Have you ever wondered how to identify an antique clock? If you have you are not alone. Just about everyone with an interest in old clocks has thought about the question at one time or another.
For many years collectors have been fascinated by the subject of old clocks. Some are only interested in clocks made by a specific craftsman or made in a particular country. Others are intrigued by a clock's inner workings, exquisite artwork or beautiful case. Regardless of the focus of a clock collector's interest, knowing how to identify a clock, or where to find the resources to help with its identification, is essential.
Antique clocks, and antique clock identification, cover a wide spectrum of information ranging from the first collectible clock made in the sixteenth century, the lantern clock, to grandfather and grandmother clocks, to the clocks of the early twentieth century. Although the odds of finding an original lantern clock at a local tag sale or auction are practically nil, the possibility of finding a late nineteenth century Ansonia mantle clock or a Gustav Becker weight driven wall clock from the same era are real possibilities. Be careful, there is also the possibility that the clock you find may be a reproduction or a marriage.
Using the Maker's Name or Company Name to Identify an Antique Clock
Throughout the centuries, thousands and thousands of clocks have been made by a countless number of clockmakers and manufacturing companies in numerous styles and designs. In addition to American clocks, there are many that were made in Europe, South America and Asia.
Still there are certain things to look for on a clock to help identify it and the time period when it was made.
Check the clock for the name of the clock maker or company name. On many American-made clocks of the nineteenth century, the full name of the company typically appears somewhere on the timepiece. The name may be:
- Engraved or printed near the center face of the dial
- Engraved or printed around the edge of the dial's face and may be covered by the bezel
- Stamped or engraved on the clock movement's backplate
- A paper label pasted on the back of the clock
- A paper label pasted to the inside of the clock case
However, on some clocks the name that appears on the dial may not be the name of the clockmaker. Sometimes it is the name of the retailer that sold the clock. If it is the retailer's name, finding information on the company may help with identifying and dating the clock.
Many clocks made in countries other than the United States are often unmarked. If they are marked, they generally have only initials or a trademark symbol.
Resources for Clock Maker's Marks and Trademarks
- Although out of print, Karl Kochmann's The Clock and Watch Trademark Index - European Origin: Austria - England - France - Germany - Switzerland is available at Amazon.com and contains 967 pages covering clockmakers' trademarks. This work is one of the most comprehensive books on the subject.
- Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers by F. J. Britten
- Chronometer Makers of the World by T. Mercer
- Dictionary of American Clock and Watch Makers by Kenneth A. Sposato
- Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World by G. H. Baille
Additional Clues to Help With Antique Clock Identification
The following are several additional things that will help with trying to identify or date an antique clock:
- Clock style
- Type of clock glass, stenciling, hand style and fasteners
- Type of strike movement, such as bell, chime rod or gong
- Material of the dial, for example paper, ceramic, wood or tin
- Serial number
More Identification Tips
- American-made shelf clocks typically had wooden movements until the 1820s.
- In the early 1880s Adamantine veneer was used on Seth Thomas mantle clocks to look like wood grains, slate and marble.
- Antique wall regulator clocks were not made until the late eighteenth century.
- In approximately 1896 all clocks imported into the United States had to have the country of origin clearly marked.
- Plywood was not used on clocks before 1905.
Savage and Polite's Antique Clocks Identification and Price Guide
Savage and Polite's Antique Clocks Identification and Price Guide is a valuable resource for identifying antique and vintage clocks. Although parts of the website are available for general viewing, many of the features of this identification and price guide do require a paid subscription. The following is some of the information contained on this website:
- More than 27,488 photographs of antique clocks
- Descriptions and prices of 19,287 antique clocks
- Antique clock wood identification guide with pictures
- Database of 10,175 clockmakers
National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors includes:
- Numerous articles and information on clocks
- British hallmarks and silver marks
- Trademarks and identification marks
- Identification services from the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
- Database of antique clock clockmakers' names and dates
Although there are times when trying to identify an antique clock seems difficult, with the help of the many resources available identification is usually successful.