This is Part I of a three part series on restoring this beautiful 1900s Mauthe wall clock.

This Victorian style German wall clock was purchased locally from a family that once lived in the town of Parrsboro over 100 years ago. I found the clock on a local online for-sale site. It looked interesting but there was no price listed. I contacted the seller but they were asking considerably more than I was willing to pay. I explained the work that had to be done to the case, servicing of the movement and the fact that had it been in better condition they would easily receive more for the clock. I concluded the phone conversation with my top offer for the clock. They contacted me 4 days later and met my price.

Celluloid dial with brass centre pan
Open containers of Kerosene usually indicate that the owner thought the vapor would lubricate his clock. Closed containers indicate that he believed that a more controlled method of applying it would be needed

It is a (FMS) Mauthe time and strike wall clock with an Adler gong. I have been assured by the seller that the clock is original in every way and using the serial number and trademark I have determined that it was made between 1890 and 1910, consistent with information I was provided. The eagle emblem on the Adler gong suggests that it was made after 1898.

The seller said the movement was maintained regularly. For years a small thimble of liquid was placed inside the clock to keep it lubricated though she could not recall what the liquid was. I said that this was a wide practice in the old days of keeping a clock movement lubricated, a folk remedy that might work but was not ideal. In fact, from about 1850 to 1920 roads were dirt, dust was everywhere, and people depended on their clocks. They routinely took the dial off and swabbed the movement out with kerosene. They often used a little brush, made with a few chicken feathers. Kerosene (paraffin) was available everywhere and, if used often, was probably an excellent way to rinse away the dust and at the same time oil the movement for a while. A little cup, a thimble or a  greasy medicine bottle of kerosene was placed inside the clock case to maintain lubrication. Open containers of Kerosene indicate that the owner thought the vapor would slowly evaporate and lubricate his clock. Closed containers indicate that he believed that a more controlled method of applying it would be needed.

What to do about the case

The finish is alligorated. Alligorated finishes are those that have encountered heat damage and are characterized by a finish (shellac or lacquer) that softens and pools into globules collecting dirt as it re-hardens.

For this project I essentially have three options,

  • Leave the case as-is,
  • Attempt to dissolve the alligorating using a solution (see ingredients below) or
  • Strip the case down to the bare wood.

I eliminated the first option. The case is very unsightly.

On to option number 2. I first attempted to dissolve the alligorated finish using a mixture of turpentine, kerosene and white vinegar combined with #0000 steel wool and while I was able to soften the globules the surrounding area lightened considerably. The net effect was a blotchy finish.

While taking the glass panels out I noticed a residue of shellac on the edges of the glass panels, so, I was dealing not only with the original finish but whatever had been applied over the original finish.

On to the last option, stripping the case

To remove the finish I used EZ Strip, a non-caustic and Eco-friendly product. Though it was non-caustic I wore gloves and ensured that my workspace had good air flow. EZ Strip is jelly-like and relatively easy to work with. After allowing it to sit on the finish for 20-30 minutes it is ready to strip. Despite the ease of application it required rubbing and scrubbing to take off the original finish to the bare wood.

This is the finish when I received the clock

This is the crown before stripping,

The crown

And after.

The finish is removed from the crown

As the case is missing a trim piece on the upper part of the door I fashioned a piece from some cabinet trim. A new slotted wooden stabilizer that secures the crown to the case was constructed of softwood. This you cannot see but it ensures that the crown stays securely on the top of the case. Also missing is a corner piece on the left side of the upper crown. Cove moulding works well. I purchased a finial from Lee Valley and it worked well for this project.

Removing the old finish had an immediate effect. The grain of the walnut veneer that had been hidden all these years was finally exposed.

Case is stripped, awaiting sanding, stain and final finish

For the final finish I will use shellac prepared in the traditional way. This is my first experience with shellac flakes and it is best to begin with a light consistency called a 1 lb cut. This is approximately a 1:8 ratio of shellac to alcohol. Therefore, 1 oz (28g) of shellac is dissolved in 8 fl oz (236ml) of denatured alcohol. I plan to use a French polish technique and apply the shellac and a broad artists brush to coat the turned sections.

Why is it frustrating asking for advice on social media?

I posted my case restoration project on a popular online clock site. I was seeking advice on working with shellac and while I received good advice the discussion quickly morphed into a debate about whether or not it is ethical to strip a case. There was significant division. Those on one side said they would do very little but clean it up or take the objectionable dirt off the finish while the other side posited that if presented with a situation where the finish was so poor that you could not appreciate the beauty of the veneers, a stripping is an acceptable alternative. Although both arguments have merit some of the posters were somewhat indignant and considered it a heresy to do anything at all to a clock case. There will always be both sides of the argument and I respect that.

See servicing of the movement and the final finishing of the case in Parts II and III, in the weeks to come.