Why are antique & vintage clock prices all over the map?

A few months ago I was following a NAWCC thread on the volatility of clock prices and thought I would echo comments from some of the posters as well as my own thoughts on why clock prices are seemingly all over the map.

Market conditions and demand play a significant role. I have watched sadly as prices for many early American clocks have plummeted yet high end clocks have retained their value. Theories abound including tough economic times and the newer generation’s rejection of anything old.

As one poster said, “How is a price arrived at? It is a murky and confusing process. People use a number of metrics including a price consistently achieved at auction and their own experience buying and/or selling. Most offer clocks for 2 to 3 times what they expect to receive knowing that they will be negotiated down because it is much harder to mark something up. It is a very inexact science and a source of much debate. An object is ultimately worth what someone is willing to pay.” That’s especially true of a truly rare clock for which there is no real comparison. The term “rare” is difficult to define but rare is what most “experts” generally agree upon.

However, what was once considered “rare” based upon the largely anecdotal experience of persons whether they are dealers, collectors or auctioneers has been changed by the “eBay effect” where rarity is challenged by many examples offered for sale. It has been a real game changer.

Sperry and Shaw New York style for $75
Sperry and Shaw New York style clock for $75

Another poster said, “Many people who deal in antiques and collectibles cannot know everything.” It is especially true in the blossoming low end line of antique shops which are no different than flea markets and junk shops. Many of these stores rely on impulse buying and clock experts are not their target customer.

The poster went on to say, “These clocks are not intended be sold to a serious collector, but the impulse buyer will make the clock purchase based on any number of factors – decorative; “That steeple clock would fit perfectly on the mantel” or “We don’t care that it might not work, it is for show only” or nostalgic; “We always wanted an old clock and we can now afford it”. You cannot discount the value of being able to see the object up close, smell it, touch it and hear it tick and or strike.”

A true clock store, usually with repair services, commands high prices for their wares, but the clocks usually come with a guarantee and the comfort of knowing that it will work well and will do so for years to come. Internet stores lack the fixed and variable costs (and reputation) that a brick and mortar establishment has and, all other things being equal, can offer their product at a lower cost. However, to make a true cost comparison, one should add the cost of shipping, packaging, handling and insurance that will need to be paid by the purchaser.

Rural Nova Scotia antique shop
Is this an antique store or a junk shop?

I cringe as I walk into some of these shops. Most antique malls that I’ve discovered charge a monthly rate plus a commission percentage that result in significant markups. I spotted a Mauthe box clock priced at $300.00. It had a marred dial, broken beveled glass panels and marked “as-is”. When I asked the dealer about a better price, his answer was to knock 10% off. I walked away shaking my head.

There is no true “standard” pricing for any vintage or antique clock. As with most objects there is a price range that most would consider reasonable. I have paid more for some clocks than they are worth but armed with increased knowledge I can now make more informed decisions in the future. Caveat Emptor is the principle which should guide every buyer. The buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made. Education is the key as an informed buyer will make much better choices.

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