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Antique Clocks (Part 2 Of 3)

There were no minute-hands on the first tall clocks, the hour spaces being divided into halves and quarters. Concentric minute-hands soon became common, though one-handed clocks were made for some time.

Most of the English brass-faced grandfather clocks were ornamented with brasswork corners on the face just outside the circle of the dial. These ornaments are called spandrels, and to a certain extent they indicate the age of the clock. In the earliest clocks, up to 1700, the design was usually a cherub's head with wings, supposed to have been designed by Grinling Gibbons. This pattern became somewhat more elaborate, and up to 1740 or 1750 the design usually found consists of two cupids or cherubs, with some scrollwork, supporting a crown. After 1750 we find the crown with crossed scepters and foliage or intricate scrollwork, and, later, rococo combinations. Sometimes a head or shield appears on the center. Occasionally pierced, engraved, and carved spandrels of silver are found, but for the most part they are gilded brass. During the reign of George III (1760-1820) the designs degenerated, and rough, unfinished brass castings became common.

As a rule these tall English clocks were good timekeepers, running usually for eight days. Both wooden and brass works were used, the latter being most commonly found in existing specimens. Old wooden works can hardly be depended upon to keep good time today. Most of the clocks had strikers, and a few of the more expensive ones were equipped with chimes or played tunes.

There are in existence a few miniature clocks of this period, built on exactly the same lines as the tall clocks, but only three or four feet high.

Another form of English clock, also a development of the early chamber clock, is the bracket or pedestal clock of the eighteenth century. During the latter part of the seventeenth century these clocks began to appear, with squat, square cases of wood, perforated metal tops, generally chased and gilded, and surmounted by a dome with a brass handle on top.The dials were made square or with an arched top. They were usually of brass, with the circle silvered, and Roman numerals were used. Gilded spandrels of the period were sometimes placed in the corners of the dial, and the space about the circle of the dial was often beautifully ornamented. A few of the later clocks of this type were supplied with chimes, and cost the equivalent of $600 or $700. These are so rare today, and if found would be very valuable.

Walnut, oak, and other woods were used in the cases; during the latter half of the century mahogany was the most popular. A few were made of ebony and ebonized wood, and even tortoise-shell veneer. Inlaid cases after the style of Sheraton date from 1790 to 1800.

Toward the end of the century the popularity of the bell or dome shape waned, and we find the broken arch, the balloon shape, and the lancet or pointed Norman arch.

Before leaving the subject of English clocks, a word might be said about what are commonly-called Chippendale and Sheraton clocks. It is doubtful if Chippendale ever made many clock-cases, though his books contain many designs of clock-cases; at any rate, he never made all the so-called Chippendale cases. His style dominated the furniture of the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, and the makers of clock-cases consciously or unconsciously adopted many features of it. It is, moreover, a fact that the cases which are most noticeably Chippendale in style are among the most beautiful, and are much sought for. There are usually columns at the corners of the case, sometimes plain and sometimes fluted, on most of the tall clocks after 1760. These were derived from Chippendale, as were many other decorative details, showing Dutch,French, and Chinese influence, and the Chippendale pierced work. From i8oo Sheraton forms were popular, with now and.then a trace of Adam Classicism: Splendid inlay work is found on some of the so-called Sheraton clocks.

Many English clocks bear the names of the makers, and the date of manufacture can be determined by consulting the list of clock-makers in F. J. Britten's "Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers." Britten is the recognized authority on English clocks and is worthy of consultation if the reader desires further historical or technical data.


Now as to French clocks, many of which found their way to this country. Clocks of good quality were made in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were mostly portable clocks in a variety of forms, following the styles of the period.,/p>

Mantel clocks before the time of Louis XV (1715-1774) are exceptional. They were usually supported by a pedestal, a long case, or a bracket. Sometimes they were hung upon the wall. The hanging or "Cartel" clocks of the Louis XV period were usually of metal, thickly gilt, and graceful in form. Another clock of this period was the drawing-room clock, richly chased and elaborately ornamented in the riotous rococo of that time. Suhl-work-brass and tortoise-shell inlay-is also found. The shelf or bracket clocks of Louis XV were of bronze and gilt, finely ornamented with unbalanced rococo and other details, and sometimes with marquetry and metal mounts. Some of them were quite intricate and ingenious as to works, with strikers, chimes, calendars, etc.

The clocks of the Louis XVI period (1774-1793) are largely decorated with the ribbons and flowers of Marie Antoinette. Very fine mantel clocks were made of glass and alabaster, and less ornate ones were of marble or onyx. The finest of these clocks were covered with glass domes or globes.

One form is from twenty-four to thirty inches tall, and consists of a base and four pillars supporting the works and dial, with the broad, gilt disk of the pendulum swinging in the space between. Wood was the most common material for the cases, usually ornamented with marquetry. The faces and pendulums were in fire-gilt or brass. Sometimes black marble or ebonized wood was used, with brass capitals and bases on the pillars.As a rule these clocks had excellent works, running often for sixteen days. Many of them found their way to this country during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Lyre shapes became popular under Louis XVI, and also vase clocks. Human figures came into vogue later. From about 1760 until well on into the nineteenth century, elegant mantel clocks were made in marble and bronze, with the dial hanging from a handsome entablature.

With the development of the Empire style in French furniture (1804-1814), the lighter Louis XVI clocks, which persisted through the Transition or Directoire period, gave place to forms, often in solid-looking bronze, in which heavy draperies, wreaths, Roman fasces, and other Empire ornaments figured prominently.


A few Dutch, German, and Swiss clocks found their way to this country during the Colonial days, but they are rare. Some of the Swiss wall clocks were not unlike the modern cuckoo clock in appearance. Foreign-made clocks were fairly common in this country by the middle of the seventeenth century, and early in the eighteenth century there were clockmakers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. At first tall clocks, with plain cases and wooden works, were made here. By i8oo the clock industry in this country was thriving, and we soon began to export cheap clocks. Short and tall clocks were made, with both wooden and brass works, and in several different sizes and shapes. Then came cheaper springs and cheaper and better clocks. About 1800 clocks were selling for $18 to $5o each, according to size, style, and works, and some fine ones cost as high as $75.

[Continue To Part 3 Of Article]

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