Why Antique Clocks

When a person sees a collection of antique clocks, the fist couple of questions invariably are; why antique clocks? and, how long have you been collecting?

The how long is usually quite easy to answer, but the “why antique clocks” often stumps the collector. There is no simple or quick answer, and there is not a one liner response either.

Antique clocks do offer a lot. They were, in their time, quite sophisticated scientific instruments and certainly individual.

They were usually thought of as complex instruments, they were often made by prominent scientists or designed by mathematicians, astronomers or the furniture designers of the day. Not everyone or anyone could make clocks, in fact it required a seven year apprenticeship and the making of a “masterpiece” to be granted the “freedom” to be able to make clocks and call yourself a journeyman or clockmaker.

Early clocks were, more or less, hand built. A good maker would only build a handful of clocks a year.

Clocks measure the passage of time, or tell the time of day. Their hands display the hours, minutes and seconds, they can show the age of the moon's cycle and display its phase, they can show the day of the week, the month and the date. Clocks strike the hours and often the quarters and provide an alarm to wake by. Clocks can show the times of high tide and play a melody or march at hourly intervals. Clocks can even show the position of the planets in our solar system.

Clocks are antiques in motion, the longcase pendulum swings two and fro every second, often to be observed crossing a glass lenticle in the trunk door. This same pendulum may have been counting the seconds for more than three hundred years, still as accurately today as when it was first built. This pendulum is just approaching its twelve billionth swing. The sound of the tick is consistently and reassuredly soothing.

Clocks represent the best in furniture styles, Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton, and use the best of materials – oak, ebony, walnut, mahogany and the marquetry of the specialist cabinetmaker. The dials were often elaborately engraved as if by the finest silversmith, the dials were indeed silvered long before electro-plating was invented. Brass decoration was gilded to demonstrate the wealth and flamboyance of the times and owner. Both cases and dials could be painted to illustrate country life, trade with the Chinese, or voyagers to the four continents.

Almost all antique clocks were signed by the individual clockmaker, giving his name and the town where he made the clock.

Clocks are indeed fine antiques and represent many facets of history.

There is joy in researching the clock and the maker, how many wives did he have, how many children survived, where was he born and where and when did he die and where is he buried. Who did he work with and what was his specialty?

Analysis of the clock will reveal what has worked and what failed. What restoration was needed or what styles did the Victorians impose on the otherwise streamlined clock. Is the clock modified? is it a marriage? Did someone create a deliberate fake to fool the unsuspecting? The clock will reveal all to the specialist collector.

Collecting just a handful of clocks is not an alternative for many, collecting just one of each type or just one type has its possibilities, but collecting as many as your home will comfortably hold is closer to reality, for there are hundreds of styles and hundreds of important variations to these styles.

Joining a club provides the opportunity to share your passion and your knowledge with like minded individuals. Listen to lectures, see slide shows, buy and sell horological collectables, loan books from the library and participate in practical demonstrations.

These early makers of fine antique clocks were themselves individuals, and their clocks are just as individual as their maker, for there are no two antique clocks that are the same. Like all antiques, antique clocks have appreciated in value, some to the point where only today's wealthy can participate. Fortunately there are many types of antique clock and many that are still affordable today, that are available at the local antique store, flea market or web site for those plugged in.

Consider joining one of the several good associations, such as The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC), or the Antiquarian Horological Society (AHS), or the British Horological Institute (BHI). Refer to our links for access details.