A Short Account of the remarkable clock made by James Cox in the Year 1766 by Order of the East India Company for the Emperor of China - William Meyrick 1868 - Printed by Wertheimer, London - One of three known copies. One of only three copies believed to have been printed, Illustrated with a full page engraving of the clock, and four engraved in-text vignettes.

James Cox, a most prolific clock and watchmaker of the late seventeenth century was commissioned by the East India Company in 1766 to produce a pair of elaborate clockwork automata as a gift for the Qianlong Emperor (1711-99). This is the rare privately published account of one of the pair, which is now housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the second piece has never been found.

Each clock was made of gold in the form of a chariot embellished with rubies and diamonds (dimensions of the remaining clock at the Met - 26 × 16.2 × 8.3 cm). A woman sits atop the chariot with one arm resting on the clock, the face of which is signed ‘Jas Cox London”. A small bird that flutters rests on the finger of one hand; in the other is a circular rotating ornamental piece atop a fluted rod. A double umbrella is mounted overhead, surmounted by a jewelled dragon. At the front of a chariot by the feet of the female figure sits a dog made of gold; nearby two small birds (which are attached to springs) pop up and appear to fly away from the chariot. A small figure of a man in Oriental dress supports one end of the chariot as if pushing it.
  A pencilled note on the front endpaper states that ‘3 copies only’ were privately printed. One copy is listed in the National Art Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (as at March 2016), who also state that there were ‘3 copies printed’ and that the author was William Meyrick. One copy was noted in the Guildhall Library in London [see The Self and it: novel objects in eighteenth-century England - Julie Park 2006].

Folio (38 x 28 cm). pp. [4] 5-16. Green pebbled cloth boards, upper cover panelled in gilt with floral corner motifs, repeated in blind to rear cover. Brown coated paper endpapers. Archival restoration to corners, inner-joints repaired with matching paper, volume re-sewn.


‘According to this report, the owner of the clock described, a bond street art dealer “well known alike for his knowledge, good taste and integrity,” purchased the piece from a French officer in Paris who claimed to have acquired the clock from the Summer Palace at Beijing in 1860. Meyrick’s account also includes an engraved life-size illustration of the piece. There is no doubt from the description given of “two curious clocks, intended as presents from the East India Company to the Emperor of China,” in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1776 that these pieces are on and the same. One of the pair is presently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Cox’s company declared bankruptcy in November 1778. His son John Henry Cox travelled to Guangzhou in 1781 establishing the shop of James Cox and Son there, being given permission by the British East India Company to conduct business that was not in conflict with that of the Honorable Company. This firm was the earlier incarnation of the venerable trading company of Jardine, Matheson & Co. (through a series of changes in partnership it became Jardine Matheson in 1832).’ -
Clocks of Late Imperial China - Catherine Pagani - 2001


‘On the trade card bearing the London address At the Sign of the Golden Urn, James Cox proclaimed himself a goldsmith who "
Makes Great Variety of Curious Wares in Gold, Silver and other METALS. Also, Amber, Pearl, Tortoiseshell and Curious Stones." Yet Cox seems to have spent most of his career as an entrepreneur, and in the early 1770s he claimed to employ between 800 and 1,000 workmen. Most of them were part of a unique network of independent suppliers and craftsmen that existed in London in the second half of the eighteenth century. These craftsmen rarely signed their work. Only a few of them have thus far been identified, but their existence made possible the great variety of objects that Cox exported. The name of a maker was required by law to be visible on a watch with an enamelled dial made in London for export, a circumstance that explains the presence of Cox's name on the dials of the watches incorporated in the objects illustrated here.

In the watchmaking trade, Cox would have had to depend upon skilled craftsmen, for there is no evidence that he himself ever made a watch movement. How extensively he contributed to the design of the luxury items that bear his name remains to be established. From the mid-1760s, Cox produced lavishly ornamented articles for trade with the Far East, first with India and then with China, where the reception of his "toys" or "sing songs," as the Chinese are believed to have called them, was at first a success.

Some, like the automaton in the form of a chariot pushed by a Chinese attendant (1982.60.137), were gifts to the Chinese emperor Qianlong (r. 1736–95), who had a special fondness for clocks, of both Chinese and Western origin. Many of these are still in the collection of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

A ban on Cox's shipment to China of luxury goods, led to the establishment in 1772 of the short-lived Spring Gardens Museum in London and the publication of two editions of
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Several Superb and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery, Exhibited in Mr. Cox's Museum (London, 1772). A year later, Cox planned to dispose of the museum's contents by lottery, and in anticipation of the sale Cod published two much-enlarged editions, titled A Descriptive Inventory of the Several Exquisite and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery (1773 & 1774). The Metropolitan Museum's miniature secretary incorporating a watch (46.184a–c) is perhaps a surviving fragment of a larger work described in the 1773 Descriptive Inventory as ‘Piece, the Seventeenth: A superb Cabinet’. If so, the Museum's miniature has lost the revolving sphere on its top described in the inventory, and it has been parted from a stand consisting of a ‘gilt rock, in front of which is a cascade and running stream of artificial water, where swans are seen swimming in contrary directions; at the corners of the rocks are Dragons with extended wings.’ This extravagant assemblage was in turn displayed on a crimson velvet pedestal with a silver-mounted glass cover to keep out the dust. The inventory goes on to describe the eighteenth object as a duplicate of the seventeenth. A comparable miniature cabinet exists in the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing, as well as at least one other, more elaborately decorated, example in the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. It is possible, therefore, to suggest that, like the nearly identical jewelled automaton in the Cox watch (1977.436.4) and nécessaire (57.128a–o), these delightful secretaries may have belonged to a series of items that were sold separately or inserted into a larger assemblage.

The most spectacular survival of Cox's enterprise, however, remains the ten-foot high Peacock Clock, with its clockwork-driven automata, in the Hermitage, which was brought to Saint Petersburg in 1781, probably by Frederick Jury, one of Cox's suppliers. Cox hoped to establish direct trade with Russia and even attempted to sell jewelry to the Russian empress, Catherine the Great (1729–1796), but met with little success.

The loss of reliable trade with China, the failure in Russia, together with the fact that Cox never achieved royal patronage and suffered from the ill effects of the American Revolution on British foreign trade, precipitated Cox's second bankruptcy in 1778. The remaining stock from Canton, was sold in London at Christie's on February 16, 1792, but in the meantime Cox and his sons, one in Canton and the other in London, resumed business and again began sending watches to China, this time mostly made by the Swiss firm of Jaquet-Droz et Leschot.’

James Cox (ca. 1723–1800): Goldsmith and Entrepreneur | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Provenance of the Clock itself;-
1868 - Recently Acquired by a Bond Street dealer in Paris, with the story that it had been brought from Peking by a French sailor, evidently as spoils of the looting of the Summer Palace (1860).
Circa 1868 - Sold to an anonymous dealer
1884 - appeared in the catalogued collection of Alfred Charles de Rothschild (1842-1918) (See C. Davis 1884. vol 2. no.141)
1940? - 1982 - Jack & Belle Linsky (it has been noted they spent 40 years building their collection, which would indicate the clock was not in their possession prior to 1940 (Mr Linsky passed away in 1980).
1950 - Exhibited - A La Vielle Russie, New York, Antique Automatons, Nov 3-Dec 5, 1950 no.13, fig. 1. (lent by Mr and Mrs Jack Linsky).
1982 to Present Met. Museum New York.
  Condition: Near fine, toning to page edges and some light soiling, professional restoration to corners, resewn.   Ref: 103192   Price: HK$ 180,000