How long has my clock been running?

Has my 90 year old Gilbert clock been running continuously since it was first purchased? Not likely.
Gilbert time and strike mantel clock

Okay, you’ve made the plunge. For whatever reason you bought that mechanical clock you always wanted. Ask yourself; this is a 100 year old clock and it has been running all this time so what more do I need to do to take care of it. Why have it serviced or even oiled when it is running and striking as it should. The answer is complicated.

How long has my clock been running?

Has that 90 year old Gilbert clock been running continuously since it was first purchased? Not likely.

Electro-mechanical and electromagnetic designs started appearing around the year 1840 but it was not until the 1930s that the electric clock found its way into the homes of millions of North Americans. Although mechanical clocks continued to be manufactured well into the 1940s and beyond, it was not long after that the clock industry felt the effects of the electric clock (later, the quartz clock) and by the mid 1950s many of the pioneer American clock companies had ceased to exist. Seth Thomas – gone! Sessions – gone! Ansonia – gone! A sad end to many fine American and Canadian clock producers.

As electric clocks replaced the mechanical clock in the typical home many of those old relics remained on mantels and walls as decorations, were stored in attics or barns or sent to second hand shops, thrown away or repurposed. Despite this, mechanical clocks are still found in abundance in antique shops, junk stores, online auction sites, Goodwill shops, flea markets, Kijiji, Facebook for-sale sites and so on.

Ingersoll-Waterbury time and strike from the late 1940s

Ho do I determine the condition of my clock

The amount of time a clock spent running varies considerably and a thorough inspection of the movement for signs of wear is the only way to find out. Wear is an indicator of the condition of a clock movement. More wear generally means less time spent on the workbench for servicing. Evidence that it has been worked on can be found when inspecting the movement. New bushings, punch marks adjacent to bushing holes, a tooth repair on a wheel, date markings in the case or on the movement, excessive oiling, traces of solder are indicators that the clock has been serviced and not always by a competent repair person.

I have seen lots of worn clocks, but there’s no way to determine how long ago the clock was last serviced or what practices were employed unless there are repair marks on the case or on the movement.

Punch mark used to close a bushing
Cannon gear repair, new tooth added
Service dates on back panel of cuckoo clock
This Mauthe movement was sprayed repeatedly with oil

Amateur repairs are temporary measures to get the clock running again and are immediately visible while professional repairs that ensure a clock will have a longer life are discreet and almost invisible.

I have seen many examples of clocks that have been serviced a number of times and some that have never been serviced at all. Those that have never been serviced range from well worn movements that have stopped altogether to those with hardly any wear at all. Some movements are in like-new condition because of a short running life for whatever reason while other movements that are in like-new condition have had a long running life because they have been professionally serviced on a regular basis.

Very rusted and worn movement from an Ansonia clock found in a barn that eventually worked

It is possible that your recently acquired 100 year old clock has been running continuously since it was new but if so, it has been serviced several times throughout its life either by a professional repair person or the neighborhood clock tinkerer.


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