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 19thc Number 5, Working, Weight Driven Howard Banjo Wall Clock, NrRare Antique Circa 1930s Art Deco,gilbert Rohde By Herman Miller Alarm Clock, NrRare1850 French Victorian Bronze Pallas Athena Greek Goddess Figure Enamel ClockVintage Antique Big Red Soda Pam Clock Co. Tin Non Porcelain Thermometer SignLarge German Black Forest Carved Music Box Chateau Shelf Clock ProjectBeautiful Rare Black Forest Double Fusee Gothic Cuckoo Clock Circa 187019thc English Burr Walnut Triple Fusee Musical 8 Bell Cathedral Bracket ClockUnique Antique 1874 Mechanical Clock-work Contraption Fly Swatter Paddle Fan, NrModel 21 Hamilton Chronometer Us Maritime Commission Vintage Gimbal ClockOriginal 1940s Bullseye Cleveland Neon Clock Diner Bowling Americana Gas OilWolf's Head Oil Motor Oil Lube, Pam Clock Nice! Gas Petro No Reserve Auction !!Superb Antique 19thc French Embossed Brass Cube 8 Day Striking Mantel ClockC1840 Antique Grandfather Longcase Clock Painted Arched Dial & 8 Day MovementVintage Antique Nesbitts Orange Pam Clock Co. Tin Non Porcelain Thermometer SignRare English 8 Day Fusee Bracket Clock Needs Minor TlcAtmos Jaeger Lecoultre Vintage Mantel Clock Roman Numeral Dial Breguet HandsVintage Authentic Chelsea Ships Bell Clock W/ Mahogany Stand, Perfect WorkingAntique Cuckoo Clock By Beha Weight Driven Rare Case Style Original Hands EtcRare Antique 19thc French Gilt Bronze & Grey Sevres Porcelain 8 Day Mantel ClockNos Gillette 7 O'clock Open Comb Double Edge Safety Razor With Blade & CaseAntique Art Deco Silver Guilloche Enamel Pocket Watch Holder Clock Case C1932Jerome & Co Newhaven Usa Gothic 8 Day Striking Clock In Beehive Mantle CaseGood Antique French Gilt Metal Mounted Mantel Clock. C1900.French Small Fully Restored Stunning Carriage Clock Fully Restored Rare MaskAntique 19thc Victorian Walnut Ansonia, King Mantle Clock & Alarm, NrL Epee Large Carriage Clock Repeater/alarm Mask Dial Fully Restored StunningLarge 24" Antique 1800's Ornate Beha Black Forest Table Cuckoo QualityFrench Carriage Clock Mega Rare Three Sided Filligree Chasing Work Fully RestoreEarlier 19thc French Gold Ormolu Bronze Lyre Enamel Dial Clock W Alarm SettingSeth Thomas Oak #2 Weight Regulator Wall Clock1925 Poole Electromagnetic Clock - Works! Morse Chain Co. Ithaca, New YorkAntique Black Forest Cuckoo Quail Clock Working Condition Fred J Koch MovementAntique Seth Thomas Adamantine Mantle Clock Mfg. July 1898!Antique 19thc Gilt Metal & Black Marble Knight Figural French 8 Day Mantle ClockAntique Brass Plato Digital Carriage ClockLarge Calendar Oak Wall Regulator ClockSuper Vintage Franz Hermle Red Shell & Boulle Brass Inlaid Musical Bracket ClockAntique 19thc Gilt Metal & Green Onyx French 8 Day Mantle Clock Garniture SetExcellent Vintage Brass 8 Day Striking Carriage Clock - Fully Cleaned & ServicedStunning Antique 19thc French Brass & Champleve Enamel 4 Glass Mantel Clock1960s Dualite Schwinn Bicycle Light Up Clock BikeAntique 19th C English Fusee Mahogany Round Office / School Wall Clock - J. KernChelsea Deck Clock No. 3 Ships Clock Serial 34067 - 1908Large 24" Antique 1800's Ornate Black Forest Cuckoo Quality! GhsAntique Ansonia Clock Co. "elysian" Crystal Regulator With Open Escapement Runs Antique Repeating Repeater Fretwork Striking Carriage Clock & CaseAntique Victorian Bracket Mantel Clock By Winterhalder Hofmeier W&h Germany 1890Crosley 11-122u Clock RadioAmazing Antique 19thc French Red Shell & Boulle Brass Inlaid Ormolu Mantel ClockAntique Ansonia Mantle Clock MonarchAntique 1930s Ameican Western Stetson Hats Advertising Light-up Electric ClockAmazing Quality Antique 19thc Large French Pierced Cast Bronze 8day Mantel ClockRare Antique E.j Dent English Brass Repeater Drum Carriage Clock Serviced, C1848American 8 Day Striking Tall Case Clock Movement Dial @1815 Original GrandfatherSuperb Large Antique 19thc French Embossed Bronze Cube Striking Mantel ClockIthaca Carved Case 1866 Perpetual Double Dial Parlor ClockAntique 2 Tone Bronze Ormolu & White Marble Cherub Figural French Mantle ClockRare Antique Ingraham Ionic 8 Day Wall Clock In Good Working Condition.time OnlySeth Thomas Sonora Chime Double Movement Bracket ClockSuperb Antique 19th Gilt Metal & Blue Sevres Porcelain French 8 Day Mantle Clock