Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

Antique Clocks – The Collectors Guide

Antique Clocks and Parts Explained. This chapter is not intended to describe the variety of antique clocks most frequently found or how to go about buying them. It’s purpose is to alert collectors to the more common alterations or deceptions which, if they go unnoticed, can cost the buyer dearly.

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Most clocks have the following elements: the dial and its fittings, the movement and the escapement. We shall look at each in turn, before considering particular points about certain familiar types of clock. Dials and Their Fittings Dials fall into the following categories: painted metal, painted wood, enamel on metal, and engraved metal.

Painted Metal Dials This was a popular form of decoration for bracket, longcase and wall clocks of the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries.

It was relatively cheap and is therefore found particularly on provincial clocks. Iron was the metal most commonly used, for reasons of cost. An authentic example will almost certainly show crazing, similar to that found on old oil paintings. If the dial has been cleaned or restored the crazing will be less obvious, but will show as hairline cracks or small indentations respectively.

Most dials bear a signature (probably that of the clock seller, rather than that of the maker) and it is quite possible to alter these to more famous names. The test here is that the quality of the clock, in all its parts, should match the importance of the signature. Local interest can add a premium and so it is not unknown for an appropriate signature to be contrived.

What Parts will you find in an antique of the dial in a Clock

  1. Hands
  2. Motion Work
  3. Winding Arbor
  4. Dial Plate
  5. Front Plate
  6. Barrel
  7. Seatboard
  8. Weight
  9. Pendulum
  10. Back Plate
  11. Main Wheel
  12. Pinions
  13. Centre Arbor
  14. Centre Wheel
  15. Third Wheel
  16. Anchor Escapement
  17. Pillars
  18. Backboard

The image below demonstrate the parts of a simple Clock

Antique Clocks - The Collectors Guide

Painted Wooden Dials

The quality and signature criteria applicable to painted metal dials are equally relevant here. Further, the wood of an authentic dial will certainly have contracted and cracks would show. If they appear on the back of the dial, but not on the face, the dial has been restored.

Enamelled Metal Dials

Make sure that the dial is original to the clock by checking that the dial feet fit into their original fixing holes and that the winding squares are properly centered in the winding holes.

The signature will usually be underneath the glaze and will not therefore show signs of wear. However, certain clocks, especially those of the later 19th century, were retailed by jewellers and retail store, who painted their names on the top of the enamel. The presence of such a signature does not add to the value nor does wear to the signature detract from it.

Engraved Dials

Throughout the 18th century the standard form of dial for better-quality longcase and bracket clocks was engraved brass, often enhanced with applied spandrels and a separate chapter ring.

The backs of metal dials are generally brownish, partly because of oxidization and partly because they were not highly finished. This appearance can be simulated chemically – a deception that is very difficult to spot if it has been done well. Simple brass dials have sometimes been later engraved with scrollwork or flowers, for example, to enhance their charm or value.

If the style of the added decoration is compatible with the period of the clock, this too can be difficult to tell.

A good general rule for initial assessment is that a plain dial goes with a plain-looking case and one would expect to find an elaborate dial ornately cased. Similarly, the spandrels should balance the rest of the engraving and the size of the dial plate.

For example, the more elaborate the half-hour marks on the chapter ring, the more ornate the spandrels should be. It is also important to examine the mounts of brass dials with applied decoration and chapter rings.

The back of the dial should show no signs of additional or blocked holes indicating that the screw fixings have been changed. From about 1700 to about 1740 winding apertures were often ringed.

However, rings have sometimes been added later to cover up damage caused by clumsy winding and, more seriously, they may have been applied to disguise minor movement of the winding holes. When a dial has been transferred from one clock to another and the apertures do not coincide exactly with the winding squares, new holes have to be bored and the old openings blocked or partly blocked (see opposite page for an example of plugged holes).

The metal is then matted flush with a punch and finished off with rings to complete the disguise.

It is very difficult to spot a signature that has been added to a previously unsigned clock. If it conforms in style to the period of the clock the only test is that for later engraving. The only way to alter an existing signature, however, is to file it away and hammer fresh metal forward from the back for re-engraving. When a dial has been signed at the base the back can be examined and signs of hanuner marks or thinning will probably show. If the original signature was on the chapter ring the only sure way of checking is to remove it.

Chapter Rings

Engraved chapter rings were normally silvered, though the silvering may have worn away in part or in whole. Some rings, therefore, are now found polished. Resilvering is a normal part of restoration, but it can disguise a blocked hole. It is therefore important to examine the back of the ring if at all possible, as it is much more difficult to disguise a blocked hole from the reverse.

Chapter rings vary enormously both in the size of the numerals and the decoration of the half-hour marks. The guide is that the decoration should be of the ring form and style for the period of the clock, and to determine this there is no substitute for looking at as many clocks and reading as much about them as you can.

Chapter rings are fixed to the clock by feet that pass through the dial plate, where they are pinned. The feet should be in their original holes and should fill them adequately. Calendar Rings Many longcase and some bracket clocks are fitted with calendar rings that show the date through an aperture. The ring is usually designed to run in rollers, but friction has often taken its toll and the wheel that carries the advancing pin has been removed or had the pin cut off.


Replaced hands do not necessarily detract from the value of a clock. If the hands are of the correct style for the period and of a matching quality with the rest of the clock there should be little cause for concern except on the most elaborate and costly pieces.


It is not often that one finds a movement which has had the planting of the trains altered to fit another dial. However, if the clock has not been cleaned and polished recently it is often possible to detect blocked holes by looking at the back plate. Blocked holes are warning signs, but do not automatically indicate a transferred movement. A clockmaker is unlikely to scrap an entire movement just because he made a small mistake in planting a wheel.

Although a clever restorer will use contemporary brass to make a plug so that there is no (or virtually no) disparity in the colour of the metal, it is possible to see small circles of slight discoloration where the plugs have been inserted. If modern brass has been used the discontinuity in colour will be obvious.

The back plates of bracket clocks made in the 17th and 18th centuries are often engraved (those of longcase clocks are almost invariably plain), so jobbers’ repairs and bad hammering become more difficult to remove. Blowing very hard on the back plate will often reveal signs of damage or blocked holes. Spare holes are another matter. Bracket clocks often had repeating trains which, when they became worn, were sometimes removed rather than repaired.

Removal leaves a series of spare (but legitimate) holes down one side of the plate. Uniformity in the colour of the parts of a movement is a useful guide to originality, though one must be prepared for the replacement of those parts that move the most or the fastest — the fly pinion (or regulator) on the striking train and the escapement. Similarity in style of pillars, arbors and collets can also point towards or away from originality.

Signs of Wear

Certain types of repair, which may have been carried out a long time ago, should be treated with care. In particular there is the clock jobbers’ tendency to try and close worn pivot holes with a punch. The proper technique is to use a bush — but it is often possible to cover up this form of bad workmanship by restoring with a bush.

Bushing of holes, particularly of those whose wheels turn rapidly, is to be expected. Another good sign is a certain degree of ovalizing of the barrel arbor holes — a result of the considerable pull exercised by the weights. Always examine pinions for signs of wear.

This is to be expected as dust and oil become impacted into the teeth, where they form an abrasive sludge which wears away the steel of the pinions. Some wear is a good sign of age, but excessive wear can be very expensive to repair. Bells can crack and need replacement. Old bells have a silvery colour, a sweet sound and they resonate after the strike. The metal of modern bells tends to have a pinkish tinge and the ring is more strident.

Escapements Longcase Clocks

The escapement on a longcase clock will almost certainly be one of two types — anchor or dead beat. The anchor escapement was introduced in the third quarter of the 17th century and continued in general use through to the decline of the longcase clock in the mid-19th century. As it is continually in motion, the steel pallets wear and have often been replaced.

The simplest way to identify a replacement is to look at the brass collet on which the anchor is fixed — in most cases it will be in a different style to the other collets in the clock. One way of replacing worn pallets was to solder slips of spring steel to the faces, but it may not be possible, once these have been removed, for the original pallets to be kept. Dead beat (or Graham) escapements are more rarely found, being generally reserved for regulators and precision time-keepers.

Dead-beat escapements should always be examined carefully for wear as the cost of restoration will be high. It is always desirable to have original weights and pendulum, but many have gone astray, quite legitimately, and their absence does not immediately imply that a clock is “wrong”.

Bracket Clocks

The standard form of escapement for bracket clocks throughout the 17th and 18th centuries was the verge, although in the latter part of the 18th century precision clocks tended to use the anchor with a short pendulum. It was common practice in the 19th century for clockmakers to replace a worn verge escapement with an anchor, which could be bought off the shelf and fitted easily.

This is a perfectly genuine alteration and the argument has raged for years as to whether one should reconvert or leave the modified escapement as part of the clock’s history. Many experts now accept that the returning of a clock to a verge escapement is a permissible, even desirable, restoration, justified by the softer “tick” and the aesthetic improvement. Conversion from verge to anchor is easy to spot. The anchor escapement requires a large, flattish bob which, in the case of a clock with an engraved back plate, will cover a considerable portion of the engraving as it swings.

Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

Antique Clocks and Parts Explained- The Collectors Guide to Style and Value

By contrast, the small bob of the verge balances the design and shape of the backplate much more closely. The verge requires a top and bottom block (potence) to fix the crown wheel. These blocks are removed when the escapement is converted and the holes they occupied are left open or may still be visible if they have been blocked.

On original verge-escapement clocks the pendulum bob was normally drilled out so that a plug of wood could be inserted into which the pendulum rod was screwed. This made a tight fit for the threads of the rod, lessening the likelihood that it would unscrew itself with the motion of the pendulum. Restorers frequently forget this detail.

If a clock has been reconverted recently, there will be little wear to the crown wheel and pallets. Another sign may be that the back cock or keeper, which on an original escapement would have been engraved, does not have decoration of a quality to match the backplate. Most bracket clocks made during the 19th century are fitted with fusees to compensate for the varying force of the main spring as the clock runs down. The cord connecting the fusee to the main spring was usually of gut; less frequently it was a chain, constructed like a miniature bicycle chain.

If the clock was designed for gut lines, the grooves will be semicircular – chains ran in square-section grooves. If broken chains have been replaced with gut the wrong shape of the groove will be obvious. Recently, gut has begun to be replaced by wire, but this tends to scratch or cut the barrels and it is always worth checking for this carefully. Nylon- coated fishing line is a more satisfactory replacement. Badly worn gut in a fusee train should always be replaced immediately: if a cord breaks it will release massive power from the mainspring and this could result in serious damage to the movement.

Longcase Clocks

The cases of longcase clocks were made by cabinetmakers, and therefore should be assessed as antique furniture. What particularly concerns us here, however, is establishing whether the clock belongs with the case. In a small group of exceptionally rare and valuable 17th-century clocks, the hood was originally of the rising type, but due to the inconvenience of this design, they were often converted to a conventional opening door. Signs of this conversion will not appear on any modestly priced longcase clock.

The dial should be an adequate fit inside the mask of the hood door, which should neither conceal the decoration of the dial nor reveal its edge. When you remove the hood, examine the seatboard on which the movement rests. Ideally the seatboard will be original, showing age in the timber compatible with the rest of the case, but seatboards do have a heavy weight to carry and some have broken and therefore been replaced, quite legitimately.

However, any indication of a non-original seatboard should immediately raise suspicions. The movement of a long case clock is usually secured to the seatboard by hooks that pass over the bottom pillars of the movement or by bolts drilled up through the seatboard into the pillars. If the movement and the seatboard belong together there should be only one set of aligning holes, whichever fixing method was used.

A seatboard should be neither clumsily thick nor apparently too thin to support the weight of the movement. If the board is raised on blocks it is possible that there has been an alteration. Seatboards were normally nailed or screwed straight down into the cheeks; therefore any holes in the seatboard should have corresponding holes in the trunk side panels below.

A line was often scored across the backboard when the original seatboard was fitted. If the existing seatboard does not conceal or coincide with this line, it is quite possible that it has been moved to accommodate a transferred movement. backboard can be revealing in another way. The one-second pendulum has a virtually standard length of 1m/39Y2in.

If the pendulum has knocked against the back or the sides for any length of time, there will be scrape marks. If these marks do not correspond with the present position of the bob the likelihood is that the seat board has been moved up or down to accommodate a transferred movement.

Wall Clocks

The earliest form of English wall clock is the lantern, dating from c. 1620. Their age, simple construction and desirability mean that they are one of the most faked types of clock. Early lantern clocks were fitted with balance wheel escapements, but surviving examples are almost unknown. In general, any lantern clock with a balance wheel has had its escapement restored.

Many early lantern clocks were converted to short pendulum verge escapements later in the 17th century and were often further converted to long pendulum anchor escapements at a later date. Redundant holes in the top plate are the usual evidence of such conversions. Lantern clocks originally ran on woven ropes, which were threaded over spikes on the ratchet wheels.

They were often converted to run on chains; if so the ratchet wheels will have had their points filed down at a later date. Redundant holes in the top plate are the usual evidence of such conversions. Lantern clocks originally ran on woven ropes, which were threaded over spikes on the ratchet wheels.

Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

Antique Clocks – Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

They were often converted to run on chains; if so, the ratchet wheels will have had their points filed down. Pierced frets at the top of lantern clocks have sometimes been damaged and required replacement. These frets are cast in one piece with their feet: if a replacement has been fitted its feet may not match the original holes, which will be detectable.

Any signature that appears at the base of the front fret should be checked for authenticity. In recent years the increasing value of lantern clocks has led to the production of many counterfeits, some using movements taken out of simple 30-hour country longcase clocks. Others, such as the large number of examples signed “Thomas Moore, Ipswich”, are brand new, though given the appearance of age by being chemically treated or buried in earth for a while.

Act of Parliament Clocks – Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

These large wall antique clocks take their name from the Act of 1797 which put a sales tax on clocks, though similar items had been made since the early 18th century. They were made for public places, such as inns, and were often lacquered. Recently a number of copies have been made that are very convincing at first sight, though a close inspection will often reveal inappropriate and inferior materials, such as plywood.

Dial Clocks

Dial clocks were introduced into Britain in the mid-18th century and were popular until the early part of this century. Although they are not much faked yet, early examples are now sufficiently valuable to merit careful scrutiny. The first examples had painted wood or engraved and silvered dials similar to those of longcase and bracket clocks. They were usually signed by a London maker.

The movements had short pendulum verge escapements With a fusee in the train. The cases were generally a rich, dark mahogany with a broad turned bezel and a substantial wood or brass ring securing the glass. The hands were of pierced blued steel or, very occasionally, brass, and were similar in design to those of contemporary bracket and longcase antique clocks.

Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

During the early part of the 19th century the number of examples increased dramatically and the silvered dial passed out of fashion, being supplanted by painted metal — usually tin. Examples do exist in which original painted dials have been exchanged for engraved, signed, silvered or brass dials to give the impression of an earlier date. Later in the 19th century these clocks changed very little in detail, but just enough to make them less valuable.

The dials and glass became flat and the brass bezel less substantial. Hands became plainer, sometimes with simple spade ends; minute hands might have no decorative shaping at all. Check that the antique clocks belongs in the case by examining the retaining screws in the edge Of the dial. All three or four of them should align with holes in the frame and there should be no redundant holes.

Skeleton Clocks – Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

There is no simple guide to establishing whether a skeleton clock is genuine, made up from old parts or an outright fake. Many examples were produced during the 19th century as it was common practice for provincial clockmakers to contrive a skeletonized clock as a window display. These clocks were readily made up by taking the wheels from an old dial or bracket clock and replanting them within a set of pierced, skeletonized plates. Such clocks often had painted metal dials, whereas their more sophisticated contemporaries were likely to have their dials engraved and silvered.

Skeleton clocks are as easy to make up now as they were then, and their increase in value has made it a commercially viable proposition to produce them. Timepiece antique clocks are the most often faked. All the wheels of superior skeleton clocks are finely pierced, normally with five or six crossings. Bracket Antique Clocks rarely had more than four crossings as the wheel work was not on display. The under-dial wheels driving the hands of a cased clock are almost never pierced, though the copier with an eye for detail will rectify this when using them to make up a skeleton clock.

The base can sometimes reveal more than the wheel work. A new wooden base should always be regarded with suspicion. Odd-looking feet supporting the clock frame should be examined, as should the studding that holds the Antique Clocks to the base: a common sign of replacement or alteration is the fitting of over-large feet to add height to a clock that has been placed under a non-original dome. Skeleton clocks are not usually signed on the movement because of lack of space. When a signature appears engraved on a plaque fitted to the base it is very important to establish that the entire assembly belongs together.

Carriage Clocks – Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

Carriage Antique Clocks were introduced early in the 19th century and are traditionally held to be modelled on the pendules d’officiers used by Napoleon’s commanders. It was the perfection of the lever escapement and the low cost of manufacture, combined with their exceptional accuracy, that led to the mass production of these clocks. English examples are rare by comparison with their French counterparts, of which hundreds and thousands were made between 1850 and 1920.

More recently several French and Swiss companies have recreated them, not as forgeries but simply as copies of a continuously popular style. They are obviously new, although a small number are around that have been “aged” by dirtying the case and the movement. The clock is very likely to be modern if the dial, which should be enamel and very smooth, is thin and slightly corrugated, with the white very white and the black very black. Some clocks are stamped with serial numbers on the back plate, and if these are composed of more than five digits the clock is unlikely to be old.

Beware Of alterations to carriage clocks. A recent modification has been the replacement of the side glasses with modern electrotyped metal or porcelain panels. They are inferior in quality, being decorated in acrylic or cellulose paints which have a soft and greasy appearance.

How do I identify my antique clock?

Look for Engravings or prints near the center face of the dial.
Engraving or prints around the edge of the dial’s face and may be covered by the bezel.
Look on the backplate for Stamped or engravement
A paper label pasted on the back of the clock.

How old does a clock have to be to be vintage?

Antique clocks should be at least older than a century. Clocks manufactured less than an century ago will be considered as vintage

What is the difference between a grandmother and a grandfather clock?

Grandmother and Grandfather clocks are both longcase pendulum clock., Grandfather clocks are generally taller than grandmother clocks, measuring in between 6 and 7 feet, while grandmother clocks typically measure between 5 and 6 feet.

How many types of long clocks are there?

There are three movement types: 

Chain Driven Clocks

Cable Driven Clocks

Quartz or Battery driven Clocks

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Antique Clocks and Parts Explained

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