Alarm clock, mounted on model of coffin

Made:
1840-1900 in England
Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. From left

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Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Group shot of various memento mori, showing the variety of origins and different materials in the collection. From left
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London.

Alarm clock, mounted on model of coffin with skeleton, probably English, 1840-1900

This elaborate alarm clock is a ‘memento mori’, probably of English origin. Memento mori translates from Latin as ‘Remember you must die’ and such objects were literally meant as reminders of death, to prompt people to think about the shortness of life and the inevitability of death.

The clock is in the form of a coffin with an ivory skeleton reclining on top. This rests upon the bell and one hand holds a sand timer and a candle. The coffin also sits upon four ivory skulls. These symbols are typical of memento mori. The skeleton’s other hand rests upon a ship’s wheel, inside of which is a small thermometer and barometer. Two wells are at each end of the coffin, presumably to hold candles. It appears that when the alarm bell chimed, a small card running up the skeleton’s spinal column retracted to make the jaw open and the eyes roll.

Details

Category:
Anatomy & Pathology
Collection:
Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection
Object Number:
A113335
Materials:
complete, ebony, glass, ivory, mercury, metal (unknown) and wax
type:
skeleton
taxonomy:
  • furnishing and equipment
  • measuring device - instrument
  • timepiece
credit:
Loan, Wellcome Trust