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Antique Style Clock Design

History of antique style clock design in England and ideas on their use in home decor.

Clocks and their cases provide much interesting matter, and although we should like to discuss in detail the work of such distinguished clockmakers as Thomas Tompion, George Graham and Daniel Quare, our attention must now be devoted only to picturing some of the types that have come down to us from the days when clocks were constructed by craftsmen who could take an individual pride in their making and unique design.

One of the earliest types of English clocks we are familiar with is known by different names, such as : "Bird-cage", "Lantern" or "Bedpost". It is also known as a "Cromwell" clock, and is of singularly graceful design, constructed of brass with a bell at the top, forming a dome over the framework. This bell was sometimes used for an alarm and sometimes for striking the hours. The designs vary considerably, for these Lantern clocks were made throughout the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century also. Usually they were accommodated by a bracket on the wall, to allow space for the hanging weights, and sometimes they had a hooded case of wood, although when enclosed in this manner they lost much of their ornamental value.

Above the face the brasswork was often fretted with patterns, a favourite device being crossed dolphins. These clocks are the most decorative and beautiful ever designed, and they defy the wear and tear of years, original specimens keeping excellent time; fortunately it is still possible to obtain examples in going order. They may be associated with all styles of furniture in rooms of any period, for their own period of production is spread over more than a century.

"Bracket" or "Pedestal" clocks first appeared during the latter half of the seventeenth century, and they differ from lantern clocks by being enclosed in a wooden case which frames the dial behind glass. The earliest types had handles fitted to the flat tops of the cases, and later domed tops were introduced to which the handles were fitted. The metal work on these cases, which appeared in the handles, domes and decorative finials on the corners, was often chased and worked with great elaboration. The cases were of oak and sometimes of ebony. Modern reproductions are often lacquered and decorated with excellent effect.

Mahogany Bracket Clock
Mahogany Bracket Clock.

Many plain and simple clocks in mahogany cases were made in the latter part of the eighteenth century, and they were the direct descendants of the earlier bracket clocks. Hundreds of ornate and curious types of clocks have been designed from time to time, and the Victorian period was rich in complicated and intensely ornamental specimens ; but for small table or mantelpiece clocks we cannot do better than return to the simpler forms of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

18th Century Mahogany Clock
18th Century Mahogany Clock.

Antique grandfather clocks with their tall cases and varying design have an air of age and interest about them. They furnish odd corners so well that it is a pity they are generally banished to the hall or the staircase landing. Made in oak, sometimes veneered with walnut, elaborately inlaid with marquetry, and sometimes lacquered, the earlier types offer a large selection. Some cases are of very bad proportion, probably the result of provincial workmanship, where a country clockmaker and a cabinetmaker would work together in the production of a clock complete with its case, and as they were not catering for the more exacting standard of cities, while the work would be quite good., it would lack the finish and gracefulness of a town-made piece. Mahogany was used in the eighteenth century for grandfather clock cases, and there are many designs in the Chippendale taste that can grace any modern sitting-room.

Antique Grandfather Clock
Antique Grandfather Clock.

This is only a very brief sketch of what the past can give us in clock designs. Modern clock designs have little to show and seldom approach the beauty and utility of the designs executed when the art of clock making was two centuries younger.

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