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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Antique Clocks (Part 1 Of 3)

Most writers on old furniture have more or less to say about old clocks, and of course , a clock is, in a way, a piece ot furmture. it doesn't take the collector long, however, to learn that a knowledge of old furniture doesn't help him very greatly in learning of old clocks a subject which opens up to him an entirely new and extremely interesting line of study. While there are Chippendale clocks and Sheraton clocks, so called, cabinetmakers and designers of furniture had comparatively little to do with the making of clocks, and in studying old timepieces we are introduced to a different group of personalities and a distinct craft.



The general history of clock-making is interesting, but it is of minor importance to the American collector, who is chiefly concerned with the English, French, and Colonial clocks of his forefathers.

The early history of clock-making is obscure, but it is probable that clocks similar to ours were used as early as the ninth century. At first clocks were used only on public buildings or by the very wealthy. Household clocks were made in the fifteenth or six teenth centuries. Such clocks of this period as now exist are confined almost entirely to museum collections.

At first clocks had only one hand, to mark the hours. There are one or two museum specimens of the sixteenth century in existence, having concentric minute-hands, but one-handed clocks were common long after that.

In the seventeenth century there were many famous clock-makers in England and on the Continent. The Clock-Makers' Guild was founded in France in 1627, and the craft in London obtained a charter from Charles I in 1631. A few of the clocks of this period have come down to us both tall clocks and chamber clocks-but the large majority of old clocks in this country belong to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

While the study of various works and movements in the clocks of different periods is interesting and instructive, from the collector's point of view the case and general design are the important thing. A very high grade of craftsmanship is exhibited by several of the styles in old clocks a source of never ending delight to the connoisseur. It is this side of the subject, therefore, that I shall consider in the article. A fairly large proportion of the clocks which were used in this country a hundred years or more ago were of British manufacture, and though few of those now found date back as far as the seventeenth century, it seems best to take as a starting point the English chamber clocks of that period. These were among the first that came into common domestic use.

The most numerous and noteworthy type was what is known variously as the bird-cage, lantern, or bedpost clock. These clocks were introduced about 1600. They were made about fifteen inches high at first and about five inches square; smaller ones were made later.They were mostly of brass. They were placed upon brackets, through which hung the weights and chains or ropes by which they were wound.The faces of these clocks were round, and the center of the dial was often beautifully etched. The dial was about six inches in diameter, projecting slightly beyond the frame at the sides. In the earliest of these clocks the dials were, as a rule, thickly gilded.

There was only one hand at first, the hour spaces being divided into fifths. During the last quarter of the seventeenth century bird-cage clocks with two hands were made.

On the top was a bell, giving the clock a domed appearance. Sometimes this was for an alarm and sometimes to strike the hours; occasionally it was put to both uses. The works were of brass and usually of good quality; they were made to run from twelve to thirty hours-usually twelve. At first a simple balance was used, but was superseded by the short or bob pendulum about the middle of the century. This was first introduced in 1641, and came into general use about 1658 or 1660, when it was improved.The long or royal pendulum is supposed to have been invented by Richard Harris in 1641, but it was not used for these chamber clocks until 1680.

A prominent feature of these bird-cage clocks is the ornamental fretwork around the top, which partially conceals the bell. It is probable that the various makers tried to keep their own fret designs, but there seems to have been much copying, and the frets of one period are very similar. As the styles changed gradually, these frets may be taken as some what of a guide in estimating the date of manufacture. This makes an interesting study for any one who has the opportunity to consult many examples. The earliest fret was heraldic in style, and was used, with gradual changes, from 1600 to 1650. Sometimes the front one bore a shield on which was engraved the crest or initials of the owner; the maker's name, when present, was usually found at the base of the fret or below the dial. About 1650 the design was a pair of dolphins, crossed, said to have been originally the coat of arms or trade-mark of Thomas Tompion, a famous London clock-maker of the period. Later more elaborate frets were used. These frets were sometimes crude, but were usually good pieces of work.

With slight changes, this style of clock was made from the time of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) until the beginning of the reign of George III (1760).Some of the later ones are still to be found in this country.Once in a while a Dutch imitation is found, but they are rare.

During the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) a similar clock, called the sheepshead clock, was made, with the dial projecting two or three inches beyond the frame on each side.

In the meantime the long-case eight-day type, known as the grandfather clock, had been developing in England. Toward the close of the reign of Charles II (1685) some of the clock-makers fitted wooden hoods over the brass works of the lantern clocks, for protection; then some.one conceived the idea of making a case for the pendulum also, and the tall clock was evolved and stood upon the floor. Long-case clocks were made by Tompion during the latter part of the seventeenth century, but the earliest ones on record were made by William Clement, in London, about 1680.

The general size and shape of the grandfather clock is familiar to every one. At first they were small, with small, square dials, and with no doors, so that the hood had to be removed when the clock was wound. Sometimes at first the cases were narrow waisted, with wings at the sides where the pendulum swung. Later the cases became straight and tallsometimes ten feet or more. The pendulums were sometimes seven feet long.

The earliest cases were plain, with square tops. Later the top was ornamented. Three balls, or other ornaments, the middle one highest, are a common feature of eighteenth-century examples, as is also the scroll top and broken arch.An early form of ornament was the spiral or corkscrew pillars on the corners of the upper part. These came in as early as 1700, and were very popular in Queen Anne's time. Very plain cases were often made during later periods by local cabinet-makers, both in England and America, so that it is not always possible to determine the age of a tall clock by the amount of ornament on the case.

As to the materials of which the cases of the English tall clocks were made: oak was used from the beginning and was never discontinued, but is rarely found in connection with the best work. Walnut cases, both plain and inlaid, were made extensively during the last quarter of the seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth. Some of the early cases were made in soft woods lacquered in Oriental fashion, and usually decorated on the front with Chinese designs in gold on black. Clocks of this type, dating from 1740 on, are to be found in this country. Marquetry work is to be found on some of the very early tall clock-cases, chiefly of the Dutch type, but including also English work in Italian patterns. During the reign of William of Orange (1689-1702), Dutch marquetry was at its height, clock-cases being inlaid with satinwood, holly, ebony, and other woods, and sometimes mother-of-pearl.In England, however, the seaweed pattern was more common than the Dutch flowers and birds.

After 1750, or thereabouts, tall clock-cases were made in mahogany, both solid and veneered, and the manufacture of mahogany cases continued in England and America into the nineteenth century, in the contemporary period styles. Most highly prized of all are the cases in Chippendale and Sheraton styles, which will be considered more at length later. Occasionally English cases in dark oak are found, with carving in high relief.

The early tall clocks had square metal dials. Early in the eighteenth century the square top gave place to the arch. Later, moving figures appeared sometimes in this arch chiefly moons, showing the changing phases. During the later years of the eighteenth century various moving figures came into fashion, such as a ship rocking on the waves. Sometimes calendars were placed in the arch, or in the dial just under the center.On the dials of many seventeenth-century clocks the maker's name appears in the circle at the lower edge; later it was placed within the circle just above the figure VI.

At first the dials were plain, but soon became a field for ornament. The brass and silvered faces of the reigns of William III and Anne were very richly ornamented. Later painted faces came into vogue, though these were not as common on English as on American clocks.


[Continue To Part 2 Of Article]




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