About grandfather clocks

Early clocks

Long before the domestic grandfather / longcase / tallcase clocks were made, Blacksmiths were making great iron church clocks as early as the 1400’s. These early makers realised that by travelling from one part of the country to another, they could make a good living by making and repairing these clocks, so some of the  earliest records of the clock industry are to be found in church records. As soon as grandfather / longcase / tallcase clocks came into being and people wanted them in their own homes, watch and clockmakers found plenty of work in their own areas. The names of these people  are recorded in local directories and it is from these directories that we are able to build up a list of makers of  watches and grandfather / longcase / tallcase clocks and the people employed by them. We can find out the towns that they worked in, the streets where they had their businesses, and a good idea as to when they were in operation. Other references would be local newspapers, records of wills, local libraries and museums.

About grandfather clocks

Most antique grandfather clocks tend to fall into two categories, 8 day and 30 hour,although you will occasionally come across the exception that has a one month,three month,six month or even a twelve month  movement. Normally, because of the extra gearing involved, a clock that goes for a month or more will wind anti-clockwise whereas an eight day clock winds clockwise.

A standard 8 day grandfather clock has two winding holes in the dial to facilitate its two weights and is wound with a key. As you look at the clock from the front,the weight on the left hand side is responsible for making it strike and the weight on the right hand side is responsible for making it go. It is my belief that an 8 day clock is really a one week clock which allows you an extra day to wind it should you forget or are not available to wind it at the designated time  on the designated weekly day. In addition to the brass or painted dial,antique grandfather clocks will often have other features like seconds and date dials. Slightly less common are clocks that also incorporate either a moon phases disc, or an automatum such as a rocking ship. Rarer still are clocks which boast a variety of musical bells, or even reeds to make them sound like an organ.

Period grandfather clocks are generally made from oak, mahogany(sometimes a mixture of both) walnut or pine. Elm,fruitwood and satinwood sometimes come into the equation but they are far less common. The vast majority of  early british grandfather clocks tend to be made of just the oak or walnut as mahogany was not imported into the UK  until the mid 18th century.

A  30 hour clock is not wound by a key, but rather by a rope or a chain. It only has one weight and this weight is responsible not only for the running of the clock, but also for making it strike. It is once again my belief, that similar to the eight day clock, a 30 hour grandfather clock is merely a one day clock which affords the luxury of a further 6 hours or so, should you forget to wind it on time. Sometimes a 30 hour clock will have what are known as dummy winding holes in the dial. Although they  do not serve any actual purpose, they give a 30 hour clock the physical appearance of an eight day clock and make it look a little more grand, as usually, a 30 hour clock is not as expensive as its 8 day counterpart.

More information

In addition to the number of emails I receive each day asking how I have managed to remain so good looking into late middle age,I also receive a lot from people asking me how to date their antique grandfather clock. Perhaps the two following reference books might be helpful.

  • Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World by G.H.Baille, Volume 1
  • Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World by Brian Loomes, Volume 2

It is probably possible to find these books in your local library, where there should also be many other books available on grandfather clocks.