A desire to carry on a tradition of grandfather clocks
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    Auction Finds

    Lovely vintage & antique clocks

    I’d always imagined having a house with a foyer off the front door, with a beautiful grandfather clock greeting me. The clock I envisioned was one of those reproductions with the fake gold and silver leaf on the face, because that’s all I’d seen in furniture stores.

    That was before I discovered auctions and before I visited antique exhibitions. That’s where I saw what a real grandfather clock looked like, and learned that the best of them were made in such places as New England and my own state of Pennsylvania.

    Hand-carved by talented cabinet-makers, some slightly adorned, built with native woods, with elegant but sometimes simply crafted faces. Like the 1800s-era mahogany clocks that I saw at an exhibition of Massachusetts furniture at the Winterthur Museum outside Philadelphia a few years ago.

    I don’t have a foyer in my house that would hold such a clock (nor could I afford one), but infrequently, I’ve come across earlier versions at auction. What I do find very often are table–top, shelf and mantle clocks with names I now actually recognize: Seth Thomas. Gilbert. Ingraham. Kundo. Ansonia. Sessions. Waterbury. New Haven. Howard. Jerome.

    I even came across a type of clock I had never heard of before: Ogee, a boxy looking clock with a sunken face at the top and hand-painted door at the bottom. The other was a banjo clock, a New England invention from the 1800s that was in the shape of a stylized banjo (both are in photo below).

    At one of my favorite auction houses recently, one table was filled with table-top clocks, as if the auction house had police-raided a clock shop. There were glass-topped clocks, Art Deco clocks, wood-cabinet clocks, gold-plated clocks and calendar clocks. Some were in cases with colors of baby pink and mint green and mustard yellow and butter yellow.

    If you were in the market for a clock, this was the place to be. I love old clocks; their artistry is the work of a fine artist. So whenever I see them, I’m drawn to them, picking them up, checking out the maker and the craftsmanship. Most of them don’t work, but that doesn’t take away from their good looks.

    Many of the other bidders also stopped to admire this grouping, which stood out among the other stuff in the auction house. One buyer who said he used to repair clocks diverted me away from the glass-topped dome clocks. He noted that they were missing the all-important suspension wire inside (which I’m sure could be replaced). I had noticed that it was missing on several of them.

    I wasn’t that interested in buying a clock that day, so I didn’t hang around as they were sold. But from a distance I could hear some being picked up for $5. For such a pittance, you could get them fixed and still have a bargain. Or if you’re a dealer, you could sell them for parts and do well.

    I still have a fascination with grandfather clocks, also known as long-case or tall-case clocks, with their elongated middles to hold the pendulums. They were first made in England in 1600 and in this country in 1680. Here, they were the first clocks made for the wealthy.

    Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were the areas where clockmaking flourished during colonial times, according to the website Collectors Weekly. During the 18thcentury, David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia made two of the most innovative and complex clocks in the business, and they are still around. In Massachusetts, the Willard family was renowned, with sons Simon and Aaron inventing the banjo clock.

    I learned in my research the legend of how the grandfather clock got its name, from a song “My Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay Work in 1875. He immortalized two brothers whose floor clock first slowed down when the first brother died and completely stopped when the second died.

    A children’s song, it has been recorded by many singers, including Johnny Cash and Boys II Men, and was the basis for a 1963 Twilight Zone episode “Ninety Years Without Slumbering.”

    Like most items at auction, clocks have both an association of collectors and a museum, which I was happy to learn was in Pennsylvania. There are plenty of sites on the web offering advice on buying, selling and appraising clocks. According to one site, a collectible clock can be either antique or vintage, but an antique needs to be at least 50 years old.

    Enjoy the slideshow of some of the clocks I’ve come across at auction. Click on the first photo to start it.


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    1 Comment

    1. I even came across a type of clock I had never heard of before.

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