Hemswell Antique Centres

How can we help?

Mantel clocks - why they are so popular and what you should look for


Relatively cost effective to produce and affordable for most people, mantel clocks, or shelf clocks, were the most popular style of clock in the 18th and 19th centuries. We look at our enduring interest in mantel clocks and how to identify a good example for, whether you are an avid collector or an enthusiast, identification is key.

What is a mantel clock?

A mantel clock is a small house clock traditionally positioned on the shelf, or mantel, above a fireplace. First developed in mid-18th century France, the mantel clock evolved from the earlier chamber clock which was similar but featured carrying handles absent on a mantel clock. The petite stature of a mantel clock enables it to be held easily in both hands and most have a solid base. More ornate, early European examples feature detailed legs or filigree.

Characteristics of antique French mantel clocks

Antique French mantel clocks typically feature ornate and detailed trim and were commonly adorned with bronze, pewter or brass. French makers often included a glass dome that allowed the intricate inner workings of the clock to be seen and French designs often included classical pillars and sculptures as well as cherubs. Many early examples were made from marble, before a method was developed which involved adding black enamel paint to wooden cases to simulate the look of marble. Very few French clock makers applied labels to their pieces so a label may be an indication that the clock is not French. Notable exceptions include Japy Freres who stamped their cases and Duverdrey & Bloquel who used a lion trademark. Other reputable French clockmakers to look out for include Howell and James, Mougin and Charles Anfrie.

Characteristics of antique American mantel clocks

While antique American mantel clocks also featured designs incorporating brass and iron, they were generally manufactured from porcelain or wood, including oak or cherry wood. Bases were often engraved or carved panels, or panels decorated with painted scenes and floral designs. American clockmakers of note include Seth Thomas who was instrumental in turning the manufacture of clocks from an artisan craft to a factory process in the early 19th century, in part by replacing the expensive brass internal moving parts with inexpensive wooden parts. Another name of note is Elias Ingraham who designed the steeple mantel clock named after the church steeple it resembled.

How to care for an antique mantel clock

Handle vintage clocks with care and avoid positioning them too close to heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators or in areas of high humidity. Placing them in direct sunlight should also be avoided. Although it may be tempting to have an antique clock for decorative purposes only, it is better to keep them in working order. This will avoid the moving parts from seizing up which will be costly to undo. Oil the clock’s mechanism every few years and have your clock fully serviced every ten years. Always adjust the time in a clockwise direction.

Where to find antique mantel clocks for sale

Much of the enduring interest in mantel clocks lies in the diversity of styles and designs that are available. At Hemswell Antique Centres we have a wide and varied collection of antique clocks for sale, so why not visit us and spend some time browsing our four wonderful buildings sited on the former RAF Hemswell, not far from the historic city of Lincoln.

Back to articles