Time-chomping Midsummer Chronophage clock arrives at National Museum of Scotland

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 May 2012
A photo of a man in a suit looking up at a circular gold clock with a giant fly above it
Dr John C Taylor watches time fly in the Discoveries Gallery at the National Museum of Scotland© Ian Jacobs
A handless, numberless 24-carat gold clock face mounted on stainless steel, which shows the correct time every five minutes through a series of light slits designed by the dyslexic inventor of the kettle thermostat, has become one of only three in existence after going on show at the National Museum of Scotland.

The Midsummer Chronophage – named after a mythical time-eating beast – opens its “jaws” for 59 seconds and then snaps shut on the 60th, symbolising the precious nature of time in a 3.3 metre wave-shaped circle.

A photo of a man in a suit looking up at a giant gold clock with a giant fly on top of it
The clock is one of only three currently made© Ian Jacobs
“Once you have seen the Chronophage, all other clocks will seem rather boring,” warns Dr John C Taylor, who has orchestrated the timepiece with a small wooden coffin concealed in the back of the clock.

“All they do is tell the time. This one surprises you, sometimes stopping, running fast or backwards as it tells relative time, and yet still managing to be accurate to within 100th of a second on every fifth minute.”

More than 100 artists, engineers, scientists, jewellers and calligraphers spent two years making the clock, inspired by 18th century horologist John Harrison, whose portable sea clocks measured longitude at sea.

Corpus Christi College, in Cambridge, is the only other British venue to hold a Chronophage, although a third copy is set to visit China, and a fourth is currently being developed.

‘It takes a dyslexic inventor to produce a clock without hands that that also plays games with you,” reckons Taylor.

“It was Einstein who said time was relative. When asked for an example, he paused and then said, ‘if you think about it, an hour spent on a park bench with a pretty girl passes in a moment, but a moment sat on a hot stove seems like an hour.’

“The Chronophage is a unique blend of art and science, and each one is completely unique, with a different mythical creature eating away time. I’m grateful to National Museums Scotland for the opportunity to exhibit the Midsummer Chronophage in one of the most amazing public spaces in Scotland.”

The clock has been displayed alongside two more traditional designs – a panelled Longcase Clock by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, made in around 1660, and an Ebonized longcase wooden regulator designed by John and James Harrison, dating from almost 300 years ago.
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