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Buying a Grandfather Clock

Updated on March 24, 2013
Buying a grandfather clock
Buying a grandfather clock | Source

Hickory dickory dock

The mouse ran up the clock;

The clock struck one

The mouse ran down;

Hickory dickory dock.

-old English nursery rhyme

A grandfather clock is a special piece of furniture; beautiful, functional, and often a link to the past. In their heyday grandfather clocks were found in front halls, parlours, sitting rooms, waiting rooms, and dining rooms across Europe and North America. Most often made of dark woods such as cherry, mahogony, walnut, or oak, a grandfather clock was a sign of material comfort as well as a means to measure the half hours and hours of a family's day. The dawning of the digital age saw the gradual decline in popularity of grandfather or longcase clocks in favour of more streamlined, modern, and electrical timepieces, though modern styles are being designed and produced in small numbers. There is, however, a growing market for both antique and vintage clocks and reproductions made in the traditional styles. Prior to heading out to an antique store, clock store, or auction, familiarize yourself with the styles of grandfather clocks to find the perfect one for your home.

History of the Grandfather Clock

Grandfather clocks have been measuring our days since the mid 1600s. Most likely invented in Holland, the first grandfather clocks were shorter and wider than the ones we know today.  The early grandfather clocks were buit for function rather than decoration, and were very plain in appearance.  The clock face or dial was made of plain brass.  By the 1770s the plain brass dial was being replaced with a "painted face" dial, which allowed for a variety of decorative techniques, and designs to be incorporated.  Some clocks show the phases of the moon, or have a miniature pastoral scene above the dial.

In their most popular period, mechanical grandfather clocks were most commonly available in two versions; the eight-day clock, which only had to be wound once every eight days, and the thirty-hour clock, which required winding every thirty hours. The eight-day clock was more expensive, and clockmakers soon found a market for thirty-hour clocks that had a fake keyhole indicating that they were the more expensive (and prestigious) thirty-hour clock. Most clocks made today are eight-day clocks. Modern electrical grandfather clocks are also available and do not need to be wound.  If you are considering investing thousands of dollars in an antique or vintage grandfather clock, consider where you will take your clock for the cleaning, repairing, and servicing of it's internal mechanisms.  This is highly specialized work that needs an experienced clockmaker.

Grandmother clock
Grandmother clock | Source

Styles of Grandfather Clocks

Grandfather clocks range from six to eight feet in height.

Grandmother Clocks are between five and six feet tall, and tend to have a slimmer case. Most of them were built in the 1920s. A decade later Granddaughter Clocks were developed as an even smaller version. At under five feet tall granddaughter clocks were more suitable to the smaller rooms of homes that were being built at the time. Grandfather Wall Clocks are simply grandfather clocks in a greatly reduced size; they have a crown or top, a short pendulum in a short case, and hang on a wall.

Grandfather clocks chime to indicate the hour, the half-hour, and in some cases, the quarter hour. Antique and vintage Grandfather Clocks generally fall into one of two style categories: Comtoise or Bornholm.

Comtoise style grandfather clock.
Comtoise style grandfather clock. | Source

Comtoise Clocks

Comtoise Clocks refer to a style of grandfather clock which originated in France in 1680. They are easily recognized by the ornately carved wooden pendulum case (a sheath to protect the delicate metal pendulum), and most particularly by their rounded shapes. Comtoise Clocks are sometimes called Morbier or Morez clocks. They were mass produced and very popular in the mid-to-late 1800s, and found homes in farmhouses across France and the rest of Europe. They are still keeping time in many of these homes today.

Bornholm Clocks

 Bornholm Clocks originated in Denmark, and are identified by their long, simple boxy case.  They get their name from the pendulum, which was made on the Danish island of Bornholm.  Many of these clocks were produced in Denmark for two hundred years, with production finally ceasing in the early 1990s due to waning popularity.

Song - My Grandfather's Clock

Flat-topped clock.
Flat-topped clock. | Source
Bonnet topped clock.
Bonnet topped clock. | Source

Grandfather Clock Trivia

  • The name Grandfather Clock came from a popular song written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work entitled "Grandfather's Clock".
  • HOROLOGY is the science of measuring time and the art of making timepieces.  There are horology institutions all over the world.


Grandfather Clocks: Identifying the Style by the Top or Crown

Grandfather clocks can be identified by their case type, as noted above, or by their crown type. The crown refers to the style of the clock face itself, and it's surrounding frame, or crown. There are four basic crown types of antique grandfather clocks:

  • Bonnet Topped grandfather clocks are easily recognized by their scrolled wooden decorative framing around the clock dial - similar to a woman's nineteenth century bonnet.
  • Split Pediment grandfather clocks are also known as Swans Neck clocks due to their elegant style of a rounded crown perched delicately on a slightly rounded longcase.
  • Flat Top grandfather clocks have a flat top or squared off appearance.
  • Round Top grandfather clocks are a wide ranging category of round or half-circle crowns topping a traditional box style long case.


Buying a Grandfather Clock

There are many good quality new and used grandfather clocks for sale that suit a variety of budgets and styles. In addition to style and size of clock, look for the best quality clock you can afford. Remember that a grandfather clock's purpose is to be an accurate time keeper as well as a beautiful decorative piece for your home. The inner mechanisms or movements of a grandfather clock are as varied in quality as are their outer casings. Some of the best known names of grandfather clock parts or movements include Hermle, Urgos, and Kieninger. The name or serial number should be noted on a metal plate inside the case of the clock, possibly on the pendulum itself.

Bulova, Sligh, German Hermle, Ridgeway, Kieninger and Howard Miller are all popular names of grandfather clock companies. England, the United States, Germany and Switzerland are all well-represented as grandfather clock designers and manufacturers, though the best manufacturers of the internal workings are generally thought to be German companies. Check the clock face for a company name, and open the door to the long case to inspect the interior for serial numbers, manufacturers' names, and any identifying marks or dates when inspecting a clock.


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    • profile image

      horology247 2 years ago

      A longcase clock is a welcome addition to any room, it gives a calming aura from a time long gone by, they need quite a of bit of setting up and tlc but they are worth it.

    • profile image

      Wall Clocks Large  6 years ago


      I love the information on grandfathers clocks. These types of clocks have such a nice design and I love them.

      The wooden and also dark wooden style looks so great!

      Thanks for the hub!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Hi avamum,

      I've always loved Granfather clocks but sadly have never owned one.

      However I loved this well presented and informative hub.

      Thank you for sharing,

      Take care