Last of ‘Greatest-Ever Private U.S. Timepiece Collection’ to be auctioned

One of the most important timepiece auctions in recent years is scheduled for Oct. 13-15, when Sotheby’s in New York City will sell more than 1,250 items from the Time Museum, the finest collection of time-finding and time-keeping devices in the world.

It will be the fourth and final sale in the past five years from this important private American collection, which was assembled by Seth Atwood, a businessman from Rockford, Illinois, over 30 years.

The sale will include important watches, clocks, chronometers, wristwatches, scientific instruments, and horological curiosities.

This sale follows three previous offerings from the monumental Time Museum at Sotheby’s which together have brought in a combined total of $39,764,589. In December 1999, Sotheby’s offered 81 masterpieces from the Time Museum, which sold for $28,285,050, double the pre-show estimates and setting a world record for any auction of watches and clocks. The sale attracted bidders from around the world and achieved several world-record-breaking prices, including $11 million for a unique 1933 Patek Philippe pocket watch with complications made for American banker Henry Graves. In June 2002, Sotheby’s offered 216 masterpieces, which sold for $11,479,539, again far exceeding their estimates. A sale of 39 lots of scientific instruments was sold at Sotheby’s in London in October 2002 for $663,624. The present sale is expected to bring in between $8 million and $10 million.

Daryn Schnipper, director of Sotheby’s worldwide watches and clocks department, says this final sale of “treasures from the greatest private American collection of timepieces ever formed is an honor for Sotheby’s and a high point of my career. Together with the previous two offerings, these sales will be remembered for years to come as galvanic events in this field.”

Highlighting this sale are three lots associated with John Harrison and with the “Longitude Prize,” a competition established by the British Parliament for 18th-century clock and instrument makers to determine longitude at sea, one of the greatest scientific problems of modern times. John Harrison, an ingenious clockmaker, devoted his life to accurate marine timekeeping and solved the problem.

The three are: The Precision Regulator, circa 1725, the only known example of Harrison’s work outside England, estimated sell for between $500,000 and $1 million; a full-size working replica of John Harrison’s first sea-clock, estimated to bring $65,000 to $100,000; and the famous Marine Timekeeper (known as the “Mudge Green”) by Thomas Mudge, another for the “Longitude” Prize competitor, estimated to sell for $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

Other timepieces to be auctioned include the massive “Astronomical and World Time Clock” (1895), with 15,000 parts, by Christian Gebhard, a German astronomy and mathematics professor, who spent 30 years constructing it; and an “Iron Movement Standing Clock” (with a lacquered pyramid stand and the three-petaled paulownia blossom logo of the Tokugawa family), reportedly presented by the tenth Shogun of Japan, Ieharu Tokugawa, as a gift to the governor of Nagoya, Japan.

Also being sold is the majority of the Time Museum’s chronometer collection, including 92 pieces by such renowned watchmakers as Breguet, Berthoud, Arnold, and Earnshaw.