Automaton acrobats are an uncommon feature on clocks from this period. The most recent examples to appear at auction are a fine Chinese ormolu and enamel example sold Christie's, London, 7 July 2011, lot 9 (£2,505,250) and a Chinese ormolu clock sold Christie's Hong Kong, Magnificent Clocks from the Chinese Imperial Court from the Nezu Museum, 27 May 2008, lot 1502 (HK $7,607,500/692,000). A late 19th Century Chinese ormolu example was sold Christie's, New York, 25 April 2008, lot 101 ($79,000).
The present clock by Hunter is English but it is interesting to note that an acrobat clock also by Thomas Hunter of closely related design is in The Palace Museum, Beijing. See Lu Yangzhen, Timepieces Collected by Qing Emperors in The Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 134 (see illustration). The Palace Museum example has a cupola top enclosing a porcelain double-gourd vase (probably a Chinese addition) whilst the dial plate has gilt-metal spandrels rather than the painted surface of the present clock.
The design of this clock's case was a popular one at the end of the 18th century and often used on musical and automaton clocks by makers such as Francis Perigal. See for example a tortoiseshell musical and automaton clock by John Marriott sold Christie's, London, 19 November 2009, lot 40 (£42,050). Indeed, its influence may be seen on contemporary Chinese clocks such as the small ormolu musical example sold in the same sale, lot 39 (£58,850). See also the Chinese enamel musical and automaton clock sold Christie's, Hong Kong, 1 December 2010, lot 3022 (HK $1,940,000/160,000).
Scratch-engraved Chinese characters on the movement barrels of this clock suggest that it has been in China at some point in its history.