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Judith Miller

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Grandfather Clocks

  • Judith Miller
  • 08 Sep 2010

Longcase by NealThe Longcase clock, or Grandfather clock as it more commonly known, first appeared in the form we recognize today in 1670 when a William Clement discovered that a longer Pendulum was more accurate at keeping time. Since this period, longcase clocks have become extremely desirable household pieces, often much-loved and passed down through generations.

Longcase by TompionSophistication and quality of the mechanism are crucial in determining the price of longcase clocks. Clocks that are designed to be wound less often, such as those with 8-day movements, tend to be more valuable than examples that need more frequent winding, including 30-hour clocks. Additional elements, such as automatons and other interesting dials and instruments add appeal, as do Strike/silent features, which allow striking mechanisms to be turned off at night. Penny moons have become increasingly desirable over the past few years. These small dials were used to trace the phases of the moon – essential at a time when overnight travels had to be completed without street lighting and under the constant threat of the highwayman!

Longcase with penny moon Appearance is also crucial and fine dials or ornate Marquetry cases can push up the value of longcase clocks. Similarly, area of manufacture is important and clocks originating from Edinburgh and London, cities known for high quality clockmaking, often prove to be good investments. Rare and early pieces are popular, particularly clocks from the 'golden age' of British clockmaking, dating from c1670-1730. Whilst a typical late 18th century longcase clock may be worth around £1,000-2,000, a 17th century walnut and marquetry unrestored eight-day clock with strong Provenance could be worth as much as £30,000-40,000. Pieces by the likes of master clockmakers such as Tompion and Quare are also sought after.

Examples at the lower end of the market, particularly clocks in poor condition or pieces in need of major restoration, are achieving more modest sums. The value of a clock can be reduced by as much as three-quarters if it shows unsympathetic restoration. Mass-produced pieces and poor 'marriages' should also generally be avoided, although attractive longcases with contemporary married elements can realize very healthy prices. It usually pays to buy from someone who has a good knowledge of antique clocks.