Missing chronometer sold at auction


Alfred University in western New York state is hoping to recover a 19th century marine chronometer that once served its campus observatory to time the meridian transits of stars. The chronometer was built in 1840 by instrument maker Bliss & Creighton of New York and mysteriously vanished from the university sometime after World War II and turned up for sale in a Christie’s auction catalogue in 1990. The auction house sold the chronometer in New York for $2,420.

Alan Littell, a longtime contributor to Ocean Navigator with ties to Alfred University, said that the university first learned of the chronometer earlier this year. “The Bliss & Creighton, serial No. 533, is thought to have been employed at sea before being acquired by Alfred. It is an exceptionally fine chronometer, as good as those of the Bonds of Boston and on a par with the English Earnshaw. A work receipt in the university’s archives shows that it was serviced by a repair shop in Belfast, Northern Ireland, sometime before 1865,” Littell said.

Littell contacted a friend at the Royal Observatory, Jonathan Betts, who keeps a log of antique chronometers. Betts had a friend at Christie’s in London who said that the chronometer may have been resold to someone in China or Japan who may no longer be alive. Littell says that Alfred University’s quest to recover the lost chronometer may be a long shot, but he is hopeful that Christie’s Hong Kong office may be able to shed some light on the whereabouts of the clock.

By Ocean Navigator