Bonhams to Auction Richard II Brass Quadrant

Bonhams are to auction one of the only known 14th century instruments, an exceedingly rare equal hour horary quadrant marked with the badge of King Richard II, at its Fine Clocks and Scientific Instrument Sale on 13 December 2011. Dated 1396, this extraordinary British time-telling mathematical instrument, which has come to light following its discovery in a shed in Queensland, Australia, has attracted a pre-sale estimate of £150,000 – 200,000. It is the second earliest dated British scientific instrument in existence, the earliest being the Chaucer astrolabe, dated 1326, housed in the British Museum.

The Richard II brass horary quadrant (reverse). Photo: Bonhams.

This quadrant is the earliest of a similar group of three other quadrants dated 1398, 1399 and circa 1400 respectively, two of which can be found in the British Museum, and the other in the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester. Like the others, it is noteworthy for showing equal hours, in which the entire period from midnight to midnight is divided into twenty four equal parts. This technique had developed slowly during the 14th century. Indeed one of the earliest examples in England of an administrative record using equal hours occurs on the occasion of Richard II’s abdication on 30 September 1399 stated to have been ‘at about the ninth stroke of the clock’. On its reverse, the quadrant features a badge depicting a stag lying down wearing a coronet around its throat, which is associated with Richard II. The National Gallery’s famous altarpiece, The Wilton Diptych, portrays Richard II wearing a cape embroidered with an identical badge.

The quadrant is believed to have been discovered by an ancestor of the present owner in the mid 1800s in Northern England before its emigration to New Zealand and Australia. In the mid 1970s, its owner, Christopher Becker, as a child, re-discovered it in a bag of old pipe fittings in a shed on a family farm in Queensland, where it is thought to have been for 20 years. Becker’s father took it to the Museum of Queensland, who identified it as an astrolabe, and, from this time, it has remained in his personal collection.

In 2010, still vying to satisfy his curiosity, Becker came across an article on the internet by Silke Ackermann and John Cherry entitled ‘Richard II, John Holland and Three Medieval Quadrants.’ Recognising similarities between his quadrant and the three described, he contacted the British Museum, and the process of identification began.

Becker, who is available for interview, remarks on his decision to sell the quadrant: “I believe something of this significance deserves a little more recognition than just sitting on my desk as a personal reminder of what began a lifelong passion for collecting antiques.”

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