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Joseph II Rack Clock

Josephinische Saegeuhr


Vienna, last quarter of the 18th century

carved and silvered lime wood
verge escapement, short front pendulum
26 ¾ in

Rack clocks are fascinating timepieces with a highly unusual drive mechanism. The movement case, which is weighted with lead, is pushed up the rack by hand, whereupon it slowly glides back down with the help of gravity. In the process, the teeth in the rack intercept the gears in the clockwork. A short pendulum in front of the dial functions as an oscillator. In German, “Sägeuhren” (lit. “saw clocks”) take their name from the rack that is reminiscent of a saw.
This Viennese rack clock was manufactured in the last quarter of the 18th century. Both the board and the frame of the dial are artfully carved and plated with silver, and designed in Josephinian style. This stylistic direction, which was propagated under emperor Joseph II, flourished during the transition from the late Baroque era to Classicism, and is characterized by motifs such as fluting, vases, laurel, acanthus rosettes, garlands, and bows.