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    A desire to carry on a tradition of grandfather clocks

    I have a friend who has moved into a lovely home and wants a grandfather clock to help dress it up. I understand, because I have always loved the look of antique grandfather clocks in their natural pine and mahogany woods, their fancy illustrated dials and their carved bodies.

    The Philadelphia Museum of Art has some lovely clocks in its collection, including one whose movements and dial were made by African American clockmaker Peter Hill that was part of the museum’s exhibit of African American art earlier this year.

    Neither my friend nor I can afford a tall-case clock of that stature, and I for one don’t have the furnishings to match its elegance. I’m not as mad about tall clocks as I used to be, probably because they weigh a ton and like pianos, are tough to move.

    grandfather clock

    An up-close view of the top of a modern tall case clock.

    I thought about my friend’s desire for a clock while walking through the furniture room at an auction this weekend. I saw several grandfather or tall case clocks on display and ready for sale. They were both antique (I saw a lovely Howard Miller clock at another auction house) and more modern clocks.

    I’ve always called them grandfather clocks, which is a name for tall case clocks, longcase clocks and a variety of others. Their long slender bodies measure six to nine feet tall to hold those weighty pendulums. For years until around 1930, they were said to be the most accurate time-keepers.

    The name grandfather clock came from an 1876 song titled “My Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay Work, an abolitionist whose family’s home in Connecticut was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In the song, a grandson tells the story of a clock that was purchased on the day of his grandfather’s birth and worked for 90 years (with windings at the end of each week). The clock stopped working completely when the grandfather died.

    grandfather clock

    A fuller view of the modern tall case clock.

    The song was based on a similar story – true or fabled – about the circumstances surrounding a longcase clock at the George Hotel in Yorkshire, England. Work’s song popularized “grandfather clock” as a common name for this style of clock.

    Here are some of the grandfather clocks from which my friend could have chosen:

    grandfather clock

    A tall case clock with hand-painted dial.


    grandfather clock

    A Heritage tall case clock.


    grandfather clock

    The face of a Whiting-Winchester tall case clock.


    grandfather clock

    A Howard Miller tall case clock.


    grandfather clock

    If my friend can’t afford a grandfather clock, this tabletop has the right look.


    grandfather clock

    This clock is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its movements and dial are the work of an African American clockmaker named Peter Hill.


    grandfather clock

    A tall case clock noting the chimes of Whittington, Westminster and St. Michael.

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