Important clockmaker John Harrison's manuscript brings five-times estimate

A number of historically-important horological manuscripts have auctioned in London. The sale was described by the auctioneer as "the most important and comprehensive collection of horological interest to appear on the market for several decades, and the largest collection of manuscripts and other material relating to John "Longitude" Harrison since the 1920s."

Harrison came 39th in the BBC's 2002 public poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, and remains one of horological history's most important clockmakers. He invented the marine chronometer to solve the problem of establishing the East-West position, or longitude, at sea.

That's how Harrison earned his nickname, and also how he revolutionised and extended the possibility of safe long distance sea travel. The problem was considered so unsolvable that Parliament offered a £20,000 prize, equal to £2.87m in today's money.


Horological Harrison unpubl ms 22.2.12410.jpg
Harrison's manuscript draft of an unpublished petition to Parliament

Eight manuscripts by Harrison were auctioned, of which five were bought by Charles Frodsham & Co on behalf of the Clockmakers' Company. The Clockmakers' Company library in London holds the largest repository of Harrison manuscripts in the world.

Star lots in the London auction included Harrison's notes for a petition to Parliament, written in a secretary's hand alongside the autograph of the man himself. The important manuscript appeared with a £6,000-8,000 presale estimate. In the end, it far exceeded this to make £43,920.

The Clockmaker's Company also placed the winning bid on a manuscript draft of an unpublished petition to Parliament. This too far exceeded expectations and sold for £46,360 against an estimate of £7,000-10,000. 

Collectors confirmed that Harrison's status as one of horological history's most important clockmakers remains undiminished.

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