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John Askew, Clock & Watch Collector (1890-1945)

Cuckoo Clock

Image: Cuckoo Clock

Source: Museum Victoria

Starting in 1920, John Askew, partner in the established Melbourne architectural and civil engineering firm of Twentyman and Askew, began loaning his clocks to the Industrial and Technological Museum, a forerunner of Museum Victoria.

Prompted by an increased interest in science and technology during World War I, the museum was actively renewing its exhibitions. By 1928 Askew had about 80 clocks on long-term loan to the museum, with the intention that at some stage he would donate them to the museum. Clearly this arrangement was of great advantage to the museum, as it provided a whole new area of display with minimal expense.

The loan arrangement equally gave the lender considerable influence over the museum. In 1930 Askew wrote to the trustees, noting that only half of his collection of 120 clocks was currently on display, the rest being in storage. He reported that he had been approached by an 'Interstate Museum' to borrow his supplementary collection, and that the unnamed museum was willing to provide extensive space for a new collection developed by Askew: 'I now respectfully beg to enquire whether there is any possibility of my collection being allotted a similar space in your Museum, as my feelings are that I do not want to start another collection for an Interstate Museum necessitating further duplications while there is a possibility of concentrating on one, at the same time I do not feel inclined to keep on adding to a collection which is only being exhibited in part.' The gentle threat had its desired effect, and the trustees assured Askew that space would be made available for the entire collection and for any additions.

Throughout the 1930s Askew continued to loan items, and finally donated the collection in 1941. John Askew died in 1945, and in his will left an annual bequest to the museum, which continues to fund the acquisition of clocks and watches for the collection.

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