The lantern clock

It would be wonderful to have this unique piece of horological history, an English lantern clock. I am trying to negotiate a price, the trouble is I do not want to pay much for it but I am afraid once the seller discovers that it is worth a lot of money it will be too rich for me.

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Lantern clock converted to a fusee movement

Lantern clocks have a very interesting history going as far back as the 16th century. They are the first type of clock widely used in homes in England as the middle class began to prosper. There are many theories as to why it is called a lantern clock but because it was hung on a wall like a lantern usually on an ornate shelf the name stuck. Although some were made of steel almost all were made of brass. It is a wall clock with square bottom and top plates surmounted by a large bell, four corner pillars, a series of vertical plates positioned behind each other, an hour hand, and proportionately large clock dial, and a 30-hour movement with one or more weights.

Originally lantern clocks are weight driven and not barrel driven like this one. Seventeenth century and eighteenth century lantern clocks almost always have a single hand. This clock is a later date of manufacture or perhaps a conversion. Brian Loomes, a specialist clock dealer, in his book on lantern clocks traces their evolution from the early 1600 through the mid 1700 when they went out of style. 

Early ones had a balance wheel escapement. Around 1660 the pendulum was created and these clocks used a verge escapement and then transitioned to a long pendulum around 1680. The dial plate engravings were particularity intriguing and often had the maker’s name.

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Side view of fusee clock

The one you see here is either a fusee conversion made sometime in the 19th century or a 19th century copy of a lantern clock using a fusee movement. If it was a conversion additions such as the winding arbor hole and the minute hand were made when the “newer” movement was installed. There are two reasons why a clock would be converted, to stave off obsolescence (changing a clock from 30 hours to an 8-days) and to increase the accuracy of the clock. If converted the bell becomes ornamental. As the 8-day tall-case clock became popular in England the lantern clock began to disappear but continued to be made in the rural areas until the middle of the 18th century. Although many were discarded some, such as this one, were converted.

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Usually there is a maker’s name on the clock face

POSTSCRIPT

Despite emails going back and forth, and active discussion on a fair price, the deal fell through. It is unfortunate since it would be been nice to have a interesting piece of horological history.


3 thoughts on “The lantern clock

  1. Ron, it’s probably for the best, as this looks like a rather poor looking Victorian (or even later) copy (as you suspect). The movement in it would undoubtedly be of good quality, but the case just doesn’t look great (in my opinion). The frets are very poorly cast, as are the finials and feet (not turned and finished on a lathe) and the hands look more like German Vienna hands (which look totally wrong).

    Lantern clocks are a very tricky item to buy. There are lots of fakes, marriages, and reproductions. There are also numerous types of conversions on originals, which sometimes affect value, and then re-conversions back to balance wheel. Many were originally rope driven, and later changed to chains (but you seem to be aware of all this). No lantern clock with a solid bottom plate is genuinely old (which is usually a dead giveaway).

    I also long for the real thing, but unless I get very lucky, it looks like I’d have to spend some serious cash on one (at least 2,500$ or double that). In the meantime I was able to buy a cheap Smiths version (which were mass produced, and are easy to find). The proportions are details are “close” and for the price it serves as a placeholder until I can get a real one.

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    1. As a side note, I suppose that this clock could have been greatly improved with vigorous polishing, filing away casting flaws, and changing those terrible hands with some hand cut steel ones of the proper shape.

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