I have now written many blogs about important aspects of antique clocks. Many of these blogs relate to how to find more information about a particular antique clock, setting up antique clocks, the history of antique clocks, timekeeping antique clocks, lessons in finding a genuine antique clock or even advice if you are considering a career in restoring antique clocks. I hope I have showed you there are many pitfalls in choosing one of the many antique clocks for sale.
The truth is there are literally thousands of places you can source your antique clock for your home. I am sure you have seen clocks in many places, from dusty old curiosity shops, local, regional and famous auction houses, ebay, and maybe even the odd car boot sale. I want to stress the importance of buying from someone who is a long established expert in the field and will give you a written guarantee than the item you are interested in, is a genuine antique. There is nothing worse after you have purchased your item that many years later someone knowledgable comes around to dinner and what you thought was your prize and joy gets criticized.
It may well be more expensive buying from a long established reputable dealer offering a money back guarantee but I believe it is worth it in the end. I have also noticed though that with the auction houses some of the prices realized at the moment are actually even higher than equivalent restored examples in dealers shops. People seem to enjoy buying at auction but remember this is not a place for anyone other than trained experts. Read the conditions in the backs of many auction house catalogues. Auctions are basically buyer beware. Some auction houses also now charge as much as 25% plus VAT commission on the buying price. The price you bid is not the price you pay, it is easy to get carried away bidding in an auction house. Yes I may have considerable bias, as I believe you should always buy from a specialist dealer like ourselves, Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd, if you want a clock or lovely piece of furniture. I also would recommend buying a genuine picture though from an established picture dealer not an auction house. You are then covered by a written guarantee and are paying for the dealers knowledge and experience. Also when to comes to these items and especially clocks, we at Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd have our own sympathetic restoration facility. Items purchased at auction or elsewhere will normally need lots of money spending on restoration after purchase. Clocks need to work, and unless they are restored properly, you will not get any guarantees that they will do so.
To sum up therefore there are lots of antique clocks out there that seem a good deal but on closer inspection this may not always be the case. A changed movement, a new base, there are many factors which reduce the value of an antique clock. In looking for places with antique clocks for sale , my recommendation is to buy from only long established dealers, who will given you a written money back guarantee that the item is genuine. I do not believe we will be beaten on price at Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd, like for like. We offer sympathetically restored antique clocks and furniture at affordable prices in London and Cheshire. We sell to all four corners of the globe, and use a specialist antique shipper to ship all our items to your front door. We also have comprehensive setting up instructions for all our antique clocks. The world wide web has made it possible buying from anywhere in the world an easy task. Although I always recommend to buy your antique clock in person, where you can actually touch it, smell it and speak directly to the person selling. Clearly this is not always possible in todays manic world. We will provide many high profile references on request, and we usually know someone that has purchased from us in your neigbourhood. If visiting the shop is not possible, speak to us on the phone or by e.mail and realize what makes us tick ! Trusting the person you are buying from is essential when buying antiques of any sort.
The purpose of this blog is to trace the antique bracket clock from its beginnings at the latter end of the 17th century up until the mid 19th century or Regency Period in England.
During the entire period that I have mentioned above, clockmaking in Britain was aknowledged to be the best anywhere in the world. Clockmakers in the UK maintained this position until at least the mid 19th century, when imports arrived on our shores from France, Germany and eventually the USA. Clockmakers in the UK refused to lower standards and change to the manufacturing methods used by our continental neighbours and those further afield.
I have mentioned in my previous blog about lots of different antique clocks that were manufactured in the UK during our supremacy in the field of clockmaking, but I have only really touched on antique bracket clocks. I only mentioned these in my piece in antique clock descriptions. I touched on them there describing the differences between mantel clocks and bracket clocks.
During the 18th century,’ the great Georgian period of clockmaking’, many thousands of lovely bracket clocks were manufactured. These at the time were actually costlier to produce than the equivalent longcase clock. It was expensive making the springs and the fusee’s. The fusee was an ingenious invention. As the spring slackens off over the week before the invention of the fusee, timekeeping would become more eratic. The clock would thus go slower. On fusee clocks however the power delivery is evened out over the course of the week.
Bracket clocks were thus only really manufactured by the top makers in the 17th/early to mid 18th century, and during this time you will find most manufactured in and around London. Clearly the skills were available in London and the customers were there that could afford them. Clearly bracket clocks were also made in the large towns of the UK, but you will not find many provincial bracket clocks, especially early in the 18th century. You will find most provincial bracket clocks dating from the end of the 18th century and on into the 19th century. There are always exceptions though.
The earliest form of escapements were called the balance wheel, but only a handfull of these type of clocks still exist. The vast majority of the bracket clocks up to about C1760 were controlled by a ‘verge’ escapement. You will see on lots of these clocks a window on the dial, where you can see the pendulum swinging by means of a circular brass disc. This brass disc has a connecting rod to the verge bob pendulum at the rear of the clock.
The bracket clocks made up to the mid 18th century, tend to be ebonized, actual ebony (rare) or walnut veneered, sometimes even marquetry on walnut. In the following years mahogany is used. After 1800 you will see the introduction of more exotic woods like rosewoods and other fruitwoods. You will also see the introduction around C1760 of the anchor escapement.
The verge escpement was great in so much that the crown wheel was at right angles to other wheels in the train and was far easier to put and stay in beat. i.e. not so temperamental to being knocked. The disadvantage of the verge escapement is that the timekeeping is far less accurate than the later anchor escapements. For this reason some original verge escapements are later converted to anchor. This needs to be checked when buying. It is nice to get an original example of either.
The other big difference with the verge earlier clocks, many have profusely engraved backplates, some anchor escapements have these around C1760 as well but the later you go through the 18th century, the fine detailing and engraving gets less and less, and around C1800 only a border of engraving is common on the bracket clocks. After C1800 most bracket clocks have no engraving and at best only the makers name engraved to the backplate.
I will finish this by mentioning the name bracket clocks, I am sure you will assume they all stood on a seperate bracket, but this is not the case. Only a very few had a purpose made bracket, most were just to be placed on your sideboard or chest of drawers or fireplace. The back door of many 18th century bracket clocks is glazed, this means you can see the finely engraved backplate on your fireplace, by putting a mirror behind the clock, this often happened. Clocks commonly have a pull repeat feature to let you know the hours and sometimes the quarters. This was important with no electricity. A string could be put by your bed that was connected to the clocks rack mechanism this would let you know either the last hour or next hour, or on some like I say the hour and the quarter. i.e. 4.15.
Genuine Bracket clocks are highly sought after, especially smaller original examples. Larger examples are easier to find and are less commercial as a rule. All bracket clocks tend to go for a minimum of ’8-days’. Longer duration examples are also possible.
People today see the trade with China as a route for cheap goods or services and they probably believe this trade route is a relevantly new process. This is far from the truth though on both counts, we have traded with China and areas of the world like this for many centuries. The ability to trade came about with our nation making huge advancements in marine technology that I have discussed in previous blogs. We were undoubtedly a great seapower. Merchants in the 16th and 17th and 18th centuries were amazed at the many treasures and skills the Chinese people possessed. It was not until 1672 though that the famous East India Company secured a trading post in Taiwan, this was ten years or so later than their counterpart, the Dutch East India Company was expelled from the country by the Chinese. At the start of 1700, the company’s base was changed from Taiwan to Canton. With its Royal Charter the company was granted a monopoly of trade in the East Indies until 1833.
As I have discussed in previous blogs about the Clockmakers Company. London and the UK was the centre of the world’s clockmaking in the 17th and 18th centuries. The China trade expanded many different skill sets though, and cabinets from English clockmakers were sent out to China to be decorated. True lacquering originated from Asia and it is obtained by applying many coats of the sap of the lac tree with polishing between coats. The colour or surface dye is mixed with this lacquer, black, blue, red, green and many other colours and then after the lacquered cabinet is decorated with raised gold leaf decoration. These skills are thought to have been employed in Japan and China as early as the third century BC. Clearly its importation into Europe came at a much later time and was facilitated by the East India Company described above. Furniture, boxes and antique clock cases were all decorated in this way and transported back to homes in the UK. It is suggested that very few clock cases were sent out to the Far East for decorating but I do not agree with this. If you look closely at the records of the East India Company, many clocks and pieces of furnture are clearly listed on the import sheets , with the lacquered description clearly evident. I am not saying some lacquer production does not start up in the UK but any that does I believe to be not of the same quality as the clock cases decorated out in the Far East. Later 18th and 19th century clocks with have been lacquered sometimes show an inferior quality, are these from UK decorators trying to copy the highly skilled Chinese in this regard. The truth is as no lacquer cabinets have a decorators mark so we will never know for sure, but the records of the East India Company do show a large importation of lacquered products throughout this period, this is for sure. We have a great history in this country in the UK but it is amazing what countries like China manufactured many centuries earlier. The East India Company imported fantastic Chinese porcelain and many other items into the UK during this time. These were not inferior cheap products at all. UK Porcelain Factories in places like Stoke set up off the back of this but we need to remember the great contribution of the Chinese nation over the many preceeding centuries.
I have been asked many times over the years which clocks I would choose and which period of clockmaking I consider to be the finest in the last 200 or 300 hundred years. I will be considering these points in my brief outline of the Monarchs of Britain since 1689. Most grandfather clocks are made after this period and so it seems like a good place to start.
William and Mary were offered the throne of the British Isles in Feb 1689 after the overthrow of King James II of England. This period was called the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
William and Mary - Feb 1689- March 1702
Lots of special walnut, marquetry and ebony grandfather clocks were manufactured during this period, many of the dials were of only 10 inches across.
Queen Anne - 8th March 1702 -1st August 1714
The stand out date within Queen Anne’s reign was 1st May 1707, this is when The Act of Union was signed, the Kingdom’s of England and Scotland were united under one sovereign state – The Kingdom of Great Britain. With the clock world this date has an influence on the brass dials produced around this time. You will see brass dials with the Maltese Cross spandrels symbolising the Act of Union.
It is now we come to the greatest period of clockmaking within these Isles in my opinion. The Georgian Period, stretching from 1714 to 1820, the last 9 years of which were classified as Regency, as the good old George III went slightly mad.
George I - 1st Aug 1714 – 11th August 1727
A continuation of the lovely walnut, marquetry and lacquer grandfather clocks produced earlier, the introduction of the arched dial grandfather clock in this period around C1715
George II - 11th June 1727- 25th october 1760
At the end of this period we see the introduction of the fine mahogany veneers. Cuban and Honduras mahogany clocks being a particular favourite of mine.
George III - 25th October 1760 – 29th Jan 1820
So much happens in this period of clockmaking, it really is the golden age in my opinion. The introduction of the white dial, that started in Birmingham. By the end of the 18th century over 50% of the clocks manufactured had a white dial. The brass dial that had dominated clocks for the preceeding 100 years production was in massive decline.
From 1811 to 1820 another important period in antiques is called the Regency Period. Many fine clocks were made in this period, particularly bracket and wall clocks. You see the introduction of things like brass inlays etc.
George IV - 29th Jan 1820 – 26th June 1830
The end of the Georgian period of clockmaking in the golden age.
William IV - 26th June 1830- 20 June 1837
In my opinion most grandfather clocks made for the mass market were of inferior quality of construction by this date, compared to the previous 100 years, many were wider examples. It is now that the clockmaker sells to retailers more and more. The name to the dial is increasingly the retailer of the clock not the actual clockmaker. Movements are still of good quality but the cabinets tend to be not to everyones tastes.
Victoria - 20th June 1837 – 22 Jan 1901
I think this is an appropriate place to end my look back of a few hundred years of clockmaking. Victoria’s reign oversaw a massive period in Britain’s history. The advent of industrialization. The furniture made during this period is always more elaborate, many pieces of furniture are highly carved. For me though clockmaking in the UK is in further decline for the mass market. The individual brilliance of the clockmaker is being, in most cases, turned into a production line where very few special items are produced. When they were produced they were knockout but in general this was not the case. I suppose as labour costs and mechanization increased, quality unfortunately took a back seat. Clocks were more affordable to the mass market though. There were clearly exceptions to the above statements, especially when items were made specially to order.
It is Ryder Cup weekend again and the great sporting battles between Europe and America at golf come to a head. These are friendly sporting battles but lets not forget the close ties between our great nations.
In the 17th and 18th century antique clocks manufacture was the UK’s greatest export. The formation of one of the UK’s oldest learned professions by Royal Charter, the Clockmakers Company, in London in 1631 started two centuries of UK dominance in this field. It was just before this in 1620 that the famous Mayflower set sail for America. The Mayflower has a famous place in American history as a symbol of early European colonization of the future United States. This ship set off from Plymouth, England to arrive at the now Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is the same reason why Boston, Massachusetts is called so today. John Cotton, a Puritan,who served as a Minster of the church in Boston, Linolnshire England fled persecution. He moved to Massachusetts in 1633 as a leader of the settlers already there and some of his own people. He was instrumental in founding and naming Boston, Massachusetts.
Clockmakers from the UK arrived in America, William Davis for instance is one of the earliest clockmakers in America, he arrived in 1683 from the UK. Many of the oldest clocks on US public building were made by UK clockmakers that had fled for mostly religious reasons. New England had thus developed and the English community was strong. Thousands emigrated to the emerging America.
During the 18th century many English clocks were still imported to the US and one of the first things the new independant government did in US was to bad the importation of clocks. It is still the case though that many of the earliest American clockmakers were English and many still imported dials etc from the new painted dial works (set up in 1771) in Birmingham, England and movements from the UK.
The rise of the American clockmaking industry from about 1850 to 1920′s coincided with the decline of the same in the UK. Generally as quality went down and mass production rose, the US factories now churned out clocks better than anywhere else. Many famous 19th century American companies were set up, many of them in Conneticut. The Ansonia Company was founded in 1851 and thrived until its decline in the 1920′s. There was the Gilbert Company in the second half of the 19th century, the famous Seth Thomas Company and many many more. The Waterbury Clock Company is one I will finish with. This company started in 1857, eventually became the Time Corporation, that made Timex watches. As a collector and dealer, I am only really interested in the first 200 years of clockmaking where items were handmade and were alot higher quality. There are always exceptions though and we have a clock made by the Waterbury Clock Company. This I believe is a one off, made for Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. Its movement is of good quality and shows little signs of wear. It is a really rare and interesting example that is pictured below. I suppose it also shows the strong Irish / American links that existed during the 19th century.
If you love 18th century antique grandfather clocks like me, visit our shop in London, we have a large selection of genuine fantastic examples all fully restored. These clocks will keep ticking for generations to come. If you consider the painstaking hours in the manufacture, they represent amazing value for money by todays standards. Remember London was the centre of clockmaking from 1631 to the start of the 19th century century, some outstanding pieces were produced. 80% of our clocks from our shop in London, Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd, are still exported to America, owning your piece of history is easier than you think. We use a specialist antique shipping company that ships antique clocks to you door.