Buying Your First Antique Grandfather Clock / by Margaret Chambers

Although most people nowadays use their phones to keep time, there are always going to be people who appreciate the beautiful design, and charming sounds, of an antique clock. After all, a clock is one of the only kinds of antique furniture that can still be used and enjoyed as it was originally intended.

The following guide is an introduction to the tallest and most impressive kind of clock, the grandfather clock. Whether you're trying to start a collection, learn more about your family heirloom, or buy the perfect grandfather clock to complete your interior design, this guide can help you get started.

History of the Grandfather Clock

In the 1660’s, English clockmakers discovered that a long pendulum could keep time more accurately than a short one. This new kind of clock needed to be at least six feet tall to hold the three-foot long pendulum and weights that made it work.

Today, English longcase clocks that were made during the "Golden Age" of clock making (from the 1660s to 1730s) are extremely valuable. These early clocks were made in London for the wealthiest nobility, so their craftsmanship is particularly beautiful. Only a handful of these become available for sale each year, so most English clock collectors buy clocks made in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Eventually, tall clocks were produced in America as well. Metal was scarce before the Industrial Revolution, so in 1815, clockmakers in Connecticut developed wooden gears that were a less expensive alternative to traditional brass gears. As tall clocks became more popular and affordable, American clockmakers designed unique regional varieties that remain very collectable today. 

In 1876, Henry C. Work, an American songwriter, published a popular song that begins, "My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf / so it stood ninety years on the floor." This song, "My Grandfather's Clock," is why longcase clocks are often referred to as grandfather clocks.

England and America weren't the only countries that produced grandfather clocks. Other varieties include the French Comtoise clock, which has a rounded "port belly" case, and the Danish Bornholk clock, which usually has a square head and tall, boxy case. 

The Benefits of Owning a Grandfather Clock

Grandfather clocks can have a high investment value as long as they are maintained and restored carefully. A high quality, working antique grandfather clock rarely costs less than $3000. The rarest grandfather clocks, such as those made during the aforementioned Golden Age, can be worth as much as $100,000.

That said, most people who are interested in buying a grandfather clock simply enjoy having a clock in their home. While an antique clock will never be as accurate as a modern digital clock, your grandfather clock should keep good time each week, with a difference of maybe a few minutes.

Since purchasing or restoring a clock requires careful research, clock collecting can be an excellent way to learn more about history. Most grandfather clocks can be dated to 10 or 15 year periods by their design alone. Each decade of clock making was influenced by the design styles and taste of that period.

Because of their regal appearance, grandfather clocks also make excellent centerpieces to your room's interior design. Finally, many homeowners enjoy the musical chimes that announce each hour, while for others, the quiet ticking is enough to add life to an otherwise silent room.

How Grandfather Clocks Are Priced

If you browse the online listings for clock shops in Dallas, you might be surprised by the dramatic price differences between one clock and the next. Like other antiques, grandfather clocks are priced by age, condition, and rarity.

Almost all antique clocks have been altered in some way. By the late 1800s, grandfather clocks were not considered the valuable heirlooms that they once were, and those who inherited them felt free to replace the inner workings or repaint the dials. 

When a clock is sold with replaced parts, it is referred to as a "marriage." This kind of clock may be great for your interior design, but not for investment. Collectors see a marriage as a "collection of parts" rather than a valuable antique. This is why it's important to do your research before you go to an auction house or clock shop in Dallas. Research can help you learn to ask the right questions and avoid clocks that are an unwise investment.

When a clock stops working, it's either because of neglect, damage during moving, or poor repairs with ill-fitting parts. If you buy a "project" clock for cheap with the intent to repair it, be prepared for the possibility that repairs may cost more than the clock itself is worth.

Starting Your Collection

The best way to start your search is by asking yourself, "Why do I want a grandfather clock?" Is this the start of a new collecting hobby? In that case, you'll want to spend some time looking at clocks across history to see if one particular clockmaker or regional style, attracts you. Do you just want one for aesthetics? Choosing a clock that harmonizes with your interior design style will help you narrow down your options.

Or, are you buying a grandfather clock as an investor? Clocks of this quality will never be made again, so buying the right clock is important to making a great investment.

An investor and a collector will each approach clocks from different angles. Once you've identified your reason for buying clocks, the next step is to connect with clock shops, antique dealers, or interior designers, whether in Dallas, around the country or overseas. Whether you want to get a great deal on an antique or complement your home's style, Margaret Chambers and her team can provide you with the guidance to find the perfect clock.