Mantel clocks (also known as mantle or shelf clocks) were inexpensive to make and affordable to own, which explains why they were one of the most popular clocks in the 18th and 19th centuries. Part decoration, part practical timepiece, mantel clocks are so named because they were small enough to be displayed on a shelf or mantel.
Mantel clocks were made with both brass and wood movements and ran anywhere from 30 hours to eight days between windings, although some Seth Thomas clocks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries ran for 15 days. Although its origins lay in France in the 18th century, the mantel clock took off in the U.S. in Connecticut during the early 19th century, when clockmaker Eli Terry began mass-producing them.
Simon Willard, who created the banjo clock, made mantel clocks popular in Massachusetts. His design for a weight-driven timepiece, known as the Simon Willard Shelf Clock, is highly collectible today...
Ornately decorated and usually made of wood, porcelain, or ormolu, mantel clocks were mostly key-wound with a swinging pendulum. American mantel clocks were typically made of cherry or oak and sometimes incorporated iron or brass.
The bases of mantel clocks were decorated in a variety of ways. Some were made of solid wood or wooden panel, others were engraved, and some mantel clocks featured intricately detailed painted scenes. There were even mantel clocks with calendars built into their faces.
The Ansonia Clock Company made some gorgeous porcelain mantel clocks, whose front surface was painted with images of flowers. Ansonia also produced carved clocks with beautiful sculptures and figurines sharing their base.
Unlike Ansonia’s elaborate carvings, Seth Thomas clocks were all about smooth, sleek lines. His slick, 19th-century mantel clocks, usually made of richly colored wood, look more modern in appearance than their age would suggest.
The ogee clock was introduced in the 1840s. Featuring an "S"-like curve in its molding, ogee clocks were very popular, and most clock companies of the era produced variations on the ogee theme.
In the mid-19th century, Elias Ingraham created what is known as the steeple clock, whose triangle front and column-like sides resemble a church steeple. This design sparked numerous spin-offs, such as the double steeple and the beehive.
Whatever you call them, mantel clocks have maintained their popularity for more than two centuries because they are dependable and work so well in so many different domestic situations. Today, they continue to be sought after by collectors and non-collectors alike for pretty much the same reasons.
Interviews & Articles
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Writers Festival: For whom the bell tollsNew Zealand Herald, May 10th
We're exactly 15 minutes into our interview when Kate Atkinson's voice, on the phone from Edinburgh, is drowned out by BONG BONG BONG. Good lord: does she live next to a church? "No, that's my mantel clock," she laughs. "It chimes on the quarter-hour...Read more
Kovels: Unusual lamps were signature of modern artist Yonel LeboviciIn-Forum, May 2nd
Your inkstand, depending on its condition, could sell for more than $100. Q: My husband inherited a French mantel clock from his father. It's made of what looks like black marble with bronze columns and is shaped like a Greek building. Its face is...Read more
Weekly Roundup of eBay Vintage Home Finds (PHOTOS)Huffington Post, April 30th
Be sure not to miss the Art Deco iron and leather extension lounge chair, the gorgeous 1920 French mantel clock, and the prehistoric fossilized squid bookends. Which item is your favorite? Leave me a comment below to let me know and please take a...Read more
Burnley civic couple raise £30000 for charitiesBurnley Express, April 29th
The civic couple also presented each member with a small mantel clock with the Burnley Borough Council crest as a memento of their year. Among the year's events had been a golf day, a trip to London, two ladies' lunches, a sponsored run, walk and swim,...Read more
National Watch & Clock Museum opens exhibit of alarm clocksLancaster Newspapers, April 21st
There's also a late-1890s mantel clock featuring a lever that swung around to light a match to an oil lamp, the glow from which was supposed to awaken the sleeper, Knaub explains. "The bad thing about this clock: There are several accounts of the...Read more