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Grandfather Clocks Automata

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Posted May 8, 2012

Moving pieces including figurines or ships or other parts can make a grandfather clock truly magical. The writer of this blog post is reminded of the amazing lock still in the Central Park Zoo, which every hour plays a wondrous chime and has different bronze animals rotate around the base of the clock. As a child, I found that clock truly amazing, and now, I don’t want to say exactly how many years later, I still find that magical timepiece, perhaps best termed a tower clock with automata, a marvel to behold.

Over the last hundreds of years, makers of some of the finest timepieces have created works of art, with everything from grandfather clocks to wall clocks to mantel clocks to pocket watches which have moving parts and pieces. Perhaps some of the most popular, not too surprisingly, have been erotic pocket watches, as they are generally termed. If not familiar with them, one could guess what some of the main candidates for the moving pieces might be on those watches. But that is not the focus of clock and watch history here.

Some wonder clocks will, for instance, have a ship that moves or rocks back and forth, sometimes but not always tied to the movement of the grandfather clock pendulum, and in that case generally moving in the opposite direction. Some clocks have moving planets and some feature the Earth’s moon rotating.

Over many centuries, grandfather clocks and other amazing timepieces – giant, large and small – have featured moving animals, including dogs and cats with tails wagging and mouths opening or eyes moving or tongues coming in and out. Clocks with skulls and animals, including owls, show eyes which may not only rotate back and forth, but may actually move to look at the time as it changes, using the eye movements as the clock’s time indicator. Music boxes and nested bells are not unusual in some of the more elaborate clocks automata.

Even one alarm clock, which is pictured below, and was made in the 1940s, shows that “the early bird gets the worm”, a clever alarm clock theme, and has the bird bobbing back up and down every second as the worm moves up and down toward the birds mouth.

Rotating moonphase dials or moon dials on grandfather clocks are another wonderful form of what might be termed lower tech automata. The dials make one complete rotation every 29 1/2 days, in keeping with the actual lunar cycle. In ancient times, these moondial or moonphase grandfather clocks were used by farmers to help them to plan not only for the planting of crops, but also for the harvesting of the fruits of their labors.

Mid 1900s Automata Clock Alarm Time Early Bird Worm

Even though this clock shows a still shot, one can see from the time delay aspect of the photo that both the bird, especially its tail, and the worm, have moved in this very short period of time.

We think that clocks with automata have a great future. We are especially excited about grandfather clocks and mantle clocks in this regard. If grandfather clock shoppers, or those seeking mantel clocks, including corporate gift and promotional products, have any ideas for specific clocks with an automata component, we would love to hear from you about any and all of your wall clock, mantel clock, grandfather clocks, alarm clock, wristwatch, or any other specific type of suggestion or request.

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As Of: 06/18/2024