Minimal invasive intervention is a term which means, how far do you go to repair, restore or conserve a clock without changing it in a significant way? Minimal invasive intervention is a “borrowed” term from a clock forum site that I frequent. Some would say that any work done on an antique clock detracts from it’s value, like putting new fenders on an antique car. Nice looking, but less desirable.

At the end of this article I have a number of questions the reader (collector) might consider.

When does performing too much work on a clock affect it’s collector value? If you go too far does it lose it’s attraction as a collector item. A true collector is more interested in a movement that has never been worked on, than one that has been repaired or restored. But just how far do you go with a non-working vintage or antique clock? While it is always desirable to have a running clock most understand that to make a movement actually work, some invasive intervention has to be accepted such as bushing and pivot reconstruction.

Repair implies rectifying the faults or poor servicing of a clock in a significant way which might alter it from it’s original form.

Restoration involves the reconstruction, in some cases, of the movement or the clock case to a “as new” condition.

Conservation involves the protection and restoration of a clock using any methods that prove effective in keeping that article in as close to its original condition as possible for as long as possible.

Some amount of intervention is not only necessary but desired by some collectors.

Let me illustrate my point. In the photo below we have an antique American 1878 Ingraham Huron time and strike shelf clock.

RS April 12th
Ingraham Huron shelf clock circa 1878

The uniquely designed rosewood case is in excellent condition for a 138 year old clock and is a real conversation piece. The clock hands are original as is the pendulum, sash and bezel hardware. Everything about the case is original! It has no breaks, cracks or missing pieces. The case was cleaned with Murphy’s Soap and water and followed by a light application of shellac. There is a buildup of grime as one would expect on the clock face which some might feel detracts from it’s appearance though it contributes to it’s character. That I will not touch.

The movement is original but not well repaired. One can only imagine that in small town Nova Scotia, folks did not have access to professional clock repairers and relied on the community tinkerer to get their clocks running. In those days a clock was simply an appliance and the objective was to get a broken clock running again quickly and at a minimal cost. Consequently some questionable methods were used to get the clock running again. There is plenty of solder on the movement and re-alignment of some gears (new pivot holes were drilled into the plates). The soldering was likely in the 1940s, when soldering guns became commercially available.

This clock will run for about 2-3 days on a full wind and then stop. Nudging the pendulum will get it going again but it stops after an hour or two. Looking at the front plate, there is little to indicate that there are issues with this clock. Once the movement is out of its case issues begin to surface. The next two photos shows invasive repairs made to the clock.

RS Ingraham movement (2)
This lantern pinion has plenty of solder

I brought my Ingraham to a certified horologist and we had a long discussion about what direction we should take with this clock. Do we repair, restore or conserve? He told me about a customer who came in with a kitchen clock (AKA Gingerbread clock), a family keepsake they wanted running again. Kitchen clocks are very common today because thousands were made back in the day. There are very few of any real value but a clock that has sentimental value is always worth repairing. He will repair most of them to the customer’s satisfaction but he recommends that if the movement is beyond repair that it be replaced with a period correct movement. His customers accept this as an option, however, a clock with a replacement movement has little or no value to a collector. He agrees that my Ingraham Huron mantel clock is a good example of a clock where the movement should not be replaced, instead, restoring it to it’s original state.

RS Ingraham movement (4)
Piece added to the plate, second arrow shows new pivot hole.

Collectors are always looking for a completely untouched clock but an antique clock in pristine condition that has never been meddled with is a rare find. Using this clock as an example, a repair might take away from the value of the clock while restoration might increase it’s desirability (and value).

Here are some questions that I would consider when making a decision about any newly acquired antique or vintage clock that requires intervention.

  • Is undoing the “damage” caused by a previous poor repair defined as an overly invasive procedure?
  • If the repair was done shortly after the clock was made, it was a proper repair and was clearly documented as markings inside the clock case should it be left untouched?
  • Is the poor repair part of it’s historical provenance and should the clock be left as-is?
  • Would bringing the movement back to it’s original state be considered a restoration or a repair?
  • In the case of the above clock, does eliminating all of the solder qualify as a minimal invasive intervention?
  • Will a repair enhance or decrease the value of the clock?
  • Would not doing the repair / restoration be considered conservation?

In my view conservation is minimal invasive intervention. Repair and restoration are considered more invasive. Let me know what you think.