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Antique Grandfather Clock

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Posted September 27, 2012

Antique grandfather clocks have many charms. Having an antique grandfather clock or antique floor clock in your home or office is like having a living piece of history as part of your decor. Depending upon the age and provenance of the antique grandfather or grandmother clock, given that some grandfather clocks go back to the 1600s, and we in fact sold one from the late 1600s several years ago, the grandfather clock could have been owned in some cases by 10, 20, 30 or even 40 generations of owners. These antique grandfather clocks are true family heirlooms. If only they could talk, who knows what tales of both family and world history they could tell or might have observed.

The earliest antique grandfather clocks were made in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as well as the Black Forest region of Germany, Austria, Holland, Switzerland and other parts of Western Europe. No doubt some additional countries also had additional pioneers and makers in the grandfather clocks and floor standing regulator and floor clocks industry, also known back then and still today as tall-case and longcase clocks.

What are the differences between today’s floor clocks or grandfather clocks and those made, say, 75 to 150 years ago? And why do buyers of grandfather clocks, at least in the USA, tend to gravitate more towards brand new grandfather clocks made by makers such as Howard Miller Clocks, Ridgeway Clocks, Hermle Clocks and Kieninger Clocks? The grandfather clock purchase decision criteria that we have observed are multifaceted. Buyers of brand new clocks tend to favor the convenience of purchasing a brand new grandfather clock, after aggressive shopping for grandfather clock discounts and grandfather clocks on sale, where the chance of any special maintenance or repair or restoration or malfunction is essentially close to zero if purchasing a high-end grandfather clock, such as a Howard Miller Grandfather Clock or one in the line of Ridgeway Grandfather Clocks.

So convenience and knowing what you are getting seem to be one driving force. Others are that newer clocks tend to come with lots of bells and whistles, most of which did not even exist in antique grandfather clocks, and some others which would make such antique clocks prohibitively expensive today. Grandfather clock chimes may be the best single example, with most high-end grandfather clocks being made today having Westminster Chimes, and frequently being triple chime grandfather clocks also including chimes such as Whittington, St Michaels, and even Ave Maria and Ode to Joy clock chimes. Working moon phase dials are another plus. Illuminated dials and cabinets did not exist until recent years. The same is true of the automatic night shut-off chime option built into many of the nicer floor clocks offered today as brand new grandfather clocks.

Grandfather clock cases made today can certainly rival many of those made in the past. In fact, many of today’s clocks are modeled after some of the nicest traditional and historical grandfather clocks from years gone by.

Having said that, there is something to be said both for the individual handcrafted antique clocks which may truly be housed in amazing grandfather clock cases. At the same time, today there are available contemporary grandfather clocks which have a design, look and feel one would never find in an antique grandfather clock.

We addressed chimes, but one of the biggest differences between antique grandfather clocks and today’s high-end grandfather clocks is in the volume not so much of the chimes, because most antique grandfather clocks did not have chimes, but rather the volume of the hourly gong and strike. Antique clocks, and even many vintage clocks, have a much much higher decibel level or volume on average. The reason is relatively straightforward. Historically, people relied on their grandfather clocks to know the time, and they wanted to hear it unmistakably and throughout their house, within reason. Today’s grandfather clock owners frequently have their grandfather clocks in their living rooms, and not only are their other clocks and watches, but there is their new Apple iPhone 5 and large Sony or Samsung flat-screen television, not to mention the time shown on their personal computers or Macs, or xBox or Playstation in the room as well, all competing for attention. So the makers of grandfather clock movements, Hermle Clocks and Kieninger Clocks in particular being the last 2 remaining makers, both of them German, of grandfather clock movements who make them in any large quantity (and worth having in a floor clock). So this is an important difference.

There will always be a place for antique grandfather clocks and antique floor clocks and antique grandmother clocks. But buyers of these clocks really need to do their homework to make sure they are buying what they think they are buying, that they know its advantages and disadvantages, are are not taken for a ride by an unscrupulous seller or antiques dealer. Many antique grandfather clocks are what’s known as marriages, where the movement of one clock has been put in the case of another. This drastically lowers the collectible value of any grandfather clock. Another risk is buying into a money pit, where more and more work may be required to get the clock working to a satisfactory level. This risk also drives many individuals to but only brand new grandfather clocks.

Do you have an opinion about new vs antique grandfather clocks? Please feel free to leave any comments and open a discussion thread. As we deal in both antique clocks of all kinds, including wall clocks and mantel clocks, and even tower clocks and street clocks, we are open to all perspectives, and want to keep a healthy dialogue and marketplace for collectors of antiques as well as those more focused on interior design and decor.

Antique grandfather clocks floor clock by Jonas Pollard of Crediton England in Mahogany, circa 1800

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As Of: 02/27/2024