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English Antique Dial Clocks


In my last post I talked about tavern clocks. These are really the start and a branch of English dial clocks. In this post I would like to focus on the more standard wooden dial clocks or drop dial clocks. These run from about C 1770 to right up until modern day. I will focus up until WWII. High quality fusee wall clock were made for station clocks and post offices etc  up until the advent of radio controlled quartz clocks.

The Act of Parliament in 1797 imposed a tax on clocks and watches. This forced many clock making factories to close or cut back production or swap production to these wall clocks. Many which could escape the tax. When the tax was repealed many factories that swapped over production to dial clocks. They increased production to take advantage of the more favourable conditions.

Large Established Movement Firms

During the 19th century movement factories making fusee movements for these dial clocks were becoming increasingly successful. The later you go through the 19th century more and more movements for these dial clocks are made by larger established firms. It was found increasingly that the clockmaker bought in movements for his clocks during the 19th century and fewer and fewer clocks were made by the clockmaker on the dial. Production had turned to a form of assembly. In fact from the middle of the  19th century onwards more and more clocks were signed by the retailer of the clock and not the actual maker.

Verge Dial Clocks

The earliest round dial wall clocks are very collectible and they are found with silvered brass dials,  verge movements and ‘salt box cases’. It is rare to find these types of clocks. Most dial clocks will be from C 1820 in date and typically the most I see on my travels date from around C1860/80.  These clocks will usually have mahogany cases and anchor escapements. 99% of these clocks will not be striking and have only one train, just for the timekeeping. The dials can either be flat or convex as will be the glass.

Standard 12 inch Dial Clocks

The most popular size for manufacture was 12 inches across the dial, using a flat white painted dial. More collectible dial clocks tend to have 8 inch or 10 inch dials and the very large 18inch dials are also very hard to find. Most of the best spring driven wall clocks throughout the 19th and even 20th centuries will have fusee movements. These are far better movements than the typical French movements made throughout the 19th century. The French may have excelled in design with interesting mystery clocks etc but the British still excelled in the quality of the movements made through this period.














Wooden Dial Clocks

As I have pointed out the earliest dials were silvered brass dials. Most of the dials produced after C1820 are iron white painted dials, but you will sometimes find a rare example of a wooden dial dial clock like pictured above right.



























During the 20th century dial clocks still had an important role to play in the emerging factories. In the post offices and stations many were used in the UK. RAF sector clocks are very rare and were used during WWII and the Battle of Britain. These wall clocks are very collectible and so be very careful when purchasing. Many have repainted dials and are made to look like original sector clocks. RAF sector clocks commonly had 14 inch dials and movements were generally made by the Elliot company and they were dated. The cases usually had a RAF log on the back and a date as well. The finest examples had fusee movements whereas some cheaper examples had going barrel movements. These sector clocks allowed you to see which squadron was in the air at any one time.

Which Squadron was Flying

There were normally three colours painted to the dial in triangles by the side of the numerals. see picture below. Our London store sometimes has one of these rare antique clocks in stock.


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Antique Tavern Clocks


Antique tavern clocks have been studied widely and many books have been written. I wish to correct the commonly held view that these clocks started life only as early as C.1720. You may know these antique clocks by another name, they are sometimes called ‘ Act of Parliament’ clocks.

Act of Parliament Clocks

They were later commonly called this as a result of the tax imposed on clocks and watches in July 1797. With the government being short of funds as a result of many years of war, extra ways to increase tax were thought out. The Act imposed a duty of 5 shillings on every clock, 10 shillings of every gold watch and 2s.6d on every silver or other watch. Assessors were sent round to take account of how many clocks you owned above a certain value.

Public Houses Exempt from the Clock Tax

There were certain exemptions to the Act, these included public houses. Alot of these tavern clocks as the name says were housed in public houses. They were exempt from this very unpopular tax. It led to a decline in the clock trade and luckily was repealed after only 9 months of it being in force.

Lacquer and Chinoiserie Decoration

These tavern clocks were usually decorated in lacquer work. They had wooden dials that were made up from usually three sections. They also usually had simple single 5 wheel train movements. The extra wheel in the train generally makes them go for longer than a standard longcase clock, even though they actually have a shorter drop. They usually had brass hands so the time could easily be read against the black painted dial. The earliest dials known were wooden and shaped like a shield. Then later circular dials were introduced and tear drop shapes to the cabinets.

When did they start?

Many books on the subject commonly state the earliest examples of these clocks are from C1720. We have owned for over 10 years, a clock of this form that is pre 1700 in date. It is an amazing tavern clock, it is the only antique clock of this type I have ever seen with an original brass dial, instead of the usual wood form. The antique clock maker is from a family which emigrated to London from Augsburg in Germany. Bushman is a fantastic clock maker and by all accounts the finest clockmaker to come out of Germany! He is mentioned as being on a par with the great Thomas Tompion in some quarters.


Augsburg Influence

If I took a picture of the clock minus the hood it looks like a very early Augsburg table clock. I can see where the idea for the manufacture started. I believe this clock to be one of the first, if not the first,  tavern clock. John Bushman is provable in London between 1661 until just after 1692 ( date of death unknown). We do know he came from the Augsburg area, but you can see the influence from the design of the cabinet work on this clock. Bushman was admitted to the Clockmaker’s Company in 1662. You can see the huge pull of this Guild which I have talked about previously. The best clockmakers from all over Europe came to London. Everyone wanted to come to London and work in the 17th and 18th centuries. It truly was the centre for clock making in the world at the time.

Many people will ask if this clock has 5 wheel train, how does it have a second hand, a sweep centre seconds hand in this case. The movement has a one to one reversing wheel to enable for it to do this. You can see the amazing engraving to the unusual dial and superb unrestored lacquer work to the case. A very rare collectors clock, for more information please contact me direct.