Stolen antique clock returned to museum after 20 years
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Stolen antique clock returned to museum after 20 years
Brighton & Hove Museums Local History Curator Dan Robertson with Sussex Police RCT Sergeant Tom Carter with returned clock. © Brighton & Hove Museums.

BRIGHTON.- An antique clock stolen from historic Preston Manor in Brighton more than two decades ago has been safely returned to its owners.

Staff said the clock was a huge favourite with visitors, especially children because sailing ships moved to music when the clock chimes every hour.

They were shocked to witness two men steal the musical timepiece from the premises on February 12, 2001.

The suspects escaped in a vehicle parked nearby, but despite an investigation by Sussex Police, they were never traced.

However, the force’s Rural Crime Team recovered the item from an auction house in 2023, after the Art Loss Register, the world's largest private database of stolen art and antiques which monitors the global art market to identify registered pieces, notified Brighton & Hove Museums that it was listed for sale.

RCT Sergeant Tom Carter said: “The museum notified us, which meant I could attend and safely collect the clock before it was sold on. The clock had previously been sold by the same auction house 20 years ago in good faith to a collector, who then relisted it with them for sale last year.

“Unfortunately, the auction house had no provenance for the clock at its original sale, which meant the investigation could not proceed any further.

“Despite this, we were pleased to have been able to return this historic item back to its rightful owner.”

The Thomas Hunter Jr Bracket clock is a rare 18th century (c.1760-70) clock by the top English clockmaker, with exquisite painted decorations above the clock face. The maritime motifs may have been one of the reasons the Stanford family who owned Preston Manor acquired the clock. It was placed in a south-facing room that looks towards the sea.

The clock was in Preston Manor from at least 1905. It was left by the Stanford family who presented Brighton Corporation with Preston Manor and its contents in 1932.

CEO of the Brighton & Hove Museums Hedley Swain said: “We are so thrilled to have this wonderful item returned to us after so long. We want to thank Sussex Police and the Art Loss Register for their hard work in restoring the clock to its home.

“This is an important item, not just because of its rarity and beauty but because it has a direct link with Brighton’s municipal history and the early history of the Brighton & Hove Museums.

“We aim to ensure the clock is back to working order so we can display it once again in Preston Manor.”

Lucy O’Meara from the Art Loss Register said: “We’re really pleased to share our recent recovery of a late 18th century Bracket Clock by Thomas Hunter Jr.

“It came up for sale at a responsible auction house which subscribes to the ALR’s due diligence service to protect buyers. The ALR's research team identified the item as a match, despite extensive restoration and alteration to the clock.

“It had different urn finials and different feet making it appear at first glance to be a different clock. This was one of over 400,000 items our expert team checks against our database every year.

“Our recovery team used their detective skills to compare the wood grain which matched up exactly. After we identified the match, our team liaised with the auction house and notified Brighton & Hove Museums of the location of the stolen clock. Sussex Police’s Rural Crime Team then recovered the item from the auction house and returned it to the Museum.”

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