The clock is an instrument designed to keep and indicate time. It is one of the oldest human inventions. The clock has evolved through the ages from sundials in ancient times to early tower clocks of the 14th century and weight driven clocks and finally spring driven clocks from the 1840s to the 1970s.

A mantle is a shawl or coat worn by women, an important role passed on from one person to another or the earth’s crust. A mantel is the top framing of a fireplace or a shelf above a fireplace opening.

There are many styles of mechanical clocks and it can be very confusing when describing the difference between a shelf clock and a mantel clock, for instance. I will wade through the terms in this article and describe the most common styles or types using mechanical clocks from my collection.

Mantel clock:

  • Many auction sites and even professional websites use the word mantle. That is not the correct terminology. A mantle is a shawl or coat worn by women, an important role passed on from one person to another or the earth’s crust. A mantel is the top framing of a fireplace or a shelf above a fireplace opening.
  • A mantel clock is designed to fit on top of a fireplace or shelf. A mantel clock can be time only, time and strike or a chiming clock. Generally, if there are 2 winding arbours it is a time and strike clock, if the clock has 3 winding arbours is it a chiming clock that is, it will play a tune on the quarter hours, the most common being the Westminster chime.

Kitchen or gingerbread clock:

Arthur Pequegnat kichen clock
Arthur Pequegnat kitchen clock
  • It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between a kitchen and a parlour clock. Generally speaking gingerbread clocks have a design that is made by steam pressing the front wood face, though occasionally clocks like the one above are made using a powered cutting saw but are still referred to as a kitchen clock. Some also had alarm mechanisms.
  • Another type of kitchen clock is shown below. This is an 8-day time-only delft clock made by Forestville.
Delft Clock from Forestville
Delft Clock from Forestville

Parlour clock:

E. N. Welsh Whittier model
E. N. Welch Whittier model
  • More ornate than a gingerbread and found in front hallways, entryways and so on. The designs are always cut and there may be finials, a mercury filled pendulum or very ornate design , garish trim pieces and a decorative tablet.

Vienna regulator clock:

Gustav Becker two weight Vienna regulator
  • There are many styles but most are of the two-weight variety. The definition of a Vienna regulator is always open to debate but the consensus among collectors is that they are weight driven, made in Austria/Germany, ornate in design, have porcelain dials, decorative crowns, large pendulums and finials on the top and bottom.
  • Those that are spring driven are sometimes referred to as Vienna regulators. Though not defined as “regulators” it is acceptable among collectors to refer to them as a Vienna style.

Shelf or cottage clock:

Canada Clock Co Hamilton Cottage Extra
Canada Clock Co Hamilton Cottage Extra
  • Sometimes called a mantel clock but they are usually diminutive in size in order to occupy a smaller space. They are sturdily built since they are often designed to be portable. They come in time only, time and strike or may have an alarm feature.

Carriage clock:

French Carriage Clock
French Carriage Clock
  • French made carriage clocks are more collectible and fetch generally higher prices although American ones can be quite desirable. Carriage clocks are designed to be portable, are time only but some are time and strike while others may have an alarm function.

Cuckoo clock

Cuckoo clock
Cuckoo clock
  • These clocks are pendulum regulated and make an automated sound like a cuckoo when it strikes the hours. Some can be very intricate with a number of moving characters. Desirable ones are antiques from the Black Forest region of Germany. Modern ones are generally frustrating to repair, cheaply built and are poor timekeepers.

Lantern clock:

Converted lantern clock
Converted lantern clock
  • A lantern clock is a type of antique weight-driven wall clock, shaped like a lantern. They were the first type of clock widely used in private homes. They probably originated before 1500 but only became common after 1600 and in Britain, around 1620. They became obsolete in the 19th century. The one pictured above has been converted into a fusee movement.

Alarm clock:

Baby Ben alarm clock with second hand
Baby Ben alarm clock with seconds hand
  • 30 hour clocks designed to do one thing, wake you up in the morning. They are cheap, average timekeepers but have long-lasting and reliable movements.

Desk clock:

Kienzle World Time clock
Kienzle World Time clock
  • These sat on fancy office desks or credenzas in office locations. This a time-only version. Most were time-only to minimize distractions in the office environment. Some are very attractive and have unique designs. This one is called a World Time clock by Kienzle.

Wall clock:

Box clock
German Mauthe Box clock
  • There is broad definition of a wall clock but generally anything that is designed to be hung on a wall is a wall clock. This is often described as a German “box” clock popular after the First World War and common into the 1940s.

Schoolhouse clock:

Ansonia clock project is complete
Ansonia schoolhouse clock
  • Known as a schoolhouse clock because they hung in many school rooms in North America. Usually distinctive by their octagon shape and short or long drop feature with a glass door displaying a swinging pendulum. Many thousands were made; they had cheap mass-produced softwood cases robust movements. Most were time-only though some were time and strike and others even included a calendar function.

Novelty clock

Chairman Mao Zetong waving as the clock ticks
Chairman Mao Zetong waving as the clock ticks
  • Usually a tourist trinket with an interesting feature or features. In the case of the above clock a smiling Mao Zetong has his little red book in hand and is waving “to the masses” as the clock ticks.

Ogee or OG clock:

Waterbury OG clock
Waterbury OG clock
  • Ogee or OG clock. A  design that originated in the United States in the 1830s, distinguished by a case (usually pine) the front outer edges of which are curved into an S-shape (Ogee). This shape is formed by the union of a convex and a concave line. A mass-produced variant of the shelf clock, the Ogee clock typically stands about 30 inches (75 cm) high and is usually weight-driven. The movements were generally made of brass (earlier ones were made of wood) and ran for 30 hours or eight days. This is a 30-hour weight driven version from the 1870s.

Grandfather, tall-case, long-case or floor clock:

Ridgeway Hamilton Country, Westminster chime
Ridgeway Hamilton Country, Westminster chime
  • They are described in a number of ways; tall-case (American), long-case clock (British terminology), floor clock and grandfather clocks. They are usually weight driven, with the weights on chains or cables and are distinctive by their obvious height. They are usually 6-8 feet high (1.8 to 2.4 meters). They often feature elaborately carved ornamentation on the hood (or bonnet), the frames, and the dial or clock face. Older ones have 30 hour movements but all modern grandfather clocks run on an 8-day cycle.

400 day anniversary clock or torsion clock:

Kundo standard size 400 day clock
Kundo standard size 400 day clock
  • 400 day clocks are torsion driven having a long suspension spring to which a weight oscillates back and forth, typically have 8 beats per minute and run for long cycles on a single wind, up to 400 days. These clocks were popular as wedding gifts or gifts to mark special occasions. They are relatively simple to repair but can be finicky to set up. The newer quartz clocks are very accurate but do not replace the charm and curiosity of the older mechanical ones.

Tower Clock:

Tower clock
Tower clock in Holguin, Cuba
  • In the early 14th century large mechanical clocks began to appear in the towers of Italian cities. There is no record of any working models preceding these public clocks that were weight-driven and regulated by verge-and-foliot escapements.

There are sub-categories of some of the clocks I have described above but generally speaking this will give the reader an idea of the terms that are commonly used. This can be helpful when shopping for that special gift or determining what style of clock you may have in your possession.

One last note. If you decide to vacation in the Ontario region of Canada, take the time to visit the Canadian Clock Museum in Deep River, Ontario. You will be impressed by the many styles and the wide selection and variety of clocks on display.