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How to spot antique clock fakes – a brief guide December 24, 2011

So you have finally managed to take the plunge and purchase your antique clock.  You will find many antique clocks available on the market but not all are original examples. There is nothing worse than spending lots of hard earned money on something that you later find out to be not what you originally thought. Many times you will only find out something is amiss when someone knowledgeable visits your home. I have had to break bad news when asked for my comments on many occasions. It is important when buying an antique clock to purchase from someone you can trust. Finding someone like this is never easy, but it they have been long established and are specialists in this field and will offer you a money back guarantee, you should have peace of mind. Some restoration will have been carried out on all antique clocks, this should be sympathetic restoration though and not major surgery. I have devised some basic things to look out for below.

Genuine London Antique Clock C.1770

  1. Probably the most common part of an antique grandfather clock to have been replaced is the base of the clock. Clocks used to stand on cold, damp floors, and many bases simply rotted away or were attacked by the dreaded woodworm. Clearly the bottom feet or plinth is an acceptable part of restoration  but not the entire base section. Easy signs of new bases are when the wood does not match the trunk door. If the figuring of the wood and colour is different be-ware. Also on London and south country clocks the backboard should be old and full length. If the backboard is rotted at the bottom and stops way short of the bottom, this is something to be careful of. If the backboard has rotted away, how much of the base has been rebuilt? In North country clocks, backboards can be made in two pieces from the later part of the 18th century.
  2. Movements have sometimes been replaced. It is advisable to check the case style corresponds to the makers location. i.e. London mahogany clocks do not have swan neck pediments but dome or pagoda tops. You can look at some good reference clock books for information on what clock cases should look like for different areas of the country. Each area of the UK in the 18th century had a distinctly different style of cabinet feature. For instance London clocks do not use simple oak cases but these are either veneered in walnut, ebony, mahogany or decorated with chinoiserie.
  3. Check the dial belongs to the movement and there are no spare holes in the front plate where another dial has been. Check if the clock has a brass dial, this is attached directly to the front plate, not by means of an iron false plate. (as used on white painted dial clocks) Check the winding holes on ‘8-day’ clocks are well placed within the centre of the dial, and they do not spoil the engraving or chapter ring. Check if the clock is an ‘8-day’ example that the clock has a second hand. 99% of all ‘8day’ clocks should have a second hand to just below the 12 0’clock position. If there is an obvious reason why a second hand cannot be fitted like a ‘penny moon’ feature then this is OK. As a rule though ’30Hr’ clocks do not usually have second hands, and so if the clock has had a later ‘8-day’ movement fitted this is why you should wonder why there is no second hand.
  4. Check the age of the movement corresponds to the age of the cabinet. All dials have dating features, for instance inside quarter divisions, type of spandrels. You can date these very easily with good reference books. English walnut cases date from the 17th century up to about 1760. Mahogany cabinets date from about 1750 onwards. Oak cabinets tend to run straight through the 17th and 18th and 19th century’s.
  5. Check there is no obvious packing under the seat-board that cannot be accounted for. If the seat-board is old and warped, a small piece of packing may be necessary.
  6. Prior to 1820 all English antique clocks movements should strike on a bell and not a gong. Gong striking is popular C1900.
  7. Check rub marks from where the weights and pendulum have banged over the years. If you see 1 smooth rub on inside under trunk door and your clock has 2 weights, this is not a good sign. If there are marks on backboard far away from where pendulum is hanging, and the clock is keeping time, ask what would have caused these marks. If the pendulum feather has been changed for a stiffer example, the pendulum height can change slightly, but this should only be a slight change.
  8. Check the dial fits the mask correctly and there are no large gaps. The size of glass should be similar to the size of the dial.
  9. Check the dial is made from 1 piece of brass. This brass prior to C1800 will be cast brass and so thick and thin. The arch section of the dial should be from the same section of brass. If a square dial is later converted to an arch dial case, this is why some dials are made of two pieces.
  10. Finally I have never seen an original fully carved pre C.1820 Longcase clock. The Victorians loved later carving GIII clocks though, and so beware buying one of these examples. Later carving would dramatically effect the clocks value.

I wish you luck in your search, buying from a recognized antique clock dealer may be slightly more expensive but you will get peace of mind. You should aim to get a money back guarantee that your clock is a genuine antique and a fully working example. It is easy to spend your good money buying a clock with a chequered history. My advice is to take your time and not rush into a decision you will later regret. As they say an antique clock is for life and not just for Christmas. In our business we say, hard to find easy to sell. Original examples will provide you will years of pleasure and a good solid investment, Pendulum of Mayfair only sells top quality examples.

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