Call Them Grandfather or Tall-Case, Gary Sullivan Knows Big Clocks

February 26th, 2010

Gary Sullivan is a clock and furniture dealer, as well as an appraiser for “Antiques Roadshow.” In this scholarly interview, Sullivan explains the differences between early American tall-case, banjo, and dwarf clocks and offers tips on what to watch out for when buying these popular antiques. Sullivan’s book, “Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850,” was published last year. He can be reached via his website,

A fine tall-case clock by Joshua Wilder, Hingham, circa 1820.

A fine tall-case clock by Joshua Wilder, Hingham, circa 1820.

As a teenager, I got into repairing the old furniture in our attic. One day, I wandered into a local antiques shop and asked the guy there if he had anything that needed to be repaired. He gave me a few things to do. It just happened that he was a clock specialist, and he introduced me to other clock dealers. So from a pretty young age, I was repairing and refinishing clock cases. I very quickly transitioned from repairing to buying and selling.

I’ve been doing appraisal work for probably 25 years and have been a fulltime antiques dealer since 1975. I’ve survived, and that hasn’t been easy. I learned by making mistakes. I did minor repairs and refinishing for Boston-area dealers. But I quickly moved into buying, fixing, and selling. Now I just buy and sell.

I specialize in early American clocks because, for one, I think they’re beautiful. They’re more interesting than their European counterparts. English and Scottish clocks are pretty similar, and the cases are not that well made. They didn’t have access to the secondary wood we did here. They’re made of very thin wood. There’s more variety in the American clocks.

I deal in a very high-end market for both furniture and clocks. The American clocks, for the most part, are in a different price range than the more common English and Scottish clocks. There are very high-end English clocks, but I don’t handle many.

My book, “Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850,” came out last year. I wrote it with Brock Jobe, a highly regarded author who’s associated with Winterthur Museum, and Jack O’Brien. I contributed to the furniture section of the book and wrote the clock section, which is almost a third of the book. Clockmaking was a significant industry in southeastern Massachusetts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They made some really wonderful clocks there.

Although, I handle clocks from all over the country, I specialize in ones from New England, with an emphasis on clocks from Massachusetts. Before 1825, most of the clocks were made in New England and the Mid-Atlantic States.

I’m particularly interested in collecting clocks of southeastern Massachusetts. Some people call them south shore clocks because they were made south of Boston. I’ve been interested in collecting clocks from that region for many years. But I don’t have a tremendous collection of my own. I’m still putting kids through college.

Collectors Weekly: When did U.S. clock manufacturing begin?

Sullivan: It began in the colonies in the mid-18th century. Prior to about 1785, few clocks were made in this country. Probably less than 10 percent of the households had a clock of any kind. Around 1800, clockmaking began to take off, and they became a little bit cheaper. The economy improved, so a few more people could afford clocks.

An important banjo clock by Simon Willard, Roxbury, Mass, circa 1807.

An important banjo clock by Simon Willard, Roxbury, circa 1807.

The early American clockmakers did other things besides making clocks. For example, the account book of Calvin Bailey, a clockmaker from southeastern Massachusetts, is a treasure trove of information on how business was conducted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Clockmakers of this period lived in an agrarian society in which work ebbed and flowed according to the seasons. Many were farmers in addition to being clockmakers, so they would concentrate the majority of their clockwork into the winter season and farm during the warmer months.

At that time, very little cash changed hands in the colonies. People kept account books, and they used the barter system. For example, in Calvin Bailey’s account book, there are very few entries in which someone actually paid him for a clock. It would usually go on that person’s account.

Bailey bartered clocks for all kinds of things. He bartered a set of clockworks to a local carpenter, who then built the frame for his house. People carried accounts for years and would make entries for the smallest things—making a delivery for somebody, loaning them your oxen for a day, cutting hay in their field.

Around 1815, less expensive clocks with wooden works and gears began being mass-produced in Connecticut. They were cheaper than the earlier brass works clocks made by individuals, which are the ones I handle.

Collectors Weekly: Why did the clockmakers set up shop in Connecticut?

Sullivan: A group of clockmakers developed the methods for mass-producing wooden clockworks because brass was very expensive. When they began making them in large factories later in the 19th century, the individual clockmakers couldn’t compete because the clocks were being made so cheaply.

In the early 19th century, a tall-case clock or grandfather clock—we call them tall-case clocks in the business—cost about $70. For many people, that was equivalent to a year’s pay. But by about 1850, you could buy a clock for $2. So in a relatively short period, you went from very few households having a clock to just about anyone having an inexpensive one. They were quite common.

There were a number of clockmakers in Boston, up into Maine, and in New Hampshire, as well as in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I guess Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey produced the greatest numbers.

“Clockmakers of this period lived in an agrarian society; many were also farmers.”

The early 18th-century clocks had brass dials—we refer to the face of the clock as the dial. The case might be very elaborate depending on where it was made. But most of the very first clocks made in this country had relatively simple cases.

At that time, tall-case clocks were the only clocks being made in this country. Later in the 18th century, bracket clocks began being imported from England. They were small, spring-driven table clocks as opposed to a weight-driven tall-case clock. A tall-case clock needs the cabinet height to house the pendulum, which is about 3 feet long. The weights need several feet of drop to run the clock for a week. You wind them up once a week, and then they fall almost to the floor, and you wind it up again. That was the technology at the time.

Later, clockmakers learned how to make a clock run for a week with a shorter drop of the weight. Simon Willard in Roxbury, Massachusetts, patented the banjo clock, or the patent timepiece, in 1802. That was a much smaller clock and a little less expensive.

Tall-case clocks were made in different sizes based on the stylistic preferences of the region. Some very early Massachusetts clocks had relatively short cases of maybe 6 1/2 feet tall. A few years later, elaborate 9-foot-tall cases were made in Philadelphia. But the average tall-case clock was about 7 1/2 to 8 feet tall.

Collectors Weekly: Did European craftsmen influence American clock design?

Sullivan: Yes, because many of the clockmakers here were trained in Europe. The clock movements—the brass components that actually run the clock—were virtually identical to what was being made in England. The clock movements or clockworks made here around 1800 are indistinguishable from those being made in London except for occasional minor stylistic differences.

Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the earliest clockmakers in America?

Sullivan: The Blaisdells of Amesbury, Massachusetts, were a family of blacksmiths who made crude iron and brass clock movements. They were among the earliest makers in this country. The most significant clockmakers were arguably the Willard family of Grafton and Roxbury, Massachusetts. Simon Willard was the granddaddy of American clockmakers. He started work in Grafton, moved to Boston, and with his brother Aaron produced thousands of clocks there.

They were very successful, and their work is highly sought after because of the craftsmanship and the beauty of the cases. They produced Roxbury tall-case clocks, which are beautifully proportioned and very well executed. The Roxbury cases were fashioned after the clocks being made in London. They’re similar, but the Roxbury cases had their own American twist.

Simon had two other brothers, Benjamin and Ephraim. They were also important makers.

Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the other prolific clockmakers?

Sullivan: The Mulliken family of clockmakers worked in various towns—Lexington, Concord. They were significant makers. A man named David Wood in Newburyport, Massachusetts, produced very fine clocks, including many of a style know as the Massachusetts shelf clock, which are much shorter. They stand about 3 1/2 feet high and are designed to sit on a piece of furniture, a mantel, or a shelf. They’re highly sought after. He made some beautiful scaled-down versions of a tall-case clock.

A tall-case clock by Aaron Willard, Boston, circa 1800.

A tall-case clock by Aaron Willard, Boston, circa 1800.

Another prolific maker was Joshua Wilder who worked in Hingham, Massachusetts. He was one of the makers that I studied for “Harbor and Home.” He produced a lot of dwarf clocks, which are exact miniatures of tall-case clocks. They have the same design and proportions, but they’re about half the size, usually about 4 feet tall. They’re highly prized by collectors and often sell for much more than a full-size version.

They were made in relatively small numbers, and they’re very attractive clocks. They’re unusual, interesting, and they tell a story. The Bailey family of Hanover—brothers John and Calvin were the most important clockmakers south of Boston—first developed the dwarf clock. They didn’t make that many, but Joshua Wilder, who was an apprentice of John Bailey, produced them in much larger numbers. His apprentice Reuben Tower did as well.

They developed dwarf clocks in southeastern Massachusetts because Simon Willard patented the banjo clock in 1802. It was much smaller, obviously, than a tall-case clock and less expensive. The banjo clock cost only $55 when it came out, compared to $70 for a tall-case clock. Over the next several years, the price dropped to about $20 for a banjo clock. This put pressure on the southeastern Massachusetts makers because Willard allowed his associates and apprentices to make banjo clocks fashioned after his patent, but did not allow southeastern Massachusetts makers to produce them. So a lot of banjo clocks were being produced in the Boston area.

By about 1812, there were very few tall-case clocks being produced in Boston because cheaper clocks had largely replaced them. That’s when dwarf clocks became popular in the Hingham and Hanover area because they were smaller and less expensive to produce. Instead of costing $65 or $70, they were $35 to $45.

Collectors Weekly: Did the tall-case clockmakers start making dwarf clocks?

Sullivan: No. Most of the dwarf clocks were produced in the Hingham and Hanover area of Massachusetts. A few were made in other places, like Maine. But the Baileys and their apprentices produced almost all of them. Being so close to Boston, their clientele had the option of buying a banjo clock instead of an expensive tall-case clock.

Farther away from Boston, up into Maine or New Hampshire, they kept making tall-case clocks because their clientele didn’t have easy access to the cheaper banjo clocks. They probably didn’t even know about them, with some exceptions. Clockmakers continued making a lot of tall-case clocks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for many years after they stopped making them in Boston.

Collectors Weekly: What did the Boston clockmakers do after they stopped making tall-case clocks?

Sullivan: They made banjo clocks instead. By 1820, the clocks coming out of Connecticut were changing the market. Many of the traditional clockmakers branched out and started doing other work because making clock movements one at a time was no longer profitable. They started making, selling, and repairing jewelry. A lot of them became jewelers and clock repairmen.

A lot of the less expensive clocks produced in Connecticut needed people to work on them and keep them running. So the traditional clockmakers became repairmen. More people were also carrying pocket watches, so they repaired and sold those. Many of the clockmakers became silversmiths and goldsmiths. They were often jacks-of-all-trades. They would also do gunsmithing and metalwork for jewelry.

Collectors Weekly: Was clockmaking mostly a family business?

Sullivan: The clockmakers would often train their sons or relatives. In southeastern Massachusetts, a lot of clockmakers were Quakers. A Quaker clockmaker would be more likely to take on the child of one of his Quaker associates as an apprentice than someone unknown. So a lot of the apprentices were Quakers, too. That was also true in cabinetmaking in southeastern Massachusetts.

 A very rare Bride’s model stenciled and eglomisé “Massachusetts Shelf Clock” by Ezekiel Jones, Boston, Mass, circa 1820.

A very rare Bride’s model stenciled and eglomisé “Massachusetts Shelf Clock” by Ezekiel Jones, Boston, circa 1820.

A lot of people don’t really understand that clockmakers only made the inner workings for the clocks, not the cases. Simon Willard, for example, made the part of the clock that you can’t see—the works behind the dial. He was the clockmaker. You had to be trained in that field. In almost every case, different people made the clockworks and the case. Only in very rare cases in rural areas would the same maker produce both, Long Island being one of the exceptions. The Dominy family made the clockworks and the cases there.

The dial would be produced by a dial maker who was an ornamental artist. So they would create or purchase the iron plate for the dial, paint it, and decorate it with the face of the clock. That was another industry and another craftsman involved in making a tall-case clock. Before they made dials here, they were ordered from Birmingham, England. But by about 1805, most of the dials used in this country were made in Boston.

So Willard may not have done everything, but what he did do was very significant. And Willard’s greatest contribution to clockmaking was clearly the patent timepiece or banjo clock. Condensing a weight-driven clock into a small device that hangs on the wall was a tremendous innovation. Another important development was the Connecticut clockmakers’ system for producing large numbers of clock movements at a lower price.

Because Connecticut clocks are easier to find, there are probably more collectors of Connecticut-production, mid-19th-century clocks than collectors of the earlier tall-case clocks. Some are very beautiful, rare, and highly sought after. But, for the most part, they’re not nearly as valuable as the tall-case clocks.

Among the early Connecticut manufacturers, the Seth Thomas Company survived well into the 20th century. Silas Hoadley was another early maker. Initially they made wooden movements for tall-case clocks and shipped them all over the country. They would make the movement and the dial in Connecticut, and then it could be shipped anywhere. The local merchant or person who bought it could have a case made locally for the set of works.

Collectors Weekly: What kind of wood was used to make the cabinets?

Sullivan: The clocks made along the New England coast were primarily made of mahogany. Clocks made farther inland would be made of cherry, which was mainly used in Connecticut. They could be maple or birch. In New England, secondary wood was generally white pine.

Collectors Weekly: Do collectors prefer a certain type of wood?

Sullivan: It depends on the region. In Pennsylvania, it’s walnut. Connecticut collectors like cherry. There are so many variables in clockmaking that for every question, I almost have to say, “What region and year are you talking about?” They were doing different things in different places.

Collectors Weekly: Do clockmakers still make tall-case clocks today?

Sullivan: You can buy brand new tall-case clocks. I don’t really don’t understand why anyone would buy one because as soon as you take it out of the store, it’s worth a fraction of what you just paid for it. But if you buy an antique, it’s likely to appreciate in value.

A rare tall case clock by Calvin Bailey, Hanover, Mass, circa 1805.

A rare tall-case clock by Calvin Bailey, Hanover, circa 1805.

I should mention that antique tall-case clocks are prone to significant alteration and condition problems. They were relatively tall when they were originally made. So very often an individual purchased or inherited a clock and wanted to move it to a house with lower ceilings. They’d either remove or cut down the feet or the fretwork on the top. Mid-Atlantic clocks have a scroll pediment that might be cut off. That’s very common.

New England clocks typically have delicate, pierced fretwork on the top. It can break if mishandled. So it’s often broken or it’s been repaired or replaced. Through the second half of the 19th century, they were just old clocks with very little value. If one clock movement stopped working properly, they might take that set of works—the dial is connected to the works—out of the case and substitute it for another one. We call that a marriage, which is a common problem in clocks.

Another common problem is that the paint on the dials can deteriorate. They’re often heavily restored or repainted. So there are several common condition problems. I’d say only about 10 percent of the surviving tall-case clocks are largely original—original feet, fretwork, not married, original paint on the dial.

Because originals are hard to find they’re expensive. A novice collector looking through auction catalogs is really going to be confused by the variety of prices. Unless you have a complete understanding of what’s original and what isn’t, it’s difficult to get a handle on what the market is. It’s not unusual to see a clock made by Simon or Aaron Willard sell for $10,000 to $20,000 at auction. That would be a lesser one. At $10,000 to $20,000 there’s something wrong with it. It has replaced feet or fretwork or both.

You might look in a different auction catalogue and see a clock that looks just like it selling for $100,000. You may not be able to see any difference between the two photos. But the one selling for $100,000 or more is perfect. It has all of its original components with no alterations. The collectors want originality, and they will pay for it.

Collectors Weekly: Did the clockmakers mark their clocks in some way?

Sullivan: Most makers put their name on the dial. An Aaron Willard clock says “Aaron Willard, Boston” right on the face. But they didn’t always put their names on them. A lot of beautiful American clocks have no name on the dial.

I often wondered why the clockmaker wouldn’t put his name on the face after putting all that effort into making the movement. But I found that in some cases the clocks were being sold to the retail consumer by the cabinetmaker instead of the clockmaker. This is contrary to the way we originally thought business was done, which was that the clockmaker would purchase the dial, make the movement, buy a case from the cabinetmaker, put them together, and then sell the clock to the end user.

Collectors Weekly: How do you determine where the different components came from?

An early “Massachusetts Shelf Clock” by Aaron Willard, Boston, Mass, circa 1800.

An early “Massachusetts Shelf Clock” by Aaron Willard, Boston, circa 1800.

Sullivan: There are regional characteristics to the cases. Clock scholars can almost always identify the region where a case was made. You occasionally see a generic case from rural areas: It could be New Hampshire, Maine, or western Massachusetts. But generally speaking we can identify the region based on the style of the fretwork and the feet, the proportions of the case, the types of wood used. There are many variables.

Also, specific patterns tend to be associated with particular craftsmen. The Roxbury cases used by the Willards generally have two or three different styles of fretwork on the cases. You can find certain common patterns and fretwork in southeastern Massachusetts even among different cabinetmakers. For example, certain patterns would be more particular to coastal Maine.

As far as the dials went, the manufacturers usually marked the imported Birmingham dials with “Birmingham” on the back. The American ones, most of which were made in Boston, bear motifs associated with Boston that make them easy to identify.

Samuel Curtis, a prolific Boston dial maker, left Massachusetts as the tall-case clock business was waning there and moved to Philadelphia, where they were still making a lot of them. There were also dial makers with their own regional characteristics in places like Western Massachusetts, Maine, and Philadelphia—though I wouldn’t include Curtis. I consider him to be a Boston maker.

Fans in the corners or shields were popular motifs on Boston dials. Some of the dials are moon-faced. They have a revolving moon disc in the top. Painted scenes at the top are another motif. Some depict naval engagements, and those are very popular with collectors.

Collectors Weekly: How did the term grandfather become associated with tall-case clocks?

Sullivan: I have no idea. It’s only speculation that the clocks were called that because they were passed down from previous generations. At the time they were originally made, they were referred to as a clock-and-case. In the period account books, if they say clock, that refers to just the works, the movement and the dial. If it’s complete, it’s called a clock-and-case. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they tended to call them hall clocks.

Dwarf clocks are commonly referred to as grandmother clocks. I think the term is less common than it used to be. It’s kind of a layman’s term. We don’t call them grandmother clocks in the business.

Collectors Weekly: Who typically bought a tall-case clock?

Sullivan: The wealthiest members of society. Exactly what they did, I don’t know. Not everyone had a clock in the home. Time wasn’t the important commodity it is today. You had a sundial maybe, which was less expensive, or you relied on the clock in the center of town to tell you when it was time to go to services. Many people didn’t really need to know what time it was. They didn’t have a watch either. Sometimes you wish you could go back to the way it was then.

Collectors Weekly: How many people would typically be involved in building a tall-case clock?

A tall case clock movement by William Cummens, Roxbury, Mass, circa 1810.

A tall-case clock movement by William Cummens, Roxbury, circa 1810.

Sullivan: There’s the movement, which was made by individual clockmakers—the ones I deal in are made of brass. There was the dial maker. The earlier dials could be made of brass or painted on in the later ones. A cabinetmaker made the case, and separate artisans built its various components. For example, the brass components would’ve been made by a founder, and the glass in the door would’ve been made by a glassmaker.

Sometimes the finish was done by the cabinetmaker, but in many cases it would be done by a separate finisher. The clock was powered by weights, which were often made of iron. They would’ve been produced in a foundry.

Also, if the case has inlay, a stringer or an inlay maker might have produced it. Some cabinetmakers made their own inlay, but others purchased it. You could buy imported inlay from England or you could buy it in the cities, locally made.

Collectors Weekly: What’s the rarest clock you’ve ever appraised?

Sullivan: Some of the rarest and most interesting ones I’ve appraised have been Simon Willard lighthouse clocks. They resemble a lighthouse. They have a wooden base with the clock movement resting on it, covered by a glass dome. I’ve appraised a number of them, and they’re among my favorites.

I’m helping the Willard Museum in North Grafton locate privately held lighthouse clocks to be included in a catalog they’re sponsoring. Paul Foley, who wrote a fantastic book on banjo clocks, is writing it. There are still lighthouse clocks out there in private hands that we haven’t documented for our research. So we are trying to track them down.

Collectors Weekly: Have you ever not been able to figure out where a tall-case clock came from?

Sullivan: Oh sure, although we can usually narrow it down. In the worst cases we say “generic New England.” That refers to a very plain clock. It just doesn’t have the form cues that we need to place it in a specific town or area. But the high-style clocks, they’re pretty easy to place.

Collectors Weekly: What advice do you have for someone who is new to clock collecting?

Sullivan: The first thing to do is to take advantage of the resources that are out there. For very high-end clocks, you can see more examples on my website than on any other. There are also a number of clocks at Delaney Antique Clocks.

Very fine and rare Lighthouse clock by Simon Willard, circa 1825.

Very fine and rare Lighthouse clock by Simon Willard, circa 1825.

The best book on American clocks is “Willard’s Patent Timepieces” by Paul Foley. Although it masquerades as a book on banjo clocks, it actually has a lot of information on clockmakers and clockmaking in general. I refer to it every day.

Another resource for people interested in clocks or collecting is the website for the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. They have message boards where people share their knowledge so you can ask questions and communicate with other people who are interested in clocks.

As far as early American clocks, my advice would be to work with a reputable dealer, someone who is going to guarantee what they sell. You can make tremendous mistakes by buying a clock from someone who’s not a clock specialist. They may have the best intentions, but they lack detailed knowledge of what they are selling.

You can also make big mistakes at auctions because auction houses seldom have a true clock specialist on staff. The furniture specialist is often the one who catalogs the clocks, but he or she may not know everything there is to know about clocks. That’s why I’ve been called in as an expert to help with cataloging at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York. They’ve called upon me to help them with esoteric clocks.

In general, I’d urge collectors to buy quality, not quantity. Buy one clock rather than 10. You want to buy clocks that have the best form and original components. Don’t buy clocks with problems. Collectors are far more sophisticated than they used to be, and they insist on quality and originality. For example, never buy a clock that has a repainted dial. I can’t sell one in my world. That’s the death of a clock. But I see them all the time. A clock with a repainted dial has very little antique value. It’s strictly an item for decoration.

Collectors Weekly: How can you tell if a dial has been repainted?

Sullivan: A clock specialist should be able to detect if a dial has been repainted or not. But some of them were repainted 50 or 75 years ago and they look pretty good, so it can be hard to tell. Early American clocks should have a fine crackle pattern running through the paint on the entire dial. These clocks were painted on iron, and the paint expands and contracts through the years. If you look closely and see that the paint is perfectly smooth and doesn’t have that fine crackle pattern, it’s not original paint. Don’t buy it.

For more about 18th- and 19th-century tall-case clocks, check out English Clocks in American Cases from December 1940, part of our American Collector archive.

(All images in this article courtesy Gary Sullivan of

51 comments so far

  1. John Chudy Says:

    I have a Seth Thomas Hall Clock No. 22. I am having the clock mechanisms worked on by a clock repairman. He said the clock has sonora bells. Where can I find a true value of this clock or how do I go about it.

  2. Dave Says:

    I have a Signed Simon Willard clock in my possesion that is in excellent shape and fully functioning – was told that the dial/mechanism is from a Roxbury case but the cabinet which is a birch “Country Cabinent” and had the inlays removed during cabinet restoration (done in ’97) is not original….looking for a buyer. Have had one offer at $10K and wanted to see the best way to sell this. Thank you

  3. Alta Jackson Says:

    I have a 2 piece wood grandfather clock.
    The top sets on a wood bottom and 2 very heavy weighted pieces with chains moves up and down and each hour there is a gong sound.
    There is a rounded gold color chime on a wooded long piece that the chime fits on. This has the name ____gong on the top of gong or clock.
    The clock is enclosed in a cabinet that opens the front from a latch on the side to get to the clock.
    The middle where the weights and chime are, is open. This clock is dark wood and about 8 or 9 feet tall. Not exactly sure as I have not measure it.
    It looks very old and I have only seen one something like it on a show called Dark Shadows.
    Can you give me some information as to where to start looking for information so I can learn more about this clock?
    Thanks Alta

  4. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to John Chudy: Your clock is outside of my area of knowledge, but I suggest that you go to NAWCC.ORG (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors). You can post photos and questions on their message board. They will not discuss values on the message board, but may be able to direct you to a clock expert in your area.

  5. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Alta Jackson: Without seeing photos of your clock it is nearly impossible to tell what it is. I suggest that you visit NAWCC.ORG (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors). You can post photos and questions on their message board. Collectors of all different types of clocks follow the discussions and will be happy to answer your questions. Be sure to include a photo!
    Gary R. Sullivan

  6. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Dave regarding Simon Willard tall case clock: It sounds as if you are in possession of what is commonly known as “a marriage”. The works and the case did not begin life together. This is a common problem with antique clocks. Many years ago when these objects had very little value, it was common to switch a functioning set of clock works for one that was not functioning. Married clocks have far less value in the marketplace than original clocks do. An original set of Simon Willard works in the wrong case would likely sell at auction for less than the $10,000. that you were offered. If you send me some good quality images, I will gladly give my opinion. You can find my email address on my web site:
    Gary R. Sullivan

  7. Thomas Roose Says:

    I recently acquired a tallcase clock I feel is American. It is approximately 82″ to the highest point of the arch of the bonnet. It had fret work at one time as one of the posts is still present and I found two small pieces in the bottom of the case. The dial is iron with a painted scene at the top (gentleman reloading his rifle under a tree with a dog near. Jon(athon) Billings and ACTON under the name.
    The clock was not assembled when found – I have a brass movement, two very heavy iron weights, and a pendulum with a long rod. I am not sure how all of this was fitted inside the case. I assume the clock to be from Acton, MA but am unsure of the cabinet which seems to be cherry wood. I’d like to know more about the clocks origins and how I should go about restoration. I don’t want to do anything to detract from the beauty or value of the clock. Thank you in advance for any help you can provide. Thomas

  8. Cindy Treynor Says:

    I have a wooden works ephriem downs (sp?) clock that was made in the 1800’s. My father willed it to me, and he died suddenly, so now I have it and love it. My father was a watchmaker.

    My question is, should I run the clock daily, or once in a while like my father did? I enjoy it so much but do not want to wear the wooden works out.

  9. Donna Conti Says:

    I have a Chelsea Ships Bell Mantel Clock that I would like to have appraised I think it is 80-100 yrs old Can you help me out or pouint me in the right direction


  10. Allan Symons Says:

    August 18, 2010

    Re the term “grandfather” clock in the interesting interview with Gary: there was a note/article in the NAWCC (Pennsylvania-based National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) Bulletin several years ago in which an American researcher discovered the probable origin. That old “grandfather’s clock” song that many people have heard (the clock stopped when the grandfather died ….) was published back around 1876 by Henry Clay Work. The lyrics can be found on the internet. The author determined that, within a few months of the song being published, advertisements for tall case (floor) clocks started to refer to them as grandfather clocks. (Allan at The Canadian Clock Museum, Deep River, Ontario)

  11. Elizabeth d'Huart Says:

    Dear Sir:

    I purchased a clock several years ago in Madison, Georgia, and recently held an estate sale prior to my immenent move to California (next week!). The firm handling the sale told me that my clock was very valuable ($12,000+) and that I should withdraw if from the sale, which I have done. My question: to whom may I show the clock in Georiga who would have an expert opinion? I would like to sell it before I leave Georgia, as I am told that it is unwise to store it or ship it as the eglomise painting (in red, gold, and black paint, depicting a toddler merman blowing a horn in a fountain, framed in a stage-like setting with parted curtains also revealing palm trees, and sphinx like figures on top of columns, etc.)and mechanisms are delicate. It is in working order with a wonderful chime. It stands approximately 1 and 1/2 feet tall in 2 different shades of wood, some some water gilding, in gothic shape, i.e., straight sides rising to a point from a simple base. I would be most grateful for your earliest response as time is of the essence…I would have contacted you sooner had I been given the information earlier, so my apologies for requesting not just one, but two favors!

    Yours most respectfully,

    Elizabeth d’Huart

  12. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Thomas Roose,
    Your clock was in fact made by Jonathan Billings in Acton, MA. He lived from 1777-1841. Billings made banjo clocks, girandole clocks and a few tall case clocks. For a time he also worked in Concord, Ma. He was most active during the first quarter of the 19th century.
    Your clock is relatively rare and should only be serviced by a professional. Be sure that any clockmaker or cabinetmaker that works on the clock is experienced in restoring early American clocks and will so so with sensitivity. Finding these experienced restorers is increasingly difficult. You may be able to get a recommendation from a local antiques dealer or auction house. If you send me some good quality photos I may be able to help. I can be reached by following the link to my web site which is included in the above article. Good luck.
    Gary Sullivan

  13. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Cindy Treynor,
    There are different schools of thought regarding wood movement clocks. Most clock experts believe that there is no harm in running a wood movement clock every day as long as the works are maintained properly and kept clean and lubricated. If you enjoy running the clock, I believe that you should do just that. Gary R. Sullivan

  14. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Donna Conti’s question about finding an appriser for a Chelsea ships bell clock. You may find a local appraiser by contacting one of the antique appraisers associations on line. You also may find an appriser by inquiring on the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors message board (NAWCC.ORG). They do not discuss values on the message board, but may be able to recommend a clock expert who is located in your area. Hope this helps.
    Gary Sullivan

  15. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Elizabeth d’Huart,
    it is difficult to tell what sort of clock you have. Many early clocks carry much of their value in the originality of their eglomise (reverse painted on glass) panels. Once these panels are broken or replaced, a significant part of the value is lost forever. Care should be taken when shipping a clock with valuable glass panels. When I ship banjo clocks, I remove the framed panels and ship them separately with many layers of padding, in a carton that is way too big. Sometimes it is advisable to remove the door containing an eglomise panel from a shelf clock and carefully pack it separately. The pendulum (and weights, if applicable) should always be removed for shipping.
    Gary R. Sullivan

  16. Christina Says:

    I am interested in purchasing a French antique portico clock that I thought was marked as: JAPY on the clockwork, however, it is actually marked with: JUST. I can’t find any information on JUST, do you have any information that you could please send to me? I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thak you very much.


  17. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    To Christina, I am not familiar with that inscription, but my expertise is in American clocks. I suggest that you post images and questions to the message board at NAWCC.ORG (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors). You will find the people there to be knowledgable and helpful. Good luck.
    Gary Sullivan

  18. therese Morris Says:

    We have a tall case clock that has a painted dial and the name Luther Goddard on the dial. It was sold to us as an antique and made in New England. I know that Luther Goddard was a watch maker, did he at one time make tall case clocks?

  19. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Therese, Luther Goddard (1762-1842) was a clockmaker as well as a watchmaker in Shrewsbury and Worcester, Massachusetts. He was an apprentice of the famous clockmaker, Simon Willard. He made some clocks early in his career, but apparently concentrated more on watches later in life (info taken from “Willard’s patent Time Pieces” by Paul J. Foley). By about 1815, It was common for traditionally trained clockmakers to turn their attention to watchmaking and clock repair as fewer hand made clocks were being produced. By this time, watch ownership was becoming more common and inexpensive wood works clocks were replacing the more expensive hand made brass works clocks. Gary Sullivan

  20. Ken Korach Says:

    did Simon Wilard ever make banjo clocks with a single screw back board attachment and a non T brdige suspension – instead of the classic cross screw through plate attachment and T bridge movement – I was told he did but I am trying to get confirmation from another knowledgeable source – thank you

  21. Gary R Sullivan Says:

    In response to Ken, All Simon Willard banjo clocks that I have ever seen are attached from the front of the movement. The single screw attachment through the backboard was used by a number of other clockmakers, starting about 1815. I have seen S. Willards that had through-bolts originally, but have been converted to some other attachment. Check for holes from original through-bolts. If not, it may have been made by a Willard apprentice. Hope this helps. Gary Sullivan

  22. gayle Says:

    i have a regulator pendulum clock and it fell off the wall unto the ceramic floor the clock is run by batteries and the clock still keeps time and chimes on the hour but my pendulum has stopped moving what can i do to get that part to move on its own again?

  23. gayle Says:

    does the pendulum have to move for the clock to keep regular time because the clock runs on AA batteries or is the pendulum mainly for looks on this particular clock?

  24. Manny Heller Says:

    I am trying to find out about a grandfather clock. Jushua Alsop East.
    East Field , English. That I have. I think it is from about 1750. It still keeps time, but I woulk likeit to be fine tuned and cleaned.
    Manny Heller

  25. Gary Sullivan Says:

    manny, I find a Joshua Alsop listed as having worked in London circa 1689-1710. This may be the maker of your clock, or perhaps it is the father of your clockmaker. There were so many makers in England, It is difficult to say. I wish there was more information available.

  26. Terrence Hurst Says:

    I have a clock that was handed down to me. It is a very tall narrow case clock. Made in Philadelphia about 1738-40. The name on the face is Wm Huston. I have done some research and found a clockmaker of that name in early Philadelphia records. The cabinet has the name “Dunwoody” scrawled in chalk on the inner back. I remeber it working when my grandfather owned it and last recall hearing it “ring” about 1953. I am in Texas near Austin and or San Antonio now and have it securely stored in plywood crates I built. I would like to get someone who is credible to give me an appraisal and also to find a qualified restorer/repairer. Any help you can provide is appreciated.

  27. Gary Sullivan Says:

    William Huston was a well known early Philadelphia clockmaker. His clocks are valuable and sought after by collectors. They have brass dials (faces) and beautiful walnut cases. The name that is written inside the clock case is most likely an owner. I have sent a more detailed response to your email address.
    Gary Sullivan

  28. Larry Donohoe Says:

    I just finished restoring a Waterbury Grandfather Clock for a person in our area. I believe it was a model 801. The case was solid mahogany, which had to be refinished. The movement does not have cables nor chains, it had metal bands about the size and thickness of a thirty hour clock, on which the weights hang. It has two weights, which ran the chime, strike and time trains. The left weight ran the strike and the running train. The right weight ran the chime train. The clock was patented around 1916/1917, it was a real challenge to find parts for and a challenge to work on. The right side of the case on the inside had a roller wheel that keeps the weight in the correct allignment, with the other weight. I can send you pictures of the clock if you so desire. The clock is now a beautiful, fuctional clock, very nice. My question is how rare is the clock, and does it have much value. I know at this point there is about $3600.00 in it. I would like the hear something from you about this clock. I have had a clock repair business for almost 25 years and this is the first one like this I have ever seen. Thank you

  29. Gary Sullivan Says:

    Thanks for your comment Larry. Waterbury made a number of different grandfather clocks ranging from very simple models to elaborate, high-end examples. I’m not familiar with this particular model as it is an early 20th century clock and I specialize in clocks from the 18th and early 19th centuries. It sounds very nice and having a separate chime train is certainly a desirable feature.
    Gary Sullivan

  30. Jay Says:

    Hello Mr. Sullivan,

    I purched a Tiffany & Co Mantel clock at a estate sale. I am in the San Antonio Area and have taken it to local shops in my area to get it appraised but the people who ive talked to, dont seem like they have a clue what to appraise it for. I myself dont know anything about it but it is very heavy. Here is some pictures i posted on Collectors weekly:
    Can you please let me know what you think it might be worth?

    Thank You!

  31. john zemanek Says:

    I have a 9 foot tall clock signed : White Matlack, New York 1772 on the dial top, what information can you relay to me? Thanks, john zemanek

  32. gary R. Sullivan Says:

    Your Tiffany & Company clock dates to the last quarter of the 19th century. It was almost certainly made in France for Tiffany to market here in the States. These clocks are more valuable in the larger sizes, but I can not tell the size of this one from your photo. The value of this type of French clock marked Tiffany ranges significantly. You might see a clock like this in a high end gallery with a $7,500. price on it, but realistically, it would likely sell at auction for $1,500. – 2,000. Imported clocks marked “Tiffany” are not rare, but collectors love them. Hope this helps.
    Gary R. Sullivan

  33. gary R. Sullivan Says:

    White Matlack was an 18th century clockmaker about whom, little is known. He advertised himself as a clock and watch maker in New York from 1773 to 1776. He moved his operation to Philadelphia in late 1776, where he carried on the business of clock and watch maker as well as merchant. According to his ads, he was located on the North side of Market Street, five doors below 4th street. He advertised at that location until 1780.
    he lived prior to the clockmaking heyday, during a period when few clockmakers were at work here. American clocks from the 1770s are rather rare.
    I have heard of only one clock by him (it may be yours). An antique dealer colleague on the North Shore of Massachusetts inquired about him a few years ago on behalf of a client who owned one. I would love to see photos such a rare clock for my files.
    Gary Sullivan

  34. Charles Lynch Says:

    I have a tall case clock , dad purchased in Scotland, in 1965. the name , George Jamieson & Son, Aberdeen is enscribed across the bottom face of the clock. The number 1414 is inscribed on the back of the brass houseing of the time piece. compleatly carved oak, I believe. with the face of a tiger carved below the mid section. three key, three weight . beautiful brass face. I am looking for information on my clock. I would like to know when it was made. Also , an eagle atop the bonnet. Thank You, Charles Lynch

  35. Robert DeFreitas Says:

    Hi: I have an elderly friend who owns 2 old clocks. One is a Tall Case Grand-Father Clock made in England by George Wentworth somewhere between 1720 and 1745. It is in fine working condition. The other is a type of wall clock. Possibly German or Austria. Also quite old, but, no idea of exact age. It has a clock, barometer and thermometer. It is hand carved with large Prussian Eagle on front. He has 2 grand-children and plans to leave each one a clock in his will. He would like to know roughly what these clocks are worth before he decides which one to leave to whom. I’m a CPPA ( Canadian Personal Property Appraiser ) in Canada and can’t find anything similar upon which to come up with a potential replacement value. I am not charging him for my research. Best regards, Bob DeFreitas ( member in good standing of CPPAG… )

  36. Gary Sullivan Says:

    In response to Charles Lynch: The fact that your clock has three places to wind it is significant. This usually means that the clock plays music, or has some other type of desirable complication. if you send me some good clear photos, I will be happy to give you my opinion. You can contact me through my web site:

  37. Gary Sullivan Says:

    To Robert DeFreitas, it sounds like you have two interesting clocks to appraise. The national Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC.ORG) can be a good resource. You may get some useful info by posting photos to their message board (they do not do appraisals or evaluations). You can also try contacting the representative of your closest NAWCC chapter. The chapter president may be able to recommend a local clock appraiser for you. Good luck.
    Gary Sullivan

  38. Kathy Rowett Says:

    I was given an electric banjo clock with the name Sessions on the face. I has Mt. Vernon picture on the bottom and in the middle of the neck is a sillowette (spelling) gold in color. I have found other Sessions banjo clocks but not looking like mine. How do I fine out which one I have and what it is worth? On the back it says model m.,
    60 cycle , 2 watts and also has the Sessions Clock Company Forestville , Conn U.S.A.
    There is a small round label on the back of the bottom part that says underwriters laboratories listed under reexamination service. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Also, just wanted to let you know I was at Willard Museum 2 weeks ago and had the pleasure of meeting you.

  39. Lena Medina Says:

    We have a grandfather clock and its an tall case clock make in the earlier 19th centuries its stands about 6ft tall or little more taller… it has three weights that hangs and one of the weights is off place or even all three of them..I was wondering how we can get the grandfather clock to work again it don’t make that beautiful ring sounds and more. how or who can we get a hold of… Where living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. USA, we’re looking for someone or a company to work on it something that wouldn’t cost a arm and a leg at least a reasonable price.

  40. Anthony Mei Says:

    I have an early 19th century tall case clock in what appears to be pristine condition with all the parts as far as I can tell (Emmanual Miley Lebanon). I need someone to dust it off, assemble it, and get it working. Do you have a recommendation near Easton, PA?

  41. H. S. Says:

    I have a Fuzi clock mechanism with a chime. It is 3 feet round and sits on a wood encasement, originally from an English train station. The hadns and chimes are sensitive in coordination and have gone our of sync. My clock repairer died. I live in South Florida and don’t know who or where to go for a quality person to fix it.

  42. Ted laBrecque Says:

    I have this clock it says Ansonia clock Co

  43. Gary Sullivan Says:

    To H. S. I recommend that you go to the website of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC.ORG). They can be a good resource. You may get some useful info by posting photos to their message board (they do not do appraisals or evaluations). You can also try contacting the representative of your closest NAWCC chapter. The chapter president may be able to recommend a local clock reparman for you.
    Gary Sullivan

  44. Dirk Soulis Says:

    Dear Mr. Sullivan,
    We have an Aaron Willard Bride’s Clock with, and attached to, a shelf with lower bracket and acorn drop pendant, similar to the base design of a banjo clock. The paint and its crazing is identical on both clock and shelf and the woods look identical from the back side. The whole one-piece unit hangs as one, clock and shelf combined. Is there any tradition of Willard having made these Bride’s clocks with a matching shelf?
    Thanks for the nice, informative article.
    Dirk Soulis

  45. Gary Sullivan Says:

    Hi Dirk,
    I have never seen a clock like what you are describing. I would love to see some photos of the clock and would be happy to give you my opinion. You could email photos to the email address found on my web site: I look forward to seeing them.

  46. Jenny Walstrom Says:

    Hi. I have a friend that is selling a clock from the American Chime Clock Co. I would like to purchase it but I can’t find any information on that company. I found a list of clock makers on the internet and they have them listed 1916-1922 but that is all the info I could find. I have also looked on the NAWCC.ORG website and still no information. Any information you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  47. Barbara Linnard Says:


    I just inherited a tall case clock that has been in our family for 200 years in the hamlets of Woodstock, NY.

    The clock is a simple one that looks like it may be made of cherry (not sure) with a broken pediment. It looks like there never was a finial, as there is no hole in the flat piece of wood in the middle of the two curved pieces on each side of the top and no trace of any old glue or adhesive.

    It has all original parts and appears to be in excellent condition. It has the original wooden works and what appears to be lead wrapped weights. It has been lovingly taken care of through the generations.

    The generations of family members who owned it were in the wood working business, and knew how to care for the wood properly inside and out. It ran up until the 97 year old owner, who lived alone, could no longer wind it a number of years ago, but before that, it is said to have run well continuously.

    We took it a part and packed it carefully to bring it to our home in Boxborough, MA, and it is now in pieces on our dining room table. It needs a good cleaning and to be set up in our foyer and to get it running again.

    I would like the person who does this for us to be well versed and experienced in working on such a clock, even if it’s not worth much, so it’s condition isn’t compromised. Whom do you recommend I contact to do this?

    I assume the work would need to be done on site here at our home.

    Thank you for your help!

  48. Jan Johnson Says:

    We have just identified our early American tall clock from the name on the face which was almost worn off . But due to a clock maker library on the web we identified the name as Jacob Kimball – Montpelier. Where can we learn more about it please?

  49. Karen Cameron Says:

    We have an English longcase clock. The workings are thought to be from the mid-17th century and the case is from the later 17th or early 18th century. We live in the Portland, OR area is there any way to get an accurate appraisal and information about our clock?

  50. David Abdullah Says:

    I have a Roxbury Willard tall clock that was sent south to William McCabe’s shop in Richmond, Virginia who put his name on the face. The clock is lacking fretwork and possibly has replaced feet. Should I try to have the fretwork replaced and could you recommend someone for the job? Thanks.

    David Abdullah

  51. Jim Says:

    I have a very nice oak Sligh Grandfather clock with the shell type bonnet on the top. I was wondering would it be out of the norm to put a small brass eagle finial on the top middle and an brass acorn on each corner. I don not know if that would take away from the value however I just think it needs something small and ornate to set it off nicely.

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