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Dating Antique Painted Dial Clocks

Dating clocks

Longcase or grandfather clocks were made in Britain from about 1658 and during the first few years their production was confined almost exclusively to London. One of the earliest provincial grandfather clocks I have seen is dated 1689 by a maker called John Washbourn.

Painted dials on the other hand were brought out just after C.1770, these were made to compete with the single sheet dial or one-piece brass dial, that was introduced around C.1760.

I like to catagorize painted dial grandfather clocks into three seperate time periods.

Period 1 – 1770 – 1790

Painted dial manufacture and painting was started in Birmingham by two individuals called Osborne and Wilson. They were in partnership between 1772 and 1777, they later went there own ways producing dials on their own merit, Wilson died in 1809. White dial production became very popular in Birmingham in the 18th century. Towards the end of the 18th century there were a large number of dial painters situated in Birmingham. Most dial manufacturer’s stamp their names on the iron false plate behind the dial. It is true to say Birmingham dominated the market in painted grandfather clock dial production, but there were a few other areas that set-up dial painting and manufacture for example in Halifax and Edinburgh. 


The very earliest dials were attached to the front plate of the movement directly. After a short time, dials were attached by means of an iron false plate. This made it easy for the clock maker to attach his dials. It would not interfere with any part of his movement. Also it meant you could have smaller dial feet, which were therefore more stable and less prone to bending.


The two dials above are exceedingly early white dials and just have the gold leaf decoration to the corners. These type of dials date from about C.1772-1775

Below you will see the second stage of period 1 antique clock dials. Some colour is added to the gold leaf decoration to the corners and arch. These clock dials below date from C1775-C1785

You will notice in London gold leaf decoration and flower to the corners is earlier than the corresponding dials in the provinces. In London new advances were always ahead of their time. Even though dial painting originally started in Birmingham. Early London dials around C1775 will have gold leaf decoration and flowers to the corners. Sometimes London dials have no decoration at all. Also sometimes the chapter ring and the strike/silent ring are porcelain or painted with the rest of the dial left brass.


There is therefore three stages in my opinion of period 1 antique clock white dials. The last stage of period 1 is between C.1785 and C.1795. This is when the dial painter drops the gold to the corners and sometimes a scene is included or a bird.

Period 2 – 1790 – 1810

Period 2 can be mixed in certain ways with period 1 dials. They are certainly in no way inferior to period 1 dials. In fact the two dials I have included here are amazing works of art. I suppose it is the real height of dial design and some of the dials produced certainly in the C.1790-C1800 period are of the finest detailing.

Period 3 – 1810 onwards

I must admit  period’s 1 , 2 and the very start of period 3 white dials are the most collectable. These are of the highest value and my favourite. The two pictured below are very nice clocks both dating from start of the 19th century.  As the 19th century progresses the dials become larger and the scenes not so well painted. Generally if your dial is 13 inches or below and your clock is an antique and not a copy. Your clock will date from earlier than C.1820 as a rule of thumb.


You will also notice the dial progression, the very earliest white dial grandfather clocks are mostly white. As time progresses more of the dial becomes painted. The later you go, the painting gets quite dense. On the later mid 19th century ones, these sometimes are not of a very high quality or very appealing. The dials below are very good period 3 antique clock dials, and still very collectable. The clock dial on the left is a rare oval dial. You will notice most dials produced were either square and arched. Visit our homepage for further information.