A Simple Guide to Antique Mantel Clocks

Antique mantel clocks have been around for over two centuries, and for good reasons. They not only tell time. Also known as shelf clocks, they are breathtaking ornamental pieces that have graced all styles and sizes of homes since the 17th century. Moreover, they are prevailing pieces of the past that are unlike anything else.

For collectors and enthusiasts alike, owning an antique mantel clock is like owning a slice of history. If you’re starting to appreciate the beauty of such timeless décor, then you’ve come to the right place.

Today, we’re going to tell you more about the history of antique mantel clocks, what their defining features are and how to care for them. After all, they are a unique investment worth passing from one generation to the next.

History of Antique Mantel Clocks

The earliest clocks were built by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. However, mantel clocks surfaced during the mid-17th century in France, as descendants of the French Regency bracket clocks. They were initially invented with practicality and beauty in mind — an incredibly ornate piece that must sit somewhere visible and small enough to be placed by the fireplace, shelf or mantel. Here, most mantel clocks were made with gilt metal, wood and porcelain.

It was ten years after that the English clockmakers picked up on mantel clocks. Compared to the French shelf clocks, the English concentrated more on the intricate mechanism and quality of movement. It comes as no surprise that the common folk couldn’t afford such clocks considering the level of craftsmanship that goes with each piece. It wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that these antique mantel clocks would become affordable and be seen in more homes.

In the forerunners of American mantel clock-making were Connecticut clockmaker Eli Terry, along with Silas Hoadley and Seth Thomas. It didn’t take long until these beautiful ornaments went into mass production, only to become rarity once again in the modern times.

Famous Mantel Clock Manufacturers

Below are the some of the popular mantel clock manufacturers:

  • Seth Thomas
  • Ansonia
  • Waterbury
  • Simon Willard
  • Ingraham
  • Eli Terry

Distinguishing Antique Mantel Clocks

Antique and vintage clocks are different. Antique mantel clocks are at least 100 years old. Anything younger than that is considered vintage. Moreover, antique mantel clocks shouldn’t be confused with “second hand” or “used”. Buyers and collectors must also be vigilant with replicas made from originals, which are prevalent today.

As for the defining features of an antique mantel clock, it is capable of telling time and sounding off without the influence of outside forces. They are completely mechanical and are wound regularly. Furthermore, the integrity of its mainspring distinguishes it from the rest, as well as the access of the movement found in the back panel.

These antique mantel clocks were adorned with figurines, sculptures and pearls. They were heavy, encased in thick wood and at times finished with moldings and sealed with a gold plate at the back that identify the maker’s mark. Furthermore, the components of these clocks are as antique as the rest of itself. This means the rarity of its parts and the need for professional maintenance account for the clock’s authenticity.

Some of the most common types of mantel antique clocks are carriage, atmos, steeple, tambour, torsion, skeleton and decorative clocks.

Caring for Antique Mantel Clocks

Antique mantel clocks are fragile and require a whole new level of care and maintenance. They withstand the years but that doesn’t mean they are invincible. That’s why owning one is not just earning bragging rights. It’s a responsibility to ensure the clock’s longer life span.

Here are important things you need to keep in mind when caring for mantel antique clocks.

  1. Inspect the parts

First, inspect all the parts upon receiving your clock. Open the back panel and examine the gears and inner pivots. Also check if the movement and mechanism are all working properly. Next, check the mainspring and suspension spring. See if they are working and if not, replace them with the right components. Do this right and you’ll see that the movement is restored once you replace the spring. Keep in mind that it should be aligned into the correct grooves within the clock.

If you have experience cleaning the clock, go ahead and give it an overhaul with the proper cleaning solution and re-lubricate with clock oil. Ideally, antique mantel clocks need to be oiled every 3 years. Otherwise, bring it to a professional so s/he can do the work for you.

  1. Prevent careless and unexpected movements

Carriage clocks have handles. However, we strongly suggest not to hold on to the handles if you need to carry or transport it. Considering how delicate your clock is now, you must hold it under the base. Otherwise, such careless and unnecessary movement can ultimately damage the inner makings of the clock.

Make sure the pendulum is secured with the clip provided or the spring clamp most English antique mantel clocks come with. Otherwise, carefully unhook the pendulum and wedge it in scrunched paper.

  1. Protect it from direct heat

When exposed directly to a working fireplace or under the sunlight, the clock’s components are bound to warp. Plus, the heat will damage the exterior. When this happens, you’ve ultimately compromised the quality and functionality of the piece.

Ensure that they are displayed and stored somewhere safe and secure. Occasionally check to see if everything is working fine, ensuring external elements won’t damage it.

  1. Level your clock

Experts will tell you to put your mantel clock on a level surface. Sure, this does the trick. However, not all antique mantel clocks withstand the test of time and other external factors quite easily. Their cases warp, which means some adjustments may be made.

You can do so by relying on the pendulum. Place your clock on the surface and listen to the tic-toc sound. Tilt your clock slightly to the left or right side. Does it sound more balanced? Once there’s a more balanced ticking, shim the bottom of the clock at that angle and let it stay there.

  1. Always with gentleness

Antique mantel clocks have hundreds of years weighing down their backs. They’ve experienced a lot to get to this point, now in your hands and ready to be cared for. The best you can do is to always be gentle with it. Whether you’re positioning, transporting or showing it off, think of it as a newborn baby.

These clocks are priced incredibly high. The last thing you want is spoiling it with carelessness. Do what you can to ensure its longevity and you’ll be passing on an unmatched family heirloom soon enough.

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