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Why IIII instead of IV?

Did you know that English tall case clocks use IIII instead of IV?

How many times have you looked at a watch or clock and have seen IIII but didn’t question it? So, why the use of IIII and not IV? Well, English clocks have always used the Roman numeral system and there are different theories for the use of IIII. One long shot theory is that Roman sundials used IIII so as not to irritate Jupiter, God of Sky and Thunder, whose name in Latin was spelled IVPPITER. Another theory is that IV and even IX required the ability to subtract, which might have been a tall order for those not well educated in math and the sciences, which was practically the whole of the European population during the Middle Ages. Of course, the theory falls apart when one considers the numbers VI, VII, VIII, VIII, XI and XII, which requires addition.

There are other theories but maybe the reason is as simple as creating balance and ease of legibility on the face of the clock or watch. Take this rare Scottish tall case clock, balance and elegance certainly comes to mind. Constructed of figured mahogany, this clock features an elaborately carved hood encasing a wonderful round face (with IIII) and a case that features tapering fluted columns and a demi octagonal paneled base resting on bun feet. A spectacular clock just waiting to be discovered at Mill House Antiques. More than an ordinary experience


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