Buying an antique or vintage clock on Craigslist, Kijiji, Gumtree etc. – a how to

“Life is a box of chocolates….you never know what you are going to get”, Forest Gump

Buying a clock without actually touching and inspecting it is always a gamble and making a judgement based on images, many of which are poor quality, complicates the decision-making even further. There are stories of people buying clocks online only to find that the clock they thought had a antique mechanical movement arrived with a quartz one.

There are many challenges facing the clock shopper in today’s online world. Once your interest is piqued you may ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I get my money’s worth? Will I be “ripped off”?
  • Will it work when I get it home?
  • What do I have to do to fix whatever might be wrong?
  • What did the seller not disclose?

There are accepted rules about buying clocks on online for-sale sites. Online for-sale sites are ubiquitous and in many countries in the world. Here is an example of rules that are found on a particular site that I frequent.

  • All transactions should take place in person with cash. Do not ship items and do not accept other payment methods.
  • Never click links in an email that ask you to sign in to xxxx. All “Your xxxx account has expired” emails are fakes.
  • xxxx, eBay and PayPal do not offer buyer or seller protection for xxxx items. Such emails are fakes.

But for more specific rules on how to buy that special clock you were always looking for, see Ron’s Rules at the end of this post.

Follow this exchange between myself and the seller and consider my thoughts on this and other online clock purchases later in the article.

The clock

Unknown mantel or shelf clock.

Ad photo
Actual Ad photo

The exact words of the ad

Wind up alabaster clock. Very heavy. $80.00

The email exchange between myself and the seller

NOTE: This particular online for-sale site has an encrypted email service, therefore in my exchange I do not know the seller’s actual email address. This is a necessary protection for both parties.


Do you know the company that made the clock and how old it is? Thanks

From the wording of the ad I am assuming at this point that the seller knows very little about the clock


Sorry I don’t know who made or how old it is. I bought it in an auction a few years back. Thanks xxxx


Since you do not know the maker and I would have to drive from xxxxx, would you accept $60 for the clock.


Before you decide to drive from xxxxxx I would like you to know that the chimes do not work. I know that the clock would be worth more but 60.00 is fine if you would like to have it. Thanks xxxx. Let me know .


If the chimes don’t work it is not a huge problem. Does it look like all the parts are there or is anything missing? I am still interested if the parts are there.


Everything is in tact. It was last serviced a few years back and worked great, but went to wind the chimes and they seemed to slip on the spring… However the clock still works just had it put away for a couple of years.


For $60 I will buy it. How does 2pm today sound?


Yes we will make sure we are at home. Will you find the place OK? If not we could meet you part ways.


I provided the seller with my telephone number. He subsequently calls to give me his address. The call is important because I suspect he wants to get a feel for who he is dealing with and that is the correct way to approach sales such as this.


It is important to be ready to pick the item up ASAP. You do not want to allow too much time for the seller to have second thoughts or to have someone else move in ahead of you. I often suggest meeting that same day, in a neutral place or at their home but most suggest meeting at their home. A neutral place is an option and I had to do this only once in over 2 dozen purchases.

My preliminary analysis based on the limited information that I have is that it is an French or English made time and strike shelf clock and judging from the problem on the “chime” side it might just be a bad click although it is possible that parts of the movement have been damaged. It is impossible to know until I see it and bring it home.

You might suggest I ask more questions about the clock or have the seller send additional photos of the movement or even a closeup of the clock face. It is only a $60.00 clock! In my experience once you attempt to have the seller take extra steps to sell their clock especially a clock at this price, the chances of a loss of sale increases. Were I to shell out hundreds of dollars I would definitely ask for more information and detailed, higher resolution photos.

Ron’s Rules

  1. Locate the clock you are looking for online and try to avoid Chinese or Korean clocks often advertised as “31 day” clocks. (For some reason people think they are worth a lot of money and they are garbage – usually!)
  2. Communicate by email and ask questions but not too many as to scare the seller off. Suggested questions might be:
    • Does the clock run?
    • Who is the maker (manufacturer)?
    • If it does not run, are all the pieces intact?
    • How old is it?
    • How long have you had it?
    • Would you accept a lower price because…….(justify reason(s))?
  3. Arrange final meeting details by phone.
  4. Meet the same day if possible.
  5. Meet the seller in person.
  6. Meeting at their home is preferred but a neutral location such as in front of a public building or in a mall is an option
  7. Pay in cash.
  8. Thank him/her for the sale.

Final thoughts

  • Check the dates on the listings. The longer they are listed the more the seller is inclined to sell for a better price.
  • Once, I gave the seller a day or two to think about my offer. I took a chance but got the clock for a decent price. (see first image)
  • Meeting the same day is crucial; you don’t want the seller to get cold feet and you don’t want someone coming behind you to buy the clock.
  • Only once did the seller accept a cheque from me because of past dealings with him. Cash is the rule.
  • If you cannot negotiate a final price by email suggest talking it over on the phone
  • Be courteous and polite at all stages of the deal

My wife and I are in the mood for a road trip. Now, with cash in hand, let’s get into the car and go for a drive.

Check back in 3-4 days to see how we did.

7 thoughts on “Buying an antique or vintage clock on Craigslist, Kijiji, Gumtree etc. – a how to

  1. Hey Ron,

    Very good advice overall. I have only one small issue: I think asking about dates (how old is it?) is kind of pointless. I’ve seen clockmakers who have been in business for decades (30+ years) who can’t even correctly date a clock to within 100 years. I’m thinking of a specific example of a well known clockmaker who was explaining a repair on a comtoise clock “from the early 1700s”. The clock was actually from around 1840. I find that this sort of mis-dating happens often, and even with so called experts. Another example I can give you is a Black Forest clock specialist who had a particular clock he was demonstrating in a video, also apparently also “early 1700s” with wooden wheels, but it had an original coiled gong strike inside. The earliest evidence of coiled spiral gongs only date back to as early as maybe 1820-1830. Before this they simply just didn’t exist yet. This was from an EXPERT collector. Someone who specializes in Black Forest clocks. Some of his clocks are worth 5 figures.

    That said, I would not trust the word of any eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, or even auction house seller.

    As far as your little clock goes, I think it was an absolute STEAL! True, the strike side could potentially have major problems, but even as a timepiece, the marble is gorgeous. With the price of shipping these days, it was an especially nice find. I haven’t been too lucky finding clocks locally. I think I’ve only bought a small handful, and they tend to be anniversary clocks (bleh), and mass produced American clocks (gingerbreads and mantle clocks) with a few German Art Deco style clocks.

    I’ve bought a *LOT* of my clocks online (eBay) and for 95% of them, I just went with photos. If the photos were not good enough, I’d pass. It has largely worked out for me, but I ALWAYS assume they will not work. There is only ONE clock that arrived in pristine working condition.


    1. A good point JC and one that I will consider. The answer I usually get when I ask about the age of the clock is how long the seller has had it. If they say they’ve had it for years or it was their mothers, uncles etc I am naturally much more interested than someone who is just selling the clock for quick cash. I have acquired some great clocks that have been passed down through family. They are not without issues but sometimes the story is just as exciting as the clock itself.

      I get most of my clocks from online local for-sale sites that I can pick up within an hour or two from where I live. I scour the sites everyday and will sometimes send out emails to sellers without seriously considering a purchase but occasionally their reply piques my interest. I have had one very bad experience with an EBay clock purchase so I try to stay away from them (not saying I wouldn’t in the future).


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