I was on a Facebook clock collector page recently and I was intrigued by the work someone had done on a clock that was surely destined for the garbage bin. The transformation was given an apt phrase, “Trash to Treasure” and so I thought I would write about my own experiences resurrecting old clocks.
Preserving the original patina is always the principle goal and I do as much as I can to keep things as they are. However, when the finish has been adversely affected by environmental damage, heat, cold, humidity over the course of many years, as in a couple of examples below, the only course of action is refinishing.
There are times when the only course of action is complete restoration
My grandfather’s clock – partial restoration
This wall clock, my grandfather’s, was given to me by a family relation. It was non-working rusty derelict that was missing some mechanical parts although the movement was largely intact. Moreover, the movement was housed in a chunky homemade plywood case made some 40-50 years ago. I considered what I wanted out of the project and decided that a significant change involving the replacement of the case would take away the character and history of this clock and I therefore chose a subtle transformation.
The above photo shows how the clock was found. This forlorn relic of the past was destined to be thrown away sooner or later and I caught it just in the nick of time.
After a considerable amount of work which I have detailed in this post here is the end result.
Restoration of a Junghans Crisp wall clock – full restoration
The second project produced a more dramatic result. This was the complete restoration of a Junghans Crisp time and strike wall clock circa 1899.
The above photo shows the clock in many pieces and the below photo is the end result after hours of meticulous restoration work. I have written several articles on the steps taken to restore this clock which you can begin by reading here.
The ethics of clock restoration
Consider the heavily allegorated case as in these two following examples. Do you think the patina so important that it should be preserved? Restoration or preservation; these two camps divide collectors and in my view there are times when pursuing the underlying beauty of a clock is the sensible approach and that means restoration.
The ethics of making minor or substantial changes
The ethics of making minor or substantial changes to a clock is an age-old argument between stabilization/conservation vs. what is considered appropriate restoration. Some would argue that making any changes, however minor to any antique or vintage clock takes away from its authenticity. No doubt, among your collection there are clocks that have undergone minor or significant changes over time; a newer dial, replacement gears, newer cabling, new bushings, new trundles, a replacement pendulum bob, a refinished case and an assortment of repairs. Changes to any clock are inevitable over time. Sometimes there are effective repairs which I do not undue because they are part of the history of the clock.
Just how much of your favorite clock is original and is the clock you have today the same as it was when it was first made. I wrote an article on the ship of Theseus exploring this very dilemma.
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
How far do you go to repair, restore or conserve a clock without changing it in a significant way? Does an object like a clock that has had all or most of its components replaced remain fundamentally the same object? Every time I approach a clock project I ask myself these very questions and if possible I choose the least intrusive path.
Sperry and Shaw – preservation
Recently I was working on a Sperry and Shaw 30 hour shelf clock.
The case looked tired. I contemplated stripping and refinishing but I decided against it. Sperry & Shaw chose to use grain-like textures on the softwood sections. Stripping the case would have meant those textures would be permanently lost. Sperry & Shaw evidently chose an obviously inexpensive approach to clock case construction to maximize profit, but despite that fact the clock manages to look attractive.
I chose a less invasive method by applying a light stain and covering it with two coats of shellac prepared in the the traditional way to preserve the original finish. I am pleased with the result.
Preserve, conserve or restore? There are times when it is important to retain the original patina but there are times when the only course of action is complete restoration..