece auctions in recent years. Collectors from around the globe gathered in New York City from Oct. 13-15 to view and vie for some 1,250 important timepieces, scientific instruments, and horological curiosities from the Time Museum, the finest collection of time-finding and time-keeping devices in the world. The private collection was assembled over 30 years by Seth Atwood, a Rockford, Ill., businessman.

This was the fourth and final sale in five years from the monumental Museum. Previous sales set several world records, including the first in 1999 at which a unique 1933 Patek Philippe pocket watch with complications made for American banker Henry Graves was sold for $11 million. Combined with the three previous sales, this final one brings the grand total of items sold from the Time Museum to $57.9 million.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the success of this sale,” says Daryn Schnipper, director of Sotheby’s Worldwide Watches and Clocks department. “It represented a one-time opportunity that may never be seen again in our lifetime, with one-of-a-kind objects appealing to a broad spectrum of horological collectors. We saw wide-ranging, international buyers that included private collectors, dealers, and museums.”

Among the most sought-after pieces in this sale was John and James Harrison’s “Precision Regulator” (circa 1725), which sold for more than $1.57 million, exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $500,000 to 1 million. The device, which won a famous 18th-century prize to determine longitude at sea, is probably the earliest precision regulator produced by the Harrison brothers.

Bidding also was stiff for a full-size working replica (commissioned in 1984 by Seth Atwood) of John Harrison’s first sea-clock, Harrison’s No. 1 (H1). Feverish bidding pushed the price to $904,000, nine times its highest pre-sale estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. H1 was the first device Harrison developed to solve the problem of finding accurate time at sea.

Other sale highlights included Thomas Mudge’s famous Marine Timekeeper, sold for more than $1.2 million, less than its pre-sale estimate of $1.5 to $2.5 million; a massive (10 ft. by 10 ft.) Astronomical and World Time Clock with 15,000 parts, sold for $142,400 (est. $100,000 to $200,000); and a lacquered pyramid stand Iron Movement Standing Clock sold for $316,000 (est. $100,000-$200,000) and reportedly presented by Japan’s tenth Shogun to the governor of Owari-Han (Nagoya).