Collecting Antique Clocks
Prized and valued today as they were when first commissioned and made, fine antique clocks represent a sound financial investment and will be a pleasure to own and incorporate into your daily life.
In our digital age the majority of us take for granted our ability to easily and readily tell the time, surrounded as we are, by devices displaying accurate time. However, it was not until the late 19th and early 20th century that clocks and watches were commonly available. Fine antique clocks are the result of masterful collaborations between skilled clockmakers, cabinet makers and engravers to produce things of mechanical excellence and great beauty. They measure time, the hours and minutes that make up our lives and mark our individual pivotal moments as well as the larger historic events which change history and take us in new directions.
Clocks have themselves changed history and allowed Science to move forward. When antique clocks were made they were pieces of the most advanced technology. It was a clock that solved the problem of accurately finding longitude at sea. So important was a solution to this problem, that a prize of £20,000 was offered in 1714 for a method of finding longitude to within half a degree. John Harrison, with backing from George Graham solved the problem with a clock and in so doing helped strengthen the British Navy and position of British Merchants.
Most antique clocks consist of a movement; the clockwork if you like, the wheels and pinions, the escapement, moving parts powered by weights or a spring that turn the hands, a dial; usually marked out with numerals to allow one to tell the time from the position of the hands and a case which houses the movement. All three elements, movement, dial and case need to be original and in the best condition for a clock to be collectable and valuable.
With the advent of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1631 London became the centre of the clockmaking industry and generally the best quality clocks were made in the capital. London clocks dating from the late 17th century to the 19th century are often considered to be the best in the world. There are, of course, exceptional clocks that were made in Europe and interestingly highly regarded clockmakers working in London were not all English but a mixture of nationalities, from various parts of Europe, including France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Clocks by the best and most highly regarded makers are highly valued. There have over recent years been dramatic price increases in clocks by leading makers such as Thomas Tompion and Joseph Knibb but you do not have to spend hundreds or tens of thousands of pounds to acquire a good quality clock. There are many fine and interesting clocks by less well known makers which provide a good entry point for new collectors and those with an interest in horology but less deep pockets. Clocks by makers like Vulliamy and Dent provide excellent value for money.
Collecting clocks is a fascinating and enjoyable way to spend time. There is always another clock to find, a surprise to be uncovered, a new link to be made, centuries old work to be admired and knowledge to be shared. Whether you choose to focus on a particular area of horology, 17th century clocks for example, made in what is referred to as the 'Golden Age' or longcase clocks with their imposing appearance, or precision clocks with incredible technical features that enable a clock to keep time to within a second a week, or a particular maker or certain style, finding a good dealer should be your first step. A well established dealer will have the knowledge, restoration expertise and contacts to help you as a collector. Take advice and buy the very best quality clocks you can afford in the most original condition.
A good dealer can tell how original a clock is, can make sure a clock is restored when necessary sensitively and appropriately. They will have built close contacts with other collectors and dealers over the course of their careers and in this way can help you find clocks not necessarily available on the open market. The relationship between a good dealer and collector is a valuable one which often last years, sometimes lifetimes. Such relationships can prevent expensive mistakes on the part of a collector, especially at the beginning of a collection. Many collectors part exchange clocks as their collections grow and change and keep doing so until they purchase their ultimate clock. Collecting clocks is a journey and, as with the best of journeys, one along which many discoveries are made.