Think of antique clocks and a stately grandfather, German cuckoo, or Art Deco Bakelite clock may come to mind. But clockmaking is a vast field, spanning continents, outlasting empires, and encompassing a complete range of technologies and styles. Indeed, for clock collectors, the only problem with clocks is the lack of time to absorb and appreciate them all.

The Dutch are credited with inventing the first pendulum clock in the mid-17th century. The brainchild of a mathematician named Christiaan Huygens and a clockmaker named Salomon Coster, this first pendulum clock has an ebony-veneer case with an iron dial covered in black velvet.

French clockmakers of the 17th and 18th centuries took the Dutch pendulum and ran with it, focusing their creative attentions on the cases of their clocks. Ornately lacquered bracket clocks in oak, marble, tortoiseshell, brass, and gilt bronze were typical, as were larger pedestal clocks sporting similarly Rococo details.

The English were also influenced by the pendulum and improved upon it by inventing a recoil, or anchor, escapement that permitted a longer pendulum to be used—this resulted in a slower swing and less wear and tear on the clock. Brass lantern clocks were popular at the end of the 17th century; tall, walnut, long-case clocks were common in the 18th.

At the end of the 18th century and into the 19th, especially during the Biedermeier period, an Austrian wall clock known as the Vienna regulator came to prominence. These rectangular timekeepers often had decorative pediments on their tops and glass on the fronts of their cases, so that the slowly swinging pendulum inside was revealed for all to see. Most of these regulators ran for eight full days between windings—some could go for six weeks.

In America, Colonial clockmakers flourished, particularly in Pennsylvania and New England. David Rittenhouse, an astronomer who was the first director of the U.S. Mint, was the king of Pennsylvania clockmakers. His astronomical clock from 1774 is considered a masterpiece. Other noteworthy Keystone state clockmakers include Jacob Godchalk, his brother-in-law, Griffith Owen, and John Paul, Jr., whose German-style tall clocks were wonders of curly maple, walnut, and ivory.

In New England, the Willard family of Massachusetts, especially Simon, was every bit as influential. They made tall clocks, of course, but Simon and his brother Aaron are perhaps best known for the invention in 1802 of the much-copied banjo clock...

Just west, in Connecticut, Thomas Harland produced handsome clocks with all-brass movements. His Norwich cases from the late 1700s had bracket feet on the floor, decorative carved-cherry finials on top, and brass faces. But Harland is also remembered for the apprentices he trained, who in turn trained apprentices of their own. One of these was a clockmaker named Eli Terry.

Terry is widely considered to be the father of the clockmaking industry in the United States, thanks to his decorative pillar-and-scroll shelf clocks of the early 19th century. These modestly priced ($15), mass-produced clocks had wooden movements rather than brass, which kept costs down.

Terry’s clocks were widely imitated, and established Connecticut as the center of clockmaking in the United States. Makers such as former Terry apprentice Seth Thomas, the firm of Jeromes & Darrow, and Joseph Ives created boxy, bronze, and gilt versions of the same basic clock, some enclosed behind glass, others ornately carved and decorated with paintings of natural scenes or urban landscapes.

By the middle of the 19th century, the first spring-driven clocks began to appear. This allowed clocks to be smaller and lighter, as the springs did the job of weights. Balance wheels replaced pendulums, which added portability to the features of these new home timepieces. Clocks shaped like beehives and acorns were introduced, others resembled compact versions of Gothic cathedrals.

Elias and Andrew Ingraham created these latter clocks. In 1844, they partnered with Elisha Curtis Brewster to form Brewster & Ingrahams. The company quickly created a spring-driven banjo clock and, in 1850, a gallery clock, whose frameless design, save a ring around the clock’s face, appears very contemporary to 21st-century eyes.

Another key mid-19th century Connecticut clockmaker whose antique clocks are popular among collectors was the Ansonia Clock Company. Founded by Terry’s nephew Theodore, Ansonia clocks had brass movements—in 1850, the firm went through 58 tons of the metal. Chauncey Jerome based his Jerome Manufacturing Company in New Haven, renaming it the New Haven Clock Co. in 1853.

In 1857, the newly formed Waterbury Clock Company hired Chauncey Jerome—he had lost everything when he purchased a down-on-its-luck clock company owned by P.T. Barnum—to help with its case-making operations. The Sessions Clock Company arrived on the scene at the turn of the 20th century—between 1903 and 1933, Sessions made 52 different models, all mechanical.

As Arts & Crafts took hold, then gave way to Art Deco and Mid-century Modern, clocks continued to reflect the styles and technologies of their times. In the 1920s, Westclox introduced its crackle-finish Big Ben, Baby Ben, and Tiny Tim alarm clocks, each small enough to fit on a crowded bedside table. And in the 1950s and 1960s, George Nelson designed a line of battery-powered ball clocks that were practically all arms and dial. The ornate cases of shelf clocks and fine woodworking of grandfather clocks seemed so very far in the past.

Key terms for Antique Clocks:

Escapement: A device that converts the pressure of a spring or coil into a fixed release of movement.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Bill Stoddard's clock history site offers a trove of great reference information on clock and watch makers includin… [read review or visit site]

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Check out this sampling of nautical and maritime items held by the U.K.'s National Maritime Museum and Royal Observ… [read review or visit site]

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana Lockett's amazing collection of several hundred novelty Lux clocks made by the Lux Clock Manufacturin… [read review or visit site]

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Philip Haselton's guide to watchmen's time recording equipment. Includes 19th century German portables, 20th centur… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique C. 1840 American Acorn Clock Authentic Original Signed Movement RareAntique Cuckoo Clock For Spares Or RepairRare Antique 1920s, Gould Batteries, Gas Station Automobile Garage Sign ClockRare Plato Jump Hour Digital Flip Lantern Carriage Desk Clock Ansonia Watch CoProfessional Clock Makers Large Depthing ToolJohn Sawin Gilded Lyre Banjo Clock, Circa 1825, (simon Willard's Nephew)Large 24" Antique Ornate Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Beautiful Carving. ProjectStunning Beha Black Forest Cuckoo Clock Marquetry Case For RepairAntique Seth Thomas Crystal Regulator Clock, Gilded Bronzed Spelter Case NrEarly Seth Thomas Pillar And Scroll Wood Works Clock Case. Terry Patent LabelVintage - Oliver - Shop Clock Advertising - Oliver Tractor Dealer Safety LightVery Special Striking Repeater Edwardian Oval Brass Carriage Clock Case & Key Antique Fusee 10 Inch School/railway Wall ClockLarge 21" Antique Ornate Black Forest Cuckoo Quail Clock, Beautiful. ProjectSmall Antique Victorian 19thc French Gilded Bronze Carriage Clock, No Reserve!Pair Of 400 Day Torsion Anniversary Clocks With Very Rare BalencesVitascope Art Deco Bakelite Clock With Moving Ship, Made In The Isle Of ManAntique Patti Welch Clock Blue Glass Pendulum Vintage Rare American Usa BracketNear Mint Seth Thomas Musical Chime 1/4 Strike On Bells Double Movement Clock400 Day Planet Mantle Clock Runs But Runs Fast So Needs Service/repair No ReturnSuperb 1920's Art Deco Skyscraper Building Alarm Clock, Telechron, Rare IvoryLovely Vintage Bodet Flip Office/ School Caldndar/ Wall Clock1890 New Haven Mirrorside Parlor ClockPam Clock LotClock / Watch Makers Lathe Variable Speeds Good Working OrderCarriage Clock Antique Brass Gilt And Enamel Late Victorian French Rare StunningVintage Retro 1960`s Advertising Dr. Pepper Soda Pop Electric Pam Clock Vintage 1940's**rare** Jetco Coin Op Tube Radio & Clock Stand Vending MeterAntique French Miniature Travel Clock. .original Domed Case..fully WorkingOriginal Antique Gustav Becker 2 Weight Driven German Wall Clock Movement NrGood Antique 400 Day Torsion Anniversary Clock With Disc Pendulum By JukFine Working Antique French Carriage Clock W Alarm Shreve Crump & Low BostonAntique Ansonia Rosalind Cast Iron Enamel Figural 8 Day Mantle Clock RunningLongcase Lantern Clock Movement For PartsSkeleton Clock English Fusee With Passing Strike 8 Day For RestationLarge 14 " Antique Ansonia Royal Bonn Porcelain Open Escapement Mantle Clock NrLarge Antique Seth Thomas Bronzed Crystal Regulator Clock, No Reserve! Old Boulle 8 Day Mantel Clock Pendulum Key Metal Case Strikes To BellSilver And Guilloche Enamel Clock - Birmingham 1936 - 8 DayCrosley Model 11-121u “dashboard” Bakelite Clock Tube Radio From 1951 ServicedVintage Gents Of Leicester Brass Electric Wall ClockAntique Chelsea Clock Co. Ships Bell - Brass Rare Size! Skeleton Clock English Made Brown Of Oxford Fully Serviced Five Spoke Wheel WorkBeautiful French Black Slate & Red Marble Large Drum Mantle Clock Fully RestoredVery Nice Running Jaeger Le Coultre Atmos Clock--serial # 261008Ormolu French Boulle Clock Circa 1860 With Flame Red Tortoiseshell BackgroundAntique Waterbury Open Escapement Crystal Regulator Mantel Clock Working BrassAntique Ansonia Open Escapement Figural Clock Movement Porcelain Dial PartsHuge English Antique Clock Pendulum Bell Strike Bracket Mantel Moon Phase RareVintage Timken Roller Bearings Pam Clock Car Truck Gas Oil Garage SignSeth Thomas & Sons Co Edwardian Goddess Lady Stylized Seeds Spelter Metal ClockAntique Ansonia Gilded Bronze Ormolu Art Nouveau Cherub Putti Mantle Clock Very Rare Antique French Clock- Hand Painted Floral Enamel, Truly Shabby1930s-1940s Wolf's Head Neon ClockSuperb Contemporary 8 Day Brass Carriage Clock By Mappin & Webb.Rare Large Antique 1880s Gilbert Walnut Parlor Clock Unusual Glass PendulumVintage Cuckoo Clock From Black ForestBeautiful French Carriage Clock In Hard Leather Clad Case 1800s WorkingAntique French Clock Garniture Set Ormulu-bronze Cathedral 3-piece,*ad. Mougin *Ormolu Fusee Mantle Clock, Empire Style For Restoration

Recent News: Clocks

Source: Google News

Prime Time: Clock restorer's timepiece on 'Gotham'
Green Bay Press Gazette, November 27th

Wier, who repairs and restores clocks and watches under his WierClock business at Door County Traders antiques and consignment shop in downtown Sturgeon Bay, is scheduled to have one of his restored antique clocks be part of the set in Monday's ...Read more

A blast from the past: The 1890s come alive as couple live a Victorian dream
Bend Bulletin, November 27th

With no cellphones, music or television, the ticking of a hand-wound antique clock in the living room is often the only ambient sound in the house, a reminder that the world is still advancing second-by-second toward the next century. Time doesn't...Read more

M. Joseph Conte
The Daily Progress, November 26th

It was not uncommon to find him tinkering in his workshop on an antique clock or just about anything made of wood. His love and respect for animals was venerable. He will be remembered for the many stray dogs that he adopted and the various Yorkshire ...Read more

1890s comes alive as couple lives a Victorian dream
Knoxville News Sentinel, November 25th

With no cellphones, music or television, the ticking of a hand-wound antique clock in the living room is often the only ambient sound in the house, a reminder that the world is still advancing second-by-second toward the next century. Time doesn't...Read more

Pell City News by Margaret Vaughan
Newsaegis, November 25th

Each day, the store will give away an antique clock. Prizes, donated by vendors, will be given away every half-hour. There will be delicious goodies along with coffee and punch for all to enjoy. In addition, you will love seeing all of the wonderful...Read more

1890s comes alive as couple lives a Victorian dream, corsets and all
Lexington Herald Leader, November 23rd

With no cellphones, music or television, the ticking of a hand-wound antique clock in the living room is often the only ambient sound in the house, a reminder that the world is still advancing second-by-second toward the next century. Time doesn't...Read more

Much needed relief
Idaho Statesman, November 20th

A mosaic glass gazing ball and mosaic vases are sprinkled throughout his warm Dalton Gardens home, where the ticking of antique clocks can be faintly heard in the quiet of the evening. Colorful quilts made by him and his wife of 54 years, Sharon, are...Read more

Antique Clock Shop Falls Back In Time
KMUW, October 29th

Daylight saving time ends this weekend. As a result, people will be moving their clocks back one hour on Nov. 1. KMUW's Abigail Wilson takes us into a local shop where the staff will have to change the time on more than 400 clocks...eventually...Read more