Sunday, 11 January 2015

Elephant No. 100: Porcelain Clock

Several years ago, Terrence bought me this beautiful clock in a local antique shop. The sellers didn't know much about it, although they thought, from the style, that it might be from the 1920s. I think it may be somewhat earlier, but I'm no expert.

I haven't been able to find out anything else about it over the years. The only markings say "Germany" and "5002". It's about 10 x 10 x 3.5 inches (25 x 25 x 9 cm), and has no coloured glazing on the back at all, since it's meant to sit against a wall or mantle. Otherwise, it's in great condition with no cracks, chips or lost glazing—other than a small amount of gold that's been rubbed off the elephant's tassel.

The clock mechanism is meant to be wound once a day, and it can be set to chime or not. It's never worked since I've owned it, and defies my puny attempts to make it sit straight. If it bothered me that it doesn't work, I'd have someone fix it, but it's never really bothered me.

This is one of my very favourite elephant-themed possessions, and sits on a bookshelf with my collection of books on India and Asia. I love it as it is, without knowing a thing about it—but if anyone out there recognizes either this clock or its style, I'd love to hear from you.

Elephant Lore of the Day
One of the most stunning elephant-themed clocks ever created was a water clock dreamed up by Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari in the 13th century A.D.

Elephant clock from al-Jazari's The Book of the
Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical
Source: Wikipedia

The massive clock featured an Asian elephant with the clock workings contained inside the howdah on the elephant's back. The mechanism was relatively simple: a water bucket inside the howdah contained a floating bowl with a small hole. It took half an hour for water to filter into the bowl, which caused the bowl to sink. As it sank, it pulled a string attached to a "seesaw" in the top of the howdah.

The seesaw released a ball that dropped into the mouth of a snake. The snake then tipped forward, pulling the water bowl out of the main bucket. At the same time, a system of strings would cause a figure perched high in the howdah to raise its left hand to indicate a half-hour, and its right hand to indicate a full hour, The mahout at the front would also strike a cymbal and a bird would chirp. The snake then tipped back and the whole cycle would repeat.

Reproduction of al-Jazari's elephant clock,
Kasimiye Medrese, Mardin, Turkey.
Photo: Nesim Ardoga
Source: Wikipedia

Over the years, several modern reproductions of the clock have been produced. One of these, created by 1001 Inventions, was displayed in 2010 at the Science Museum in London, England, to great acclaim. The most famous reproduction, however, is a full-sized working version that serves as the centrepiece of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai.

Working reproduction of al-Jazari's elephant clock,
Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai.
Photo: Jonathan Bowen, 2007
Source: Wikipedia

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