There are many different styles and designs of antique American clocks, ranging from the fancy figural clocks of the Ansonia Company, to the smooth curved lines of a Seth Thomas tambour clock.
The Attraction of Antique Clocks
There is something about antique American clocks that makes many antique enthusiasts and clock collectors stop in their tracks and fall in love at first sight. Perhaps it is the beauty of their cases, the mystery of their swinging pendulums or the history of their delicate escapements. Whatever it is that attracts people to these widely diverse horological objects has made antique clocks one of the most desirable antique collectibles of all times.
American Clocks and Clockmakers of the Eighteenth Century
It is believed that prior to the eighteenth century the clocks found in American buildings were actually made in Europe. As clockmakers crossed the ocean and settled in the New World they opened shops in areas where wealthy townspeople would buy their handcrafted timepieces such as:
- New York
- Rhode Island
Most American clocks made in the eighteenth century were long case clocks, now commonly called grandfather clocks. Based on European models, the clocks were crafted by skilled clockmakers including:
- Samuel Bispham
- Simon Willard
- Seth Thomas
- Daniel Burlap
- Chauncey Jerom,
- David Rittenhouse
- Thomas Harland
- Abel Cottey
Nineteenth Century American Clocks and Clockmakers
Often referred to as the Golden Age of the American Clock Industry, the nineteenth century was a time of big changes. Within the first few years of the century several major changes occurred in the American clock making industry.
- Clockmakers began making their own designs following the lead of clockmaker Thomas Harland. Harland began creating his own designs in the later decades of the eighteenth century.
- Wooden clock movements replaced the more costly brass movements making clocks affordable for many more people.
- In 1815, Eli Terry, a Connecticut clockmaker, joined forces with Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley and began manufacturing mass-produced clocks. The success of mass-produced clocks spurred the beginning of hundreds of Connecticut clock companies.
- In 1802, Aaron and Simon Willard designed the banjo clock, which became one of the most popular clocks of the century. Produced by a number of different clockmakers with the original name of Improved Timepiece, the banjo clocks popularity lasted for more than sixty years.
Well known American clockmakers and clock companies of the nineteenth century include:
- Simon Willard
- Eli Terry
- Seth Thomas
- Elnathan Taber
- Chauncey Jerome
- Elias Inghram
- William Gilbert
- Daniel Balch
- Levi Hutchins
- Seril Dodge
- David Wood
- The Sessions Clock Company
- The Waterbury Company
- Herschede Hall Clock
- Chelsea Clock Company
- The Ansonia Clock Company
- New Haven Clock Company
Throughout the nineteenth century hundreds of clock designs, styles and variations were produced. However, most antique clock collectors and professionals place the clocks into four major categories. Within each category are many clock styles and designs.
- Antique American grandfather clocks are also known as long case clocks, tall clocks, hall clocks and floor clocks. Ranging in height from five to nine feet, long case clocks were very popular in the late seventeenth century. Most American long case clocks were made in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
- Antique American wall clocks were very similar in design to long case clocks, but they were smaller and hung on a wall. Examples of antique American wall clocks include the regulator, banjo, lyre, wag-on-wall, school house and double dial.
- Antique American mantel clocks, also called shelf clocks, were the first really affordable clocks of the times. Because the clocks were affordable, they were very popular. A great number of families were able to buy a clock for their fireplace mantle or shelf. Examples of antique American mantle clocks include ogee, tambour, steeple, glass domed and black mantle clocks.
- Antique American cuckoo clocks are considered novelty clocks. They were most popular during the late nineteenth century into the early part of the twentieth century.