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Rainco's Astronomical Clock

From Horology magazine, July 1938

By Major Paul M. Chamberlain 

In Lincoln's Inn Fields is Sir John Soane's Museum, one of the lesser known but one of the most interesting of the splendid museums of London. It was founded a little more than a hundred years ago by the architect, Sir John Soane, who designed the Bank of England. In the reception room, where one feels that at any moment Sir John may walk in, stands one of Raingo's astronomical clocks.

I was looking at it with considerable interest when the venerable curator came to my side and in lowered voice said, "That is one of Sir John's prized pieces," and the feeling came over me that Sir John was surely just around the folding doors. The curator seemed pleased that I was so interested in it and went on to say that it was ·one of four that George IV had bought for his sons, that this one had belonged to Frederick, the Duke of York, that one still remained at Windsor Castle, the third in the home of one of his heirs and that the location of the fourth was unknown. He was intensely interested when I told him that I had seen an identical piece in America and my answers to his questions he wrote down in a venerable book with great care.

Many years later I acquired the piece illustrated herewith of which I had told him. Since then I have acquired photographs of the one at the Soane Museum, the one at Windsor Castle and one at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris, which also are reproduced here.

The curator had the tradition that there had been only four made but this is in error. Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (181054), an eminent horologist, bequeathed his library to the Institution of Civil Engineers. It contains many rare and valuable works among which is a description by Raingo of his astronomical clock.

Mr. C. A. Ilbert was kind enough to make many excerpts of it for me but at the moment I cannot put my hands on it. However, I recall that there are named several eminent Frenchmen for whom he had made examples. The example I have came from New Oreans and it is not unlikely that the tradition that it belonged to one of the early French Governors is correct, possibly Laussat or Jacques Villere.

A colored plate showing such a clock was published in Repository of Arts for 1824. I have only the plate and lacking the text am unable to say which particular one it is. It is given the caption "Relox Astronomico." In 1931 I was favored with the photograph of the one at Windsor with the data from their Inventory, as follows:
"Clock No.2-An Astronomical Clock.  
Mounted on a circular base of handsome Amboyna wood, surmounted by four pillars of the same, enriched with chased ormolu capitals and bases, and which support a circular top carrying the Signs of the Zodiac and Astronomical Apparatus, the whole placed on a square plinth and standing on four chased ormolu feet. By Raingo, Paris, 2 feet, 6 3/4 in high.  

Remarks: Purchased by Geo. IV in 1824 for 300 guineas from the inventor Raingo at Paris, and was originally in the Armoury at Carlton House and valued at 200 pounds in Clock Inventory of Carlton House." At the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers is an example listed in the catalog under No. 10620 "Petit Planetaire par Raingo, termine par M. Paul Garnier pere, donne par Oudenoud, en 1885." Jean Paul Garnier, born at Espinal, France, 1801, settled in Paris in 1820 and died 1870. It is likely that he bought the unfinished piece from the estate of Raingo and completed it. I have M. Paul Ditisheim to thank for having the photograph made.

The photograph of the Soane Museum piece was made by E. Desbois, who looks after the clock and occasionally overhauls it, for which he is usually paid £6-7. The going train he winds once every week and the other part once every two years. I was indebted to Mr. H. Otto for having arranged some years ago to have the photographs made for me. The photographs and notations of the Windsor Castle piece and permission to publish were secured for me by Captain Marsh, Inspector at Windsor.

The term astronomical clock is scarcely descriptive of this complicated piece as any clock indicating any astronomical phenomena might be called such. The erudite author of "Early Science in Oxford" (1923), R. T. Gunther, defines an orrerey as a machine for representing by wheel work the various motions of the heavenly bodies and differing from a planetarium in that it exhibits the diurnal as well as the annual motions of the earth, the revolutions of our moon, and sometimes the rotation of the sun and certain planets on their axes.

In last December's London Illustrated News, Commander R. T. Gould, in his description of his restoration of the original Orrerey, points out that planetariums of the "orrerey" type extend as far back as 2697 B. C. but that the greatest single step in a "Planetarium machine" was that of George Graham in 1715 in one he devised and made for Prince Eugene of Savoy, ( Henry Sully's patron).

A copy of this made by John Rowley passed into the possession of Charles Boyle, fourth Earl of Orrerey and at the suggestion of Sir Richard Steele the name Orrerey was given "out of compliment to the noble patron" to this and all similar machines.

In Raingo's planetary machine the earth revolves on its axis daily, the moon circles the earth and the entire system about the sun. As shown very imperfectly in the photographs the three horizontal dials indicate respectively the zodiac and months divisions, lunar divisions, and divisions of the four years including leap year.

The clock part is well made, has a gridiron pendulum, strikes hours and half hours, has day of the week calendar and eight day springs. The planetary machine is driven by a four year spring but is controlled from the time train. In the square base of the one In my collection is a musical box which is wound separately and can be switched on or off to play automatically at noon or at any time the proper switch is turned. This attachment does not appear in the others here illustrated but is incorporated in one whose description I have read. The chasing of ormolu decorations and the mounted zodiac figures are of exceptional beauty.
The curled and mottled Amboyna wood is found in India and the Malay Peninsula; in color it resembles certain types of walnut and mahogany. 

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