The Empress' Clock
Soho House Museum
taxman accepted another odd item in lieu of death duties. It was a magnificent ormolu sidereal clock. A sidereal clock measures the progress of the stars rather than the sun. Made by Boulton himself in 1772, he failed to sell it (at Christie's), so Boulton despatched it to Catherine the Great, pausing only to re-regulate it for St. Petersburg, hoping to find an appreciative buyer at that cultured court.
He received this reply from their Russian agents:-
"Your clock has been shown at Court, first to the Empress, afterwards to Prince Potemkin....They all praised it - it was very fine, an elegant piece of workmanship - but it did not strike the hours, nor play any tunes - how could a clock without such necessary requisites cost 2,500 roubles?"
After eleven years it was returned, its glass case broken.
227 years later, Christie's were just warming up for their second chance at a sale, when the government decided that Birmingham Museum should have it, and Mr. Johnson could regard his tax bill as paid in full.
The clock is currently on display in Soho House Museum - Matthew Boulton's restored Birmingham home.It still doesn't play any tunes.