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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Old Clocks



Few things in the way of domestic furniture have increased so much in price in recent years as clocks. I do not think that they have reached their top price yet. There are many collectors ; there are very few fine clocks.Many of the clocks on the market have been altered, changed, interfered with. It is more and more important that collectors should know how to determine a genuine old clock and something of its value.

The long case clocks came in in about 1665. They were preceded by the hanging wall clocks, which were in demand between 1600 and 1670, and which were, as a rule, thirty-hour clocks and with but one hand. They were pull-up clocks ; and those that have been altered with interior mechanism, doing away with the weights and the long pendulum, are quite unimportant and not worth having at any price.

When one comes to deal with the long case clock there are, first of all, the square-dialed ones, and, much later on, those with the arched dial; but very early square-dialed ones had the space where the spans generally occur quite plain. Then, a little later on, the corners of the square dial were engraved and, later still, they were decorated with four span ornaments.These were, as a rule, carefully chased and water-gilt; in modern or altered clocks they are of the roughest possible manufacture, frequently stamped out, and the engraving coarse and unsatisfactory.

As regards the hour circles, the very earliest of all did not have the minutes marked on the inside rim. That rim inside the figures was just two narrow lines. It was not until about 1670 or 1675 that one finds it graduated off for minutes. It was at about the same time that the inner circle for the second hand began to be introduced, and in the earliest clocks that seconds circle is set rather away from the hour circle-for example, in clocks by Tompion and Knibb, and in the earlier clocks by Quare, the seconds circle does not touch the large hour circle ; but, in about 1680, a little change took place, and the seconas circle was pushed a little closer up to the hour circle and touches it just below the figure XII.

Then, in the early clocks, the name of the maker is at the bottom of the hour circle, and not in the middle of the circle. I believe Quare was the first to put his name in the middle of the hour circle, and he did it on a little inserted oval space. In the earlier ones, especially in those by Tompian, the name appears either in English ,or in Latin (generally Latin) below the figure VI, in the hour circle ; and in many of the best clocks by this maker there is a charming engraved border all round the square dial, with a space at the bottom left plain, on which the name of the maker is engraved.

Then, again, the best of the early clocks have little shutters covering over the winding holes. By the way, tall case clocks without winding holes are not satisfactory. There are some to be found that were wound up by pulling up the weights by means of chains, as one did in the old lantern clocks, but if this occurs in a long case clock it makes it quite valueless to a collector-it is a degenerate clock.

As a rule, the numerals on the circle are, in the old clocks, very much as they are in the modern ones, having four strokes for the figure 4, but if, in lieu of these four strokes, one finds IV, then one knows that the clock has a different system of striking, striking two bells on the Roman numeral system, a plan introduced first of all by Joseph Knibb, in order to save the wear of the mechanism of the clock involved in so many strokes on the bell. In the oldest clocks the winding holes are very largely apart, nearer to the hour circle than they are in the modern ones, and if one finds the two winding holes pretty close to one another, and near to the centre of the dial, the clock is not a good one.

Quare was, I think, the first to introduce fine silvered circles, and in all the early clocks it is important to notice that the hands are of the right length. I cannot explain in an article of this kind the difference between the right hands and the wrong ones. One recognises the right hand by experie nce, and by the various sketches given in books on clocks, but the minute hand should just touch the two engraved lines that are round the figures, and the hour hand should just touch the very base of the Roman figures. The seconds circle is very often not inside the dial, but on the extreme edge. This is particularly the case with the clocks by Quare, where he made a broad, graduated seconds circle, outside the hour circle, and put Arabic figures, 10 15, 20 and so on, to distinguish the different divisions. In the earliest clocks the bells are not true circles, having a certain amount of squarish shape about them, Knibb's especially.

Then, the genuine old cases have a system of raising the hood on a clocked spring, so that the clock can be properly attended to and wound in satisfactory fashion. This raising of the hood is an almost certain mark of a genuine fine clock.

The existence of the separate circle for the Arabic numerals, introduced first of all by Quare, became general in the eighteenth century, and almost all the best clocks of that period (take, for example, those by Davis, Bradley, Gretton, Gould and such makers) have all, more or less, elaborate minutes circles, in some cases marking each minute separately, in others dividing them off into tens.

The arched dial came in about 1720-25 Clocks are not often seen with arched dials before that date. All the best long case clocks were made before 1765. Nothing that is much later than that is of any particular importance. The finest clock cases were not inlaid ones. The very best clocks-those by Tompion, Graham, Quare-are invariably in plain cases; in some cases the clocks are rigidly plain, because the great makers preferred to devote their labour to fine mechanism. It has been said that the early clock-makers never gave anything else but timekeeping mechanism, but this is not entirely the case, because I have heard of a clock by East with several bells, and a clock by Tompion that plays tunes, but these are most exceptional, and must have been been made to special orders, the early makers being, as a rule, determined to devote their attention to perfect timekeeping mechanism.

The earliest Tompion clock was made about 1709, and that has an arched dial, but the arched dial was the square form with the arch added, and not the arched dial made complete ; the joining of the two parts of the dial can clearly be seen, the arch was only an ornament, it has no other function. In the arched dial between 1725 and 1735, the hour ring is divided into quarters between each numeral on the inside edge. After 1735, this arrangement disappears.

Some of the tall cases were in lacquer-green, brown and, very; very rarely, red. I have never heard of one in blue lacquer or in cream lacquer, and I am very much disposed to think that neither of those two forms of lacquer were eighteenth-century work at all, but have been invented for the benefit of collectors later on.

In addition to grandfather clocks, there are what are known as grandmother ones, much smaller, exceptionally small in size, and these are very much rarer than the tall case ones. Some of the grandest of the clock cases are of fine mahogany.

When we come to deal with bracket clocks, we start with a period of the time of Charles II, and some of the earliest good bracket clocks were the work of Edward East, who was the King's clockmaker, and who was also responsible for some exceedingly good watches. The earliest bracket clocks were architectural in their shape, and generally either veneered with ebony or made of solid pear-tree wood, stained black, and the movements were generally of very fine work, with good hands, narrow hour circles, with minute divisions on the extreme outer edge, beautiful chased corner-pieces and dials water-gilt.

The lantern clocks were, of course, the very earliest of all, and there are examples-the work of Edward East, Payne and other makers-going back to circa 1600 These lantern clocks had to stand on a bracket, owing to the space required for the long pendulum and the fall of the weights, and it was because of the space that these birdcage clocks occupied that the arrangement was introduced for a true bracket clock, where no long pendulum or weights were required.

Collectors are urged to be very cautious in buying clocks, and to thoroughly examine any clock offered to them, and, if possible, take advice. A fine clock is worth a great deal of money and is, moreover, an excellent investment, because it will go up in value. A poor clock is not worth having at any price, it will not be a good timekeeper and it will never sell again for a substantial price. Two or three really fine clocks are a much more satisfactory possession than any number of ordinary ones. It is not every house that can take the long case clocks, and, consequently, the bracket clocks are more popular. Sometimes these have two bells-a " ting-tang," as it is called, for the quarters, and the hours on a separate bell, sometimes five, seven or eleven bells, operated by a spiked drum, in the fashion of a musical-box, but a great many of the bracket clocks on the market are absolutely rubbish, simply made to sell, and of no importance at all to the collector.