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Antique clocks – a buyer’s guide

Antique clocks guide


Quality antique clocks are highly valued and collectable, and are one of the few items you can purchase that will look equally fine as a stand-alone piece or as part of a larger collection. There can be pitfalls for the novice collector however, but our guide will show you what to look out for, and will help you to avoid those pitfalls as you search for that perfect piece.

If you are a novice collector or are simply looking to purchase an antique clock as a gift, do your research. With a fine specimen reflecting the skill not only of the clockmaker, but also the cabinet maker, polisher and engraver, the choice available is vast. Not only should you consider the style of clock but thought should also be given to whether the clock will sit well in its intended setting. Here are just some of the clocks available from our dealers:

Mantel clock

So called as they were traditionally small enough for display on a shelf or mantel, mantel clocks are still one of the most popular styles of clock for experienced and novice collectors alike. Originating in France around 1760, the mantel clock was developed from the French bracket clock of the Regency period and many of the earliest pieces resemble a bracket clock, albeit smaller in size. Mantel clock movements can be brass or wood and can run from anywhere between 30 hours and 8 days without winding. The variety of styles is wide, and examples can be found in porcelain, wood or ormolu. Decoratively, mantel clocks are just as diverse, ranging from the smooth, sleek lines of a Seth Thomas model to the highly ornate models from the Ansonia Clock Company which often featured carving, figures and sculptures. 

Bracket clock

A bracket clock is wall-mountable and often features a decorative shelf or bracket beneath it. Bracket clocks were wall mounted to allow their pendulums to swing freely below the base of the piece and originated in Holland in the mid-17th century. Antique bracket clocks often have a rectangular casing in an ebony finish, with side pillars and a pediment on top; later models have the pillars removed with the pediment having been replaced by a dome and carry handle. The finest examples of English bracket clocks are considered to date from the Regency and Victorian periods, with the quality of their movements making them particularly sought after.

Long case clock

A long case clock is freestanding with a weight-driven, swinging pendulum, usually contained within the body of the clock case. There are generally three type of long case clock, usually referred to as Grandfather, Grandmother and even Granddaughter clocks. The Grandfather clock is the tallest of the three style, measuring from 6’ 3”, while a Grandmother clock is less than this with a more slimline case and shorter stature. The more petite features of the Grandmother clock make it a popular choice for smaller rooms and landings. The most recent style of long case clock dates from the 1930s and is known as a Granddaughter clock. Typically measuring between three and five feet in height, these clocks often have veneered cases and electroplated dials with painted numbers, rather than engraved faces.

Wall clock

Wall clocks represent by far the largest category of antique clock and are so named as they were designed to be wall mounted. They are also one of the oldest types of clock designed for the home, with the first round-face dial examples in England dating back to the 18th century. Quality wall clocks are always sought after by collectors and the types of wall clock available, including the banjo clock, cuckoo clock, and wag on the wall clock, means that the novice collector or casual purchaser can be spoilt for choice.

Lantern clock

The name lantern clock is derived from the resemblance to a traditional lantern and also from the word ‘latten’, an old-fashioned term for brass, the material many original pieces were made from. One of the oldest types of clock, the first lantern clock from the British Isles can be dated back to the mid-15th century. However, lantern clocks were practically obsolete by 1800, having been replaced by other styles including the long case clock.

Carriage clock

Originally developed in Austria and made mainly in France throughout the 19th century, the carriage clock steadily gained popularity in England throughout the 1800s. Small and portable, hence the name carriage, these clocks were often characterised by a brass case and the clock face, which was often porcelain to highlight the hands, was covered by glass.

When purchasing an antique clock, whether as a collector or not, it is vital to find a specialist or dealer who is knowledgeable and who can be trusted to help you with things such as establishing authenticity and value. When buying from Hemswell, you can be confident that our dealers are reputable and long established and will be able to discuss individual pieces with you. As a specialist antiques centre, we are also able to ship any item for you securely and fully insured, both domestically and overseas. If you are a collector, our dealers have the knowledge, expertise and contacts to help you and are happy to give advice whenever they can. To discuss your specific requirements under the prevailing national lockdown, please call us on 01427 668389.

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