Longcased Clocks

Longcased clocks, also known as grandfather, floor or tallcase clocks, are freestanding clocks usually six to eight feet tall and driven by long pendulums. The English clockmaker William Clement was credited with their development, when in 1670 he discovered that a longer the pendulum was more accurate. His yard-long pendulum took exactly a second to complete the swing, and when he’d encased the mechanism in a wooden box to reduce air currents, he had an accurate timepiece.

From that point on, longcase clocks have been cherished household goods and often heirlooms. The early clocks ran for 30 hours before needing to be wound, but as the technology developed 8 day, month and even year clocks were made. Early cases tended to be very slender and made of pine or oak with a veneer and clocks prior to around 1730 had square brass dials. Gradually, these evolved into arched faces as more room was needed to include a calendar or lunar phases.

Longcase clocks can normally be tied to an era and sometimes a geographical area by the shape of their dial, type of wood, case shape and decorative finish. London and Edinburgh were particularly well-renowned for the quality of their products, and among dozens of respected makers are Thompion, Quare, James Clowes, Edward Bird, Robert Sampson, Vulliamy, Benjamin Gray, the Knibb family and the Warner family.

These handsome and classic pieces are still popular for decorative as well as practical reasons, and there’s a strong interest in good examples. Early examples are popular, particularly those from what’s called the golden age of British clockmaking, around 1670 to 1730. Authenticity is key, as it’s not uncommon to find examples made up from scavenged parts of other clocks, which greatly reduces the value. Plainer and country-style clocks are still popular with collectors, but the real focus is on longcase clocks with a sophisticated mechanism and elaborate and handsome decoration. Condition and rarity dictate value, and clocks in good working order command a premium.


 

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