Every clock owner wants to know what their clock is worth and every clock seller wants to know what price they can ask. This article will provide a guide to buying or selling an antique or vintage clock.
We will cover the following in this article:
- The unpredictable clock market
- What to consider when assessing the value of a clock
- Is it original
- What type or style of clock is it?
- Does the clock have a label, trademark, or prominent name?
- Is it from the correct period or is it a “knock-off” or “re-issue”?
- Does the clock have provenance?
- Age and condition
- Is the clock collectible?
- Mechanism type
- Doing your research
The unpredictable clock market
Unfortunately, in this unpredictable market it is almost impossible to determine the value of a clock. What you think your clock may be worth today may not align with what the experts say and what others are willing to pay. What has value today may not have value tomorrow. Many factors influence the buying and selling of clocks and the clock market can be a battlefield with many casualties.
Recently, I found a mid 1990s Howard Miller grandfather clock listed for sale on a Facebook site. I tracked the ad over the course of several days. The owner originally wanted $3000 but later stated they would take “no less than $1500” when it became obvious to them that the ad was not attracting prospective buyers. In today’s market he would be lucky to receive $600. Personal value tends to be subjective and while the owner might have paid $3000 or more for that carved oak grandfather clock at one time, its present value is not anywhere near what he thinks it is worth. Either he still has it, has lowered his price even further or has withdrawn it from sale.
Even an appraised value is the subjective opinion of an expert assessment based on condition and collectibility which is always subject to shifts in the market. A Howard Miller clock, while very nice, would be difficult to sell and even in excellent condition the owner would have trouble getting a third of the adjusted asking price. This Ridgeway clock is in excellent condition and looks absolutely stunning in my home but I know that I would be disappointed if I sold it.
What to consider when assessing the value of a clock
Is it original? The more original a clock is the better. The value of a clock decreases if some or many parts are not original. Determining whether or not a clock is original can often be difficult to ascertain. The many “Vienna Regulator” clocks found on Ebay and other online for-sale sites are missing parts, have had parts added such as crowns, finials, dial faces, hands and even movements plus weights that are not original to the clock.
Are you getting a 100% original clock when the seller suggests that it is complete and original while at the same time admitting that they know nothing about clocks. Reputable auction houses have more accurate descriptions of the clocks they offer for sale when they describe condition and state if parts are missing or questionable.
Check out this article on my experience with a clock that did not have original parts
What type or style of clock is it? The few American style mantel clocks I have in my collection are not worth nearly as much as an 18th century English bracket clock, an ornate French Cartelle clock or an American jeweler’s regulator. Some American mantel clocks are desirable and command high prices such as the Patti line of clocks from E N Welch. That being said, wall clocks tend to command higher prices than mantel clocks. Tall-case or grandfather clocks, even those that are over 200 years old, can be had for a fraction of their value.
Does the clock have a label, trademark, or prominent name? Clocks that have a identifying label or trademark are more desirable than those that do not. Collectors often ask if the label is intact or if the movement has any significant markings? Replacement labels are frowned upon by collectors and unmarked movements are less desirable as they may be replacements. Clocks made by prominent clock-makers add value. A marked E. Howard or an authentic Willard banjo clock has more value than an un-named/unmarked clock similar in style and age.
From the correct period or a “knock-off”? Is it original or a reproduction? I have seen excellent examples of wall clocks which look very much like period clocks from the early 1900s that are recent reproductions that are no more than 20-30 years old. Seth Thomas made a reissue of the venerable Regulator #2 in the 1970s which is not nearly as desirable as the original #2. Sometimes the differences are very obvious and at other times it takes a trained eye.
Does the clock have provenance? Does the clock have a story or does it have historical significance or can it be placed within a historical context? This Arthur Pequegnat Canadian Time clock spent most of it’s life in a train station waiting room not 30 minutes drive from my home. In the early nineties when the station was decommissioned it was taken out by a collector and was in his hands until I bought it from him about a few years ago. This is a key selling point and may add value. The history of the clock is an important element in a sale.
This Ingraham Huron shelf clock had been with a Bridgewater, Nova Scotia family since the 1890s. These balloon clocks seldom come up for auction and are valued by collectors because of their interesting design and because they were made between the narrow period of 1878 to 1880, hence not many copies were manufactured.
The key is research. Check Ebay, the auction houses, your local buy-and-sell sites, clock shops, antique stores and online message boards to get a feel for prices and bear in mind that markets are volatile
Age and condition Many people are lured into thinking their clock is worth a lot of money when they see a similar clock by the same maker sell for a high price at auction. If there are pieces missing from the case, for example, or the hands are broken, the value will be adversely affected. If the dial has been badly repainted or there are poor repairs the clock is not perceived as valuable. The condition of your clock will dictate the price.
The age of your clock does not always translate to more value. Your clock may be a style, or by a maker, who regardless of age is not popular with collectors. Sperry and Shaw 4 column New York style 30-hour clocks, while attractive are not sought after by collectors as Sperry and Shaw were clock merchants who used questionable assembling methods and are known as retailers rather than clock-makers.
Thousands of gingerbread clocks were made during the period 1890 to 1910. Despite their age few are worth anything more than a few dollars today.
Is the clock collectible? Rare clocks are rare because few exist or rare because few owners want to sell them. OG (Ogee) clocks are clearly antiques, some more that 150 years old, but because thousands were made they are not as collectible as a one-of-a-kind English lantern clock. 30-hour Ogee clocks are always a challenge to sell because of the hassle of winding them every day.
Desirability is region specific. There were many parlour clocks made but those crafted by the Hamilton Clock Company in the 1880s (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) are very desirable by Canadian collectors. Arthur Pequegnat clocks whether they be wall clocks, hall clocks, mantel clocks or kitchen clocks will always fetch significantly higher prices than similar styled clocks because they are actively sought after by collectors in Canada. That same Pequegnat clock sold in southern California would fetch but a few dollars.
Martin Cheney clocks (1810) made in Montreal (Canada) are highly collectible, of exceptional quality and are very rare. True Vienna Regulator clocks such as a Biedermeier made prior to 1850 are very desirable, reflect sky-high asking prices and are valued more than contemporary versions.
Cartel clocks are exceptional 18th century French clocks and those fabricated by clock-makers such as Joseph de Saint-Germain or Duponchel à Paris command prices in the many thousands of dollars.
Mechanism type Generally three train clocks (time, strike and chime) are mechanically more complex and are normally valued higher than two train (time and strike) clocks. Three-weight Vienna Regulator Grande Sonnerie clocks generally command higher prices than a single or two weight Vienna Regulator.
The Sessions Westminster-A tambour style clock has an unusual 2-train chime movement (chiming clocks generally have three trains) and fetch higher prices on auction sites than other Sessions mantel clocks. Weight driven clocks generally command higher prices that spring driven ones.
Doing your research
Research is key. My advice is to check EBay, reputable auction houses, your local buy-and-sell sites, clock shops, antique stores and online message boards to get a feel for prices all the while bearing in mind that markets are extremely volatile. What may have sold for several hundred dollars years ago (30 hour Ogee clocks are a prime example) might be worth half or a third of that today.
Ask questions before you purchase your next clock and if selling, provide an honest description of your clock including any disclosures (new pendulum, new mainsprings etc.). Chinese, Korean and most Japanese clocks are not particularly collectible or desirable. If you firmly believe your prized Chinese-made Daniel Dakota family heirloom is worth over $150, potential buyers may not be beating down your door but a fair price of $40-50 might result in a quick sale.
Clock prices are all over the map and will not stabilize any time soon. With the advent of the internet many clocks thought to be rare have flooded the market depressing prices. The one constant is high end clocks that have managed to keep their value.
Perhaps now is as good a time as any to buy that special clock. It is, indeed, a buyers market. However, knowledge is power when buying or selling any antique or vintage clock.