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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
This most unusual object disguises its real function very effectively. The modest clock face scarcely registers among the gilt-bronze serpents, masks and swags of fruit around the centre; and only a small opening on the dial reveals, one at a time, the names of the ten tunes that the barrel organ can play - five of them specially set by the composer Handel. The organ mechanism itself is completely concealed within the plain and solid-looking mahogany and ebony plinth. This also serves as a support for the elaborate seventeenth-century German casket that Charles Clay (d. 1740), who specialised in the manufacture of mechanical organ clocks, decided to place on the plinth.
The casket, which is made of silver gilt, enamel, gilt bronze and finely engraved rock crystal, is signed by the Augsburg cabinet-maker Melchior Baumgartner (1621-86) and dated 1664. The complete object was probably sold by Clay's widow to Frederick, Prince of Wales, or possibly to his wife Augusta, some time after 1743. In George IV's time, the seventeenth-century gilt-bronze group of St George and the Dragon by Francesco Fanelli was added to the top of the casket; and later in the nineteenth century Queen Victoria placed inside it the Bible of the great imperial hero and adventurer General Gordon, murdered at Khartoum in 1885.