Grandfather clocks are freestanding, weight-driven pendulum clocks and are commonly six to eight feet tall.
Brief history and background
Also referred to as long-case clocks, floor clocks and tall-case clocks, grandfather clocks often feature intricate decoration on the hood, which frames the clock-face, or dial.
The 1876 song, “My Grandfather’s Clock”, is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary for being responsible for the term being applied to the long-case clock. Among the long-case clock classifications are ‘grandfather’, ‘grandmother’ and ‘granddaughter’ clocks. Although there is no technical distinction to specify these different terms, it is widely acknowledged that it denotes their difference in height. The majority of grandfather clocks are striking clocks, which refers to the fact that they sound the time of each hour or fraction of an hour.
During the late seventeenth century, the concept of the pendulum was structured by Dutch mathematician and horologist, Christiaan Huygens. However, English clock maker, William Clement is often credited as the creator of the grandfather clock in 1680. Clement invented the anchor escapement, a mechanism which allows a clock’s wheel to advance by each swing of a pendulum, thus making the hands of the clock to visibly move forward.
Guide for collectors
The earliest grandfather clocks were exclusively made in London and were constructed upon commission for nobility or royalty. The most desirable clocks for collectors were produced from 1670 to 1730, which was at the peak of clock development and design.
Exact figures of how many grandfather clocks were made during this period are inexact, however, example of clocks made by the early pioneers such as Joseph Knibb and George Graham, have been sold through Sotheby’s for around £50,000 (see below).
The most valuable vintage grandfather clocks are constructed out of exotic imports, such as ebony, or highly figured walnut. Additionally, the more expensive clock faces, or dials, are beautifully engraved and were painted by skilled specialists.
Regardless of their quality or age, the value of vintage grandfather clocks is regimented by their condition. Most grandfather clocks that appear on the market are at least two-hundred years old and have at some point in their lives been restored at least once. However, for every trained and professional restorer, there are a dozen amateurs who will compromise the examples authenticity and value. Collectors are urged to seek professional help if they consider purchasing a grandfather clock that is in poor condition.
The internet is inundated with online grandfather clock dealers that stock both vintage and contemporary models. Antiqueclockstoday.com often stock grandfather clocks made by the Emperor Clock Company and prices range from $200 to $700. There are also a number of online forums and discussion boards which are a great source for collectors to find information regarding rare models and good restorers. Both Christie’s and Bonhams regularly auction grandfather clocks, and depending on their age and make, can sell from £5,000 to hundred and thousands of pounds.
In September 2010, a Chippendale carved walnut grandfather clock was sold at the New York branch of Christie’s for $386,500. The timepiece was a remarkable example of collaboration from three of America’s greatest eighteenth century clockmakers. Signed by renowned clockmaker, Edward Duffield, the clock was carved and designed by fellow Philadelphian craftsman, Martin Jugiez and Nicholas Bernard.
In September 2007, at Sotheby’s, London, a George Graham red walnut grandfather clock, made in London, circa 1735, was sold for £48,500.