Regulator clocks, sometimes referred to as pendulum clocks, were invented in the late 18th century in a quest for greater timekeeping accuracy. They were weight-driven devices and featured a deadbeat escapement (an improvement on the anchor design). To ensure their accuracy, they usually omitted complicated features like calendars. Instead, each of the clock’s hands worked off a different mechanism.

The Englishmen Benjamin Vulliamy and James Harrison invented two of the earliest regulators between 1760 and 1780. Despite this British lineage, regulator clocks were not especially well received in England, but they were in Vienna, where the form flourished. Indeed, Vienna regulator wall clocks gained such a reputation for accuracy that they were routinely used in public places such as railway stations and post offices.

During the Empire period (1800-1835), the cases of early Viennese regulator wall clocks were typically made of wood, which was either polished or gilded. These laterndluhr clocks resembled three boxes, one stacked on top of the other. The upper part of the case housed the movement and was capped by a roof. The clock’s weights dangled in the center of the case, and at the bottom swung the pendulum.

The Biedermeier period (1835-1848) was a very conservative time in Vienna—regulator clocks reflected the new austerity. The dachluhr clocks from this era were thus simpler in style. Instead of three sections, these clocks had two: a top section (still with a roof) for the clock’s face and movement, and a bottom section for the weights and pendulum, which could be accessed by a glass door. The clocks were elegant but rigid in their design, except for the "piecrust" bezels around the clocks’ faces.

The Viennese revolution of 1848 expanded the middle class, which made luxuries like regulators more accessible to a greater percentage of the population. And after years of aesthetic repression, these newly affluent Viennese embraced revivals of Greek, Renaissance, and Gothic styles.

For regulator clocks, this meant that straight sides would give way to serpentine waves. Ornamentation was on the rise, as pediments were interrupted by finials and the sides of regulators were ornately carved and scrolled. As for the dials, they were rendered in creamy, bright porcelain.

In 1850s Vienna, antique regulator clocks continued to become increasingly ornate. This meant more finials, more flanking columns, and fancier woodwork on the clock’s top and bot...

The Vienna regulator clocks from about 1870 to 1895 are the most common today. They are also some of the most ornate and beautiful. Signatures of these regulators include the Corinthian columns on the sides of the cases and the clock’s elaborate hands.

All that effusive design ground to a halt at the turn of the 20th century, when the overlapping impulses of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts ushered in the Jugendstil style, which was a precursor of sorts to 20th-century modernism. It was a return to the box regulators of almost a century before, but this time the lines were softer, the boxes were less boxy but more massive. In addition, Viennese regulators from this period often featured leaded and beveled glass in front of their swinging pendulums, and the woods ranged from gorgeous maple to rich walnut.

In the United States, 19th century clock manufacturers such as Ingraham, Sessions, Seth Thomas, and New Haven also made regulators. Some were designed like squat versions of the famous banjo clocks that were so popular, others were marketed as "railroad regulators" with train-station style numerals and hands.

Just as in Vienna, accuracy was the main selling point for makers of U.S. regulators. Even more interesting, the look of these U.S. clocks paralleled the evolving design of those of the old country, which suggests that U.S. clockmakers were not yet setting the standards for clock design.

Key terms for Antique Regulator Clocks:

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

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Kovel: With 'brown furniture' out of favor, there are bargains to be had
INFORUM, July 23rd

The top section with the clock face is octagonal. The lower section has a small glass door that shows the pendulum. It looks like a Regulator clock, but the bottom is shorter. The dial is white with Roman numerals surrounded by Arabic numerals 1...Read more

Home of the Week: A kinetic home of sculptures and global memories, July 17th

One is a handsome 1876 Regulator clock by the Seth Thomas Clock Company set into a wooden case. Though made in the U.S., the McFarlands found it in Peru. Set in frames behind the front door are what appear to be sparkling, ghostly images of ...Read more

Finding bargains in “brown furniture”
Observer-Reporter, July 17th

The top section with the clock face is octagonal. The lower section has a small glass door that shows the pendulum. It looks like a Regulator clock, but the bottom is shorter. The dial is white with Roman numerals surrounded by Arabic numerals 1...Read more

Kovels: Bargains are out there for curly maple furniture
Winston-Salem Journal, July 16th

Notice the patterned wood on the front of this Sheraton chest of drawers made about 1840. It has a two-board top, turned legs and old brass handles. The four drawers make it a useful bedroom or even dining-room piece with storage space. In May 2015, it ...Read more

Antiques & Collectibles: Seth Thomas regulator clock a timeless favorite
Press of Atlantic City, March 6th

Question: What can you tell me about an old oak wall clock left in an office building I recently ac-quired? It is 37 inches long, 16 inches wide and 5½ inches deep with a brass pendulum and weight. Its metal dial is painted white, has Roman numerals, a...Read more

Massive gift keeps nation's last clock school ticking
East Oregonian (subscription), February 27th

Among the dozens of clocks placed around the room were vintage cuckoo clocks, a Westminster mantel clock from 1900 and a Vienna regulator clock from about 1870. Richard Courtney stood near a grandfather clock made in Paddington, England, in 1860...Read more

Ashland resident donates clock to historical society
News Item, February 15th

The regulator clock, a more accurate version time-wise of a standard pendulum clock, was rewound about every eight days with a key, which was stored in the case. The glass cover over the lower half of the clock showed "P.H. Loeper, Leading Jeweler...Read more

E. Howard & Company No. 47 wall-hanging astronomical regulator soars to a ...
ArtfixDaily, December 5th

PITTSFIELD, Mass. – An E. Howard & Company No. 47 wall-hanging astronomical regulator clock – one of only three examples known and so rare it doesn't even appear in the E. Howard catalog – soared to a record price of $356,950.00 at a clock and watch ...Read more