Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian

Grandfather Clocks

If you happen to be considering buying a Grandfather clock you couldn't have chosen a better time (no pun intended). As far as Bonhams clock expert James Stratton is concerned the market is simply awash with bargains where £1,500 buys real value for money. Such value for money comes in the shape of an elegant George III mahogany cased clock sporting a white painted dial and 8 day movement.

Should £1,500 be beyond your budget then don't despair as oak cased country clocks of 30 hour duration can be found selling at auction for less than £600. It's interesting to reflect that 5 years ago the same Grandfather, or to use the proper term, 'Longcase' clock was retailing at about £1,200. North Country clocks offer similar potential with prices starting at £500. Most are of wide appearance being made between 1825 and 1850 in centres such as Wigan and Halifax.

An 8 day mechanism is the preferred and is easily recognisable by virtue of having two winding squares that pierce the dial, one winds the clock the other the bell strike. A 30 hour mechanism is wound by opening the cabinet door and pulling down on an internal chain. The dial is full and lacks the unnecessary winding squares. It might seem a little odd but to qualify as a 'clock' it is essential for the mechanism to incorporate a bell (from the French 'Cloche'), otherwise it is a 'timepiece'.

Scottish longcase clocks dating from the Regency period of about 1820 are quite distinctive in having circular hoods with tapered cabinets and well worth looking out for with prices starting at £1200. A 'Regulator' longcase clock is always a more desirable as a result of housing a high precision mechanism from which the clock maker could 'regulate' his output. Regulator's are not peculiar to longcase clocks can be found in other types such as Vienna wall clocks. Few can be found with a price tag of less than £2,500.

Most mahogany longcase clock cabinets are veneered onto an oak carcass whereas their oak counterpart is invariably in solid wood. The Victorian fashion for carved oak furniture is evident in the number of elaborately decorated oak longcase clocks that have survived. A significant number are of earlier date having been later 'improved' by itinerant woodcarvers going from house to house.The end result is sometimes debatable and rarely adds to the value.

The 'Golden Age of British Clockmaking' is normally recognised as between 1670 to 1720 spanning the reigns of Charles II, William and Mary, Anne and George I. Important names include Thomas Tompion, Daniel Quare, George Graham and Joseph Knibb. However being signed is no proof of maker and fakes abound. Telling right from wrong takes time and effort and requires careful and dedicated study visiting specialist museums, dealers and auctions.

Even a mechanism by a top maker can sell for several thousand pounds. James Stratton proudly showing me a beautifully engraved brass dial by Joseph Knibb - mine for a mere £3,000 and more. The top end of the market has remained strong with the price of a William and Mary marquetry cased example in less than perfect condition starting at £5,000. Later 18th century longcase clocks by good London makers offer far better opportunities as the market has gone off the boil in recent times, a clock once estimated at £6-8,000 is now at £4-6,000

I should point out that age does not always determine value as a fine Edwardian longcase with glazed door panel and top quality mechanism, including tubular chimes, can sell for £12,000. If I was on a personal spending spree then my money would go on a late 18th century mahogany longcase with the arched top of the dial featuring moving parts. These 'automata' dials might incorporate a ship amongst rolling waves or even a couple playing shuttlecock.- all for £4000. Yes please! Well after all it is Christmas.


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