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Case Study in Antique Grandfather Clocks

The following piece ,’The Swing of the Pendulum’, is taken from April 2014 edition of Antique Collecting. It is based on John Andrews interview and discussions with myself Daniel Clements. Manager of Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd.

Figure 1. Superb and rare GIII, arched, brass dial, mahogany, ‘8-day’ London-style Longcase clock by John Grantham Newbury. Bat and ball automaton.

Interesting clock facts

It takes courage to come from a business in the provinces and open up in the West End of London. Especially when so many antiques concerns have been doing precisely the opposite. But this is what Pendulum did twenty years ago Taking Fred Perry’s shop and residence at 51, Maddox Street by buying the freehold. We then had control over the rent as one important cost element. This having been achieved as a deliberate long-term measure. The costs of converting the shop were a safe investment and Pendulum of Mayfair was launched.

Family Business

Many businesses in this field have come about as a result of what was a part-time hobby. A source of incidental income becoming so absorbing that the plunge to launching into full time was taken. Daniel Clements says that his father is a classic example. He used to say that he became a dealer in 1974 to pay for his vice of collecting. As a qualified mechanical engineer he was engaged in building factories. Designing new machines all over the world, acting as engineering director at Pilkington’s. But his love of clocks, playing with and restoring them, became a passion. This provided relaxation from the stresses of work. Eventually bringing about the decision to leave his job and set up as a dealer full time.

Nearly half a century old

When he did this 40 years ago it was considered to be a crazy thing to do. Like many who have entered the antiques business after years of dealing on the fringes of it. The impulse was too strong to resist. Even now, in his seventies, Mr Clements love of clocks is still as powerful as it was when he set up the business of Coppelia Antiques in Cheshire forty years ago. This passion has led to the establishment of a highly regarded business with a worldwide field of activity.

Figure 2. Superb ‘8-day’, c.1790, white-dial, moonphase, mahogany Longcase by collectable and well-regarded maker Bancroft Scarborough.

Finding special clocks

Throughout the 40 years since its start, Daniel Clements says the greatest pleasure the business has provided is in finding special antique clocks. Then restoring them as sympathetically as possible. Over the years they have developed the skills of lots of young people in their care. Trying to instill a love of old things and learning about their origins along the way. Touching old things, smelling them, and getting under ‘their skin’ is a long process and needs patience and understanding.

The workshop

The clock workshop is the hub of the entire operation and nothing is allowed to leave until Mr Clements is satisfied with the result. A familiar motto of the business is the saying ‘well bought, is half sold’. The special type of antique clocks Pendulum look for are so hard to find, selling them is the easiest part.

Figure 3. Lovely ‘8-day’, London, musical Longcase with mahogany cabinet, c.1770, Herring of London.

So many customers are now long term friends

Over the years many special pieces have come into their hands and customers have become friends.Examples of this provide instances of expertise combining with history to provide the customer with a truly remarkable acquisition. One particular clock sold to an Australian client was by the clockmaker Henry Lane. This was a superb musical Bristol Longcase clock from c.1790. Henry Lane, as it happens,was the first clockmaker in Australia. The story of how this comes about was a compelling one.

Transported to Australia

Henry was sentenced to death for forging money.This sentence was later changed by an act of clemency to transportation to Australia. He left Spithead on the Perseus with 112 other male prisoner son the 12th February 1802. This is what Clements feels is so special about antique clocks: they have a history and you can research more about the clockmaker’s life. They are a living working museum to the past and attractive pieces of furniture as well. How proud master clockmakers would feel if they could see their clocks still working perfectly in many homes today.

Figure 4. Fine c.1785 Peter Wood, painted-dial, mahogany, bell-top, double-fusee bracket clock with anchor escapement striking on bell and with repeat.

The Centre of London

With the Pendulum shop being situated right in the heart of London they have sold and restored clocks to many VIPs. Large companies like Asprey’s and Garrard’s, and major hotels like the Conaught. Recently they had the pleasure of restoring some really complex antique clocks for the Russian Embassy in London. Clements states that ‘the Ambassador and his assistants have shown us great kindness and consideration. We have lovely presents from them and also were delighted to attend their special day earlier this year. This was another of the fantastic memories we have built up over the years. The clocks were a challenge but they now look wonderful and are now fully functioning & proudly taking up their prestigious places at the Embassy. It was a real honour for us, and it shows how far we have come as a business over the years.’

Figure 5. Early 19th-century, double-fusee bracket clock by Hanson of London.

Great finds

Another entertaining example comes from their local specialist auction house in Chester. They had a lovely little clock for sale at auction about 20 years ago. There were four clocks in the sale,of which one was of great interest: it was catalogued as an ‘electric clock‘. When the hood was taken off the clock, the movement looked as though it was in a salmon tin, because it was enclosed. ‘We instantly knew what this clock was,and so, says Clements, my mother and father decided to split up in the room.My father said to my mother: you bid; if the other dealers see me bidding they will twig. My mother started bidding on the clock but she was very laid back. So much so that the auctioneer asked her are you bidding Ma’am? She said yes and the auctioneer slammed the hammer down.

Dust Encased Regulator

One dealer who was standing by my father noticed it was his wife bidding. He asked what the clock that she had just bought was. My father said, ‘oh, my wife collects electric clocks.’ Of course it was not an electric clock at all. The clock’s movement had been dust encased. It was a fantastic clock by John Holmes of London. The cartouche had been reversed on the dial and engraved electric clock. It clearly had been used as a ‘slave clock’ in the early 20th century, to drive other clocks around a factory.

Figure 6. Frodsham, London, fusee, mahogany wall clock, c.1860.

‘Daniel Clements says ‘I wish these bargains happened more often but it is not the case. Everyone thinks they have a master piece under their pillow or in their garage. The guy who purchased this ‘electric’ clock was told the story. He laughed; luckily he did not mind paying a handsome profit at the time.

Clocks for Investment

This clock will have appreciated many times in price since then though. Investing in antique clocks is just about as safe as houses. These master timekeepers come from an age where intrinsic labour costs are built in. Movements are handmade and built to exacting standards; they will continue telling the time in peoples’  homes for hundreds of years to come. Even throughout the recession, good genuine clocks have always appreciated in price.’

Figure 7. J & B Levi Dover, early (c.1795), mahogany, verge wall clock with silvered dial.

Hyman Russian Clock

‘I also remember when we purchased a lovely regulator clock with a painted dial. This clock was made for Catherine the Great of Russia. She was the most renowned and long ruling female leader of Russia. The clock came from the Winter Palace.It was brought out on a horse and cart just before the Russian Revolution at the start of the 20th century. I wish we had kept this clock, but then I wish we had kept many clocks we have sold over the years. We are in a business where we only buy what we love and we grow very attached to all our clocks. They are like extended branches of our family. Once you have restored the clocks, you feel part of them.Like selling puppies etc., the potential owners of our clocks, all get proper vetting! Luckily the people who love clocks are generally lovely people.’

Always Learning

Figure 8 . Mid-19th-century Austrian ‘2- day’ automaton and quarterstriking, large and impressive clock.

‘Every clock we buy and sell has its own story. You realize you are always learning new things; a lifetime is not nearly long enough. We can be proud of restoring and bringing back to life some lovely antique clocks. Yesterday’s craftsman’s work will live on at our shop in London, Pendulum of Mayfair Ltd. We stock some of the finest antique clocks anywhere in the UK. All these are fully restored and come with a year’s guarantee. All antique grandfather clocks are delivered free of charge anywhere in the UK. We have a full export shipping service to all four corners of the world. The USA is one of our biggest markets.’

At a time when there are so many stories of retrenchment in the antiques business it is a pleasure to find one of sturdy optimism.Pendulum of Mayfair at 51 MaddoxStreet, London W1S 2PH

Tel: 0207 629 6606