Fourteenth century timekeeper turns up in Queensland

What was a bit of brass to a child is a lot of brass to Bonhams

The second-oldest known British scientific instrument in existence is going to auction next month after spending decades in a farm shed in Queensland.

The “equal hour horary quadrant” – a timepiece for calculating time of day from the sun – is dated 1396, carries the badge of Richard II, and seems to have ended up in Australia via New Zealand after being found sometime in the 19th century in northern England by an ancestor of its current owner.

Its owner, Christopher Becker – an antiques dealer – says he found the object in a “bag of old pipe fittings” on the family farm in the 1970s, somewhere it may have been for as long as 20 years.

“I did take it to the Brisbane Museum with my father,” Becker told ABC 702 Sydney presenter Richard Glover. “They thought it was an astrolabe … and they weren’t all that excited about it”. So he continued keeping the object with him as a keepsake.

Last year, however, Becker read an article on the Internet, “Richard II, John Holland and Three Medieval Quadrants” (Silke Ackerman and John Cherry) that identified the real significance of the item for him, and he contacted the British Museum (each of the quadrants discussed in the article is younger than Beckers, dating from 1398, 1399 and around 1400).

With the item identified, Bonhams expects the item to sell for around £150,000 to £200,000.

According to Bonhams, one of the earliest administrative records in the UK based on equal-hours timekeeping refers to the abdication of Richard II “at about the ninth stroke of the clock”. The only older piece is the “Chaucer astrolabe” from 1326, which is kept at the British Musem. ®

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