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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Grandfather Clocks Or Tall Clocks



Author: L.W. Slaughter

( Article orginally published December 1960 )

In England they are called "Long Case Clocks." In this country they are given various names such as "Hall Clocks," "Tail Clocks," and the one most generally used is "Grandfather Clocks."

The name "Grandfather Clock," presumably stems from a sentimental and highly improbable song someone wrote a long time ago about his grandfather's clock. For my part, I very much prefer the name of "Tall Clock," which is certainly more descriptive of the type of clock. I am sure that everyone is familiar with the type of clock I am, talking about. It is the familiar clock that stands on the floor and is usually from 7 to 9 feet tall.

Some few smaller ones, ranging in height from 4 to 5 feet, are spoken of as "Grandmother Clocks," a name which cannot even blame its origin on a song. One is to assume that grandmother was not as tall as grandfather, but there were, and are, exceptions to this rule.

The usual Tall Clocks are made of mahogany, walnut, and, sometimes pine, and oak. In the traditioxial American made tall clocks is a wide base section, which stands on the floor with feet of one kind o:another; a narrower waist section, in which the pendulum swings; and a wider hood section at the top which houses the movement and dial. Most generally, the top of the hood is finished off with a broken scroll and some kind of finials, but this is varied in some of the older and finer cases.

Historically, the Tall Clock was born in England and the first ones known date from about 1660. It is a logical transition from the socalled Lantern Clock or Bird Cage Clock, which was the only domestic clock made generally in England for a century and a half, from about 1500 to about 1650.

The Lantern Clock, in spite of its tremendous popularity, had a very basic weakness in that it was uncased. Thus the movement was open to collect an accumulation of dirt that would affect its operation and eventually stop it.

Somewhere about the middle iof the 17th century someone conceived the idea of putting the Lantern Clock in a case, or hood, which would give it some protection against the accumulation of dirt. These clocks were known as Hood Clocks, and the case later became the hood of the Tall Clock.

The next step, probably, was to hide the weights and cords, or chains, which hung down openly from the clock. The case therefore, was extended to the floor, and became the traditional Tall Clock case, as we know it today.

The very early Tall Clocks were mainly superfluous in that the movement, with a short pendulum, was housed in the hood, at the top, and the remainder of the case was empty except for the weights and cords. The crown wheel and verge type of escapement, the only one known and used at that time, would not accommodate a long pendulum which would be required to swing in a short are.

It is said, and quite properly so, that the Tall Clock, with its long pendulum swinging in the waist, was only made possible by the invention of the Anchor Escapement in 1676, by Robert Hooke. It would follow, then, that the first Tall Clock with a long pendulum would date sometime after 1676.

The problem of evaluating Tall Clocks presents some problems that are peculiar to this type of clock. To begin with, the variation in value may run from almost zero to extremely high figures.

Secondly, there is a geographical accent that may cause a Tall Clock to be highly desirable in one area while it might be considered of little interest or value in another. Each clock must be studied with great care.

It is quite possible that two clocks of great similarity might present striking difference in desirabilay and value. In this connection I am speaking, primarily, of American clocks.

The reason for this situation with American-made clocks, which is more or less peculiar to the Tall Clock, is the effect of the circumstances under which the clocks were made. During the period ranging from the last quarter of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, clocks were made by hand, by individual makers, who were located sa almost every town and community in the Eastern states.

None of them made clocks in great quantities, and, for the most part, each local maker sold his products in his own local community. There was little opportunity for the local clock-maker to become known outside of his own community.

This same condition applies today. The maker of one community is still unknown outside of that immediate area, except for the fact that his same may appear in the lists of clock-makers, which have been laboriously prepared by historians of the craft. This accounts for the fact that a clock may be considered highly desirable and valuable in one community and will arouse no interest at all in another area.

Nome of the early makers have attained such fame that they have broken out of the original geographical bounds that limited their activities. By comparison with the great number of known clock-makers, these are few indeed.

It would be safe to say that an authentic Simon Willard clock would be worth as much in California as it is in its birthplace in Massachusetts. By the same token, a clock made by Daniel Oyster of Reading, Pa., would arouse little interest in Texas.

Any clock with the name of Willard authentically attached to it is an antique of national interest and importance. Simon Willard and his brother Aaron are the first names in the Willard clan, but there were other Willards, and apprentices of the Willards, who are worthy of consideration.

There are other names that have spread across the country and have outgrown their original regional characteristics. To name only a few, there would be William and Thomas Claggett of Newport, R. I., John Goddard also of Newport, R. I., David Rittenhouse of Norristown and Philadelphia, Pa., Thomas Harland of Norwich, Conn., and Danial Burnap of East Windsor, Conn. There are others, but still only a few in comparison to the thousands who made clocks.

Another point that must be considered, and it is often difficult to ascertain, is that many so-called clock-makers were not clock-makers at all. A clock, in my opinion is the mechanical movement that records the passing of time; in other words, the movement, dial, and hands.

The case is only a housing for the clock and not actually a part of it. Many of our early makers were cabinetmakers who made only cases. They obtained their movements from others, and thus, were not clockmakers in any sense of the word.

It is of interest to note that in a great many instances clock cases and coffins were made by the same craftsman in the same shop. It should be obvious that a cabinetmaker who made cases to house movements made by others would not rate highly as a clock-maker, even though he did put his name on the completed clock.

The greatest quantities of Tall Clocks were made in England and America. Some were made in France and these are quite different in appearance. Not many have been brought over here. The Tall Clocks from Germany often are the very large musical clocks with moving figures in galleries.

In England, as in America, the finest specimens are in museums or private collections and are not available for purchase. This leaves only the run-of-the-mine variety for the market.

In recent years considerable quantities of these clocks have been brought over from England by antique dealers. They are usually offered for sale on an "As is" basis at fairly modest prices.

Most of them will require extensive repairs and restoration to the cases, and of course, the mechanical condition is highly problematical. The average collector will do well to think carefully before making an investment in these clocks unless he is qualified to do considerable restoration work required, or to pay a substantial price to have the work done by a clock man.

I have tried to point out some of the pitfalls that can trap the unwary purchaser of Tall Clocks. These are the main difficulties I encounter in making appraisals. If one is not qualified to appraise the value of a Tall Clock with reasonable certainty, it would be well to seek the advice of an expert before making a sizable investment.

There are no Tall Clocks in my collection. I find them too large and cumbersome to handle and too difficult to dispose of. The problem of crating a Tall Clock and the matter of safe shipment are too great for me to handle.



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