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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Some Clock Questions

Author: Brooks Palmer

( Article orginally published December 1960 )

PEOPLE continue to ask good questions about their clocks and watches. A few recent ones are given here, since there is the possibility that others, having similar ones, might be helped.

A prime question is that of the owner of a fine tall case clock having no maker's name on dial or elsewhere; often a family heirloom for several generations. It is regretted that the maker didn't get around to marking it with his name before delivery to the original owner.

There are, evidently, quite a few of these existing. We wish we could help, but there just isn't any way to do it. This subject was covered in the Antiques journal for May, 1954, with expressed regret that this was so.

If the family clock does have a name on the dial, that name can be checked against reference list books usually in most libraries. For European makers, try Baillie-"Watch makers and Clockmakers of the World;" and Britten-"Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers". For American timepieces, the name may be in "Book of American Clocks". Speaking of makers lists, we never have found a too complete one for France, and particularly after 1825 which was the rough cut-off date of both Baillie and Britten, as machine rather than hand making methods became general.

Then, too, we find reports of markings on the case by repairmen with dates. This was repair, restoration and maintainance service, not the name of the original maker. If a date is thus written, then the clock can well be older. This is like the old story of the man who had a lead coin. He protested and said that it couldn't be counterfeit, dated 1909, that someone would have discovered it before this if it was.

"Why are fine older "grandmother' type clocks so rare" is another rather frequent question today, possibly because more people seem to want them.

Let's precisely define what is meant by a "grand-mother" clock. It is a small size tall case clock, less than five feet in height, with a three sectioned case-base, trunk and hood. It would be the same as looking at a tall case clock through field glasses the wrong way, shrinking the clock down to under five feet in height and the corresponding lessening of the other dimensions.

Too often there is confusion with some clock that did belong to grandmother. The family sticks to that name in all references to it, but it doesn't make it so. "Dwarf or 1Vliniatttre Tall" are also proper names.

In former days of clockmaking evidently no large numbers of grandmothers were made. Generally rooms were large and high ceilinged except in early houses of New England. Clocks that were really tall, not the 7 footers, but the 9 and 11 foot models fitted in properly to the room. And there was the landing on the stairs. Nowadays ceilings are lower in houses and apartments-in the north, that much less space to heat in the winter. Grandfathers much over eight feet present a problem. Sometimes they can just he squeezed in by leaving off the finials. The shorter and equally graceful grandmother presents no such problem.

Sometime back around 1810, some few good clockmakers in lower New Hampshire, and around Boston, a< Joshua Wilder (1786-1860) of Hingham; Reuhen Tower. and the Baileys and others made a few each. Others produced by some Pennsylvania makers of fine tall cased clocks with exact dates hard to trace. Then there was no trend to miniaturization. The true grandmother is almost too short to look right, standing on the floor, and too high if placed on a table. There was then a demand for them or they would not have been made, possibly as a smaller edition, a daintier clock for the boudoir. Today new ones are being made to help fill the demand which is far beyond the available supply of old ones. They do look well in the rooms of today. Our, stands on an 18 inch base stand, raising the dial up to nearer eve level.

Some few are much older than the production of the Hingham makers as Wilder and Tower, which date 20 years after 1810. In the Metropolitan Museum there is a fine example, with engraved brass dial and spandrells marked "Thomas Claggett-Newport" (RI.). This clockmaker died in 1749. This clock is some 6O years older than those of Wilder.

Attention 'has been drawn to the large numbers of pictures of American grandmothers in books, far larger than the proportionate production. There are fourteen in "Book of American Clocks". The Joshua Wilder clock there shown in pictures #91-#92 is -shown here, now in the collection of the William Wadleighs, he is the past president of the New York Chapter of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors.

Another often asked question is to approximate an exact date of makiftg for a timepiece. Recorded makers are listed in books. Generally the clock maker or manufacturer did not place a date on the clock, with some very rare exceptions. People like to find out all they can about the old family timepiece, that the tradition of "100" or "200" years old he substantiated or corrected.

Certain clock types were made at certain times as is generally known. Where exact dating can be difficult - pin pointing a year or five years - is that group of American manufactured clocks which enjoyed a long period of popularity without changing frotn year to year. Here are three of such-The Connecticut wall regulators, the kitchen "clocks with side burns" and the OGs.

The Connecticut Wall Regulator was a familiar sight in schools and offices, introduced after the Civil War and made into the 1920s. Two examples are shown here with round and six-sided heads, long time favorites made by the Waterbury Clock Company from the 1880s and later. The word "Regulator" is stencilled on the glass of the box. These two are timepieces, with pendulums longer than the round wall gallery type called "D.O." - Drop Octagonal (Antiques Journal, January, 1959). The movements were brass, 8 day, spring powered. If there were some secret marks to show month-year of making, we didn't find them. When there are U. S. Patent dates stamped on the movements it is obvious that the clock was made after the latest patent date. There have been a couple of recent queries on this very type of clock.

The kitchen-Fan Front-clock with side burns was first made before 1850 and through the 1920's. The front; were of infinitely varying design, attached to a rectangular box, about 14 by 7 inches, with glass door, carried the well designed rugged movement 8 day strike; brass, spring of course. Underneath all this was the nearly 3 inch base, total height-20 inches or better. Yes, here too, there was a "mince" size. Certain company models continued in production for a protracted period of years, which turn up regularly in the catalogues. Labels, small and rectangular, had moved out of the inside of the clock case, being affixed to the back of the back board. To trv to eaactlv determine the vear of the making of this type would he difficult, if one of the more popular, at least to the manufacturer, forms, some with a life of 25 vears in production. An article on this clock has long been in preparation for Antiques Journal, profusely illustrated.

The standard, weight-driven OG was made by many companies from 1838 to about 1917. Total production of the type ran into the millions (Antiques Journal, June, 1954). On some of these, there has been some help from the printed label inside the clock.

Two prolific label printers were Geer and Benham. At different locations, the dates at each are known. This address often appears on the clock label at the bottom.

Elihu Geer (B. A. C., pg. 199) was a Hartford, Connecticut, printer, with his shop always, it seems, on State Street. He was at #26-1838-47, #1--1847-50; #101850-56, and #16--1856-87.

John Benham worked at New Haven (B. A. C. pg. 199). His printing shop was at #36 Grand Avenue, 1840-46. At #55 Church Street, 1846-56 and Chapel & Church Street, 1856 on.

As a nice complication to this, several recent reports say that Geer printed labels for "Jeromes & Co.," from 26 and one half State Street. What this added "1/2" means hadn't been discovered. Benham also printed labels for this same firm at #55 Orange Street. There are some nice questions in the minds of good people about their timepieces.

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