There are usually two key questions that always seem to be asked when presented with an antique clock. When was my clock made? What is my clock worth? This third question is: Is my clock authentic and original in all respects?
This is an important question, and one that the owner does not seem to understand, nor its relevance to the first two questions. The easy answers to these questions, and the ones that are far too frequently employed, are to simply jot down the name of the maker, usually engraved on the dial or chapter ring, then to look in any one of the many books of makers.
The maker will likely be listed with a working date and possibly other useful information. These questions apparently can be answered quickly for some, thus leaving the owner with a date range and usually an over-inflated price. In terms of originality however, the astute specialist would quickly question a marquetry, walnut and ebony cased clock with a painted dial.
Originality is critically important, both in confirming the age and in determining the real value of the clock. The lack of originality may not be quite as radical as the example just mentioned, but there are many altered clocks, marriages, fakes and ones with subtle changes that can fool the unsuspecting.
This article does not delve into the issue of value, since this can be very complex, and is dependent on the intended use of the appraisal, be it for insurance purposes, liquidation, probate or for one of several other reasons.
Each intended use will generate a quite different value for the same clock at the same point in time. As we will see, in properly dating a clock, authenticity or originality is often resolved in the process.
The principles to be used here apply to most English clocks, and some American ones as well, but the focus of this article will be based on just one interesting example. It is extremely important to remember that there are always exceptions to every rule, and unfortunately, there are lots of exceptions.
Each clockmaker was an individual; he may have followed general styles and tastes, but he invariably also exploited some of his own talents, individualism and preferences. We can also be reasonably confident that the clockmaker and cabinetmaker, who made the case, were not the same. These were likely different tradesmen, right from the earliest times.
Only the clockmaker signed the clock, and usually, just on the dial. Most makers tended to follow the style of the day. But, from about , they increasingly ordered at least some of their parts, whether it be hands, spandrels, gut line etc, from a parts supplier. By , most clocks were assembled from bought-in parts, including complete bought-in movements which were available even in the late 18th century.
The clock that I will use to explain the process is a mahogany cased veneered , brass dial, musical longcase clock. Most serious horological books will suggest that the name on the dial should be the last place to start dating a clock. There are lots of forgeries on the market, many with names added later. We also need to consider that names had errors: The use of certain letters and characters also evolved as did the spelling of names and places.
Several specialists suggest that there was no such thing as a fixed spelling. So identifying a clock just from its name can be difficult and needs careful study. What is very disturbing is that many, if not most, longcase clocks found today are marriages, or otherwise substantially modified. These clocks demand considerably less value than a clock where all of the parts started out life together, as just one original clock.
When buying therefore, it is best to approach a reputable dealer, or to learn the identification process yourself. So where should we start? A suitable methodical process is to examine and date the case, the dial and the movement details, all separately. First we must identify the type and style of all of the components. We must judge whether they are contemporary, whether they belong together, and whether they likely started life together as one clock.
If all of the feasible date ranges for all of the components overlap, there is a good probability that you have an authentic clock, not a marriage. Such a clock could be quite valuable. The date of a specific clock would usually be within the overlapping period, but generally toward the most modern or latest dating component or style, figure 2. We must consider that the maker may have carried over older designs, parts or styles, or was just using up old stock.
Since George Prior is such a well-known and respected maker, I will cheat a little: George Prior is recorded as a London maker, well known and distinguished, a supplier to the home, English market, and to the Turkish market.
His clocks and watches are sought after and are held in high regard in many collections. Prior was born in and died in according to Baillie. We can quickly determine the following.
The case is mahogany. Mahogany was used increasingly from about , and on the majority of clocks after about The dial is brass and arched. Brass dials pre-dated longcase clocks, being used for lantern and table clocks of much earlier times.
We do know that brass dials all but ceased in Victorian times, being replaced by painted dials in the late 18th century and beyond. Arch dials began about and continued as the preferred style through to current times. The hands are non-matching steel. Matching hands started about the same time as the painted dial, in the early s. They were initially steel but migrated to brass, particularly for painted dials, by c Before , hands were non-matching and made of blued steel, figure 3.
The weights are brass cased and lead filled. Early weights were lead, better quality clocks had brass-cased weights after about , but diminishing over the next years in favour of the cheaper cast-iron weights. Brass covered weights regained popularity in the late Victorian time to the present day. The movement is a heavy, good quality brass plated musical movement.
These movements were popular from about to about , then again in the late Victorian period. Prior is recorded as often buying his movements. This movement is unmarked but follows the lines of the last quarter of the 18th century. If we look at the wheels and arbors, we can see that the collets are extended and squared and the arbors have parallel sides, both consistent with a clock of the last quarter of the 18th century or later, figure 4.
The plate pillars are of fairly standard form, except that they are tapered, suggesting a late 18th century design, figure 5, pillar 3.
The clock case has a carved swan-neck pediment. Swan necks increased in popularity from the mid 18th century to the present time. London swan-neck cases are known, but they are very rare. Most London clocks of the time have arched or pagoda tops, figure 6.
Swan necks are predominantly a provincial feature, although it is possible, but unlikely, that London makers custom made features such as the swan-neck pediment for a provincial customer.
The case is highly decorative with blind frets to the hood, trunk and canted corners to the trunk and base. We have fluted columns and carved rosettes to the swan neck. This case is typical of the late 18th century. We know that London clocks tend to be plainer than provincial ones.
This well-made case is of good quality and seems to be of the Lancashire style. So far so good. However, we do have a possible discrepancy. Prior was a London maker and the case suggests a Lancashire style. We need to look in more detail.
The chapter ring is an applied, silvered brass ring, normal for this type of clock, but the features are of an earlier period. This chapter ring has half-hour markers; these had all but disappeared by , and usually before It also has an inner quarters circle, a style of the one-handed clock that was carried over to early two-handed clocks for the benefit of those who could not yet read minutes. This was phased out by about The chapter ring also has half-quarter markers, these were very unusual after first quarter 18th century, figure 8.
The dial plate has wheatear engraving all around the outer edges, figure 9, a feature of the better clocks, but again phased out by first quarter of the 18th century. The dial plate is solid, so it is likely a London dial. Provincial dial plates often have cartwheel type cut-outs behind the chapter ring to save brass.
The spandrels are of the female head type which were used between and , figure The arch has dolphin spandrels. These latest features now suggest that the dial was not made for this clock, and is probably 70 to 80 years older than the movement and case. If we examine the back of the dial we will find several sets of holes, figure Not only was this dial re-drilled to fit this movement, but the chapter ring could also be foreign to the dial.
There are two sets of chapter ring mounting holes. Being observant, we will also see that the striking and chiming winding arbors pierce the chapter ring through its inner edge and into the quarters circle, figure Prior would likely not have done that!
All three winding arbors would have been in the centre section of the dial plate. Examination of the centre section of the dial, which would normally be matted brass on London clocks of the time, shows that this has been cut out and replaced, figure Although carefully done, it was obviously replaced to remove inappropriately positioned winding holes and possibly a name.