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Peter Spaans (1937-2007)
Peter Spaans was born in the small town of Bussum in 1937. His interest in antiques developed at an early age and as a young man travelling on business for his father's company, G. Kat & Co., a manufacturer of pigments and paints, he was able to visit dealers and collections around Europe. Although not a collector himself, Peter's father encouraged his son's passion and in later years Peter would recall his father's admonishment that acquiring ordinary antiques might be fun but collecting better pieces would ultimately be more rewarding. In a collecting career spanning some 35 years it was advice that he did his best to follow.
Peter's particular enthusiasm was for antique clocks and in this he was joined by his first wife, Boudewijna Anna Overgaauw. Together they filled their modest home in Hilversum with the best examples they could buy. In time they would acquire clocks by the most important Dutch and English clockmakers. A Tompion table clock purchased around 1980 was followed a few years later by an exceptionally rare clock by Salomon Coster. Quietly, Peter Spaans assembled one of the finest private clock collections in The Netherlands. He was happy to share it with others: two of his clocks, the Coster and a fruitwood table clock by Guntschy (a particular favourite of Peter's) travelled to New York in 1986 to be displayed in an important exhibition of early clocks arranged by the Antiquarian Horological Society.
With the death of Boudewijna Anna Spaans in 1987 Peter Spaans' interest in acquiring further clocks also ended and over the next twenty years the collection remained unchanged. In 1992 Peter remarried and moved to Poland to start a new life. The home in Hilversum was closed, to be visited only occasionally. Few would have guessed the treasures it housed.
Last year Peter Spaans' thoughts turned once again towards his clocks. Although he no longer lived with them his appreciation remained undiminished and he could happily talk for hours about a collection of which he was justifiably proud. He felt it was time for others to have the pleasure and responsibility of owning them and began to make plans for their sale at Christie's. Sadly, events overtook him and earlier this year he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died on 10 July at Zielona-Gora in Poland.
The auction of the P.C. Spaans Collection will draw to a close a story that started over half a century ago. It is sad that Peter will not be there to see his clocks sold but I know that he would have been happy at the thought of other collectors enjoying them.
Maarten Meun, Executor of the P.C. Spaans Estate
A short introduction by Dr Plomp
Without doubt, no single date has had a larger impact on the development of the mechanical clock than 25 December 1656, the day on which the young Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock. 350 years ago this year, the States General of the United Netherlands granted the clockmaker Salomon Coster in The Hague the exclusive right ('privilege') to make and sell clocks constructed according to this invention. A seemingly obvious idea was sufficient to multiply the accuracy of the clock by a factor of a hundred or more. Whereas the great scientist Galileo Galilei had tried to achieve this by means of a highly original type of escapement, Huygens' solution of adding the pendulum directly to a conventional clock mechanism was as simple as it was brilliant. It was the sort of brainwave every scientist would like to have.
As we know from Huygens' treatise Horologium (1658), Salomon Coster not only translated his conception into a spring-driven timepiece of a plain and highly elegant design but also made a striking version with a single spring driving both trains, a brilliant way to keep the clock as simple as possible. Another innovation, likely also to have been inspired by the great demand, was to use cases made by a cabinet-maker. These prototype clocks determined the future evolution of clock-work for centuries. In one of his letters Huygens enclosed a list of prices varying between 48 and 130 guilders, depending on the clock's specification. In another, he wrote that Coster needed three to four weeks to make a clock, suggesting that his workshop may have produced 30 to 40 clocks in the short time up to his sudden death at the end of 1659. We can be grateful that seven survived the ages.
Within a few months the news reached London and Paris. In 1657 the prominent London clock-maker Ahasuerus Fromanteel had sent his son John to The Hague; Coster contracted him to make a series of movements. The next year, the father proudly claimed to be the first to construct pendulum clocks in England. At the same time, the French clockmaker Nicolas Hanet came to work with Coster. Hanet took at least eleven Coster clocks to Paris, which were immediately copied by his colleagues. Whereas the clockmakers in London developed a typically English pendulum clock, the French clockmakers closely followed Coster's design, introducing a separate spring for the striking train only a decade later. After Salomon Coster's death Dutch clockmakers also started to make pendulum clocks, now commonly known and highly regarded as 'Hague clocks'.
I will never forget the day, now more than thirty years ago, that I had the privilege of visiting Mr Spaans' home in Hilversum. All the walls, tables, sideboards etc. were full of clocks, more densely packed than I have ever seen before or since. With the exception of two, all the 'Hague clocks' in the present collection were described and reproduced in my book published in 1979, 350 years after Christiaan Huygens was born.
Later, Mr Spaans was able to crown his collection with a timepiece made by Salomon Coster in 1658 and uniquely provided with an alarm train. As in the previous cases, I was again excited by having the opportunity to study a pendulum clock made by its first maker. Potential buyers may like to know that, although clocks with an alarm train were not mentioned in Coster's price list, the clock will have cost its first owner about 120 guilders.
Seeing these clocks again after so many years was a great pleasure. I am convinced that many will share this feeling. It is regrettable that the man who collected such a large number of important clocks passed away during the preparation of the auction, but I am sure they will now be equally cherished by other collectors.
Dr. Reinier Plomp is the author of Spring-driven Dutch pendulum clocks 1657-1710, Schiedam, 1979