Preserve, restore and/or consume – A clock owners perspective on intervention: Part I

Little changes adding up over time as the ship moved from what it had been to what it would be next
James S. A. Corey, Babylon’s Ashes

This is Part I of a 2 part series on a clock collectors predicament: preserve or restore and consume

This quote from Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse) sums up the theme of this 2-part blog post. If we acquire a clock that has been changed from its original state are we adding or subtracting from its value if we make further changes?

Part I explores whether we should make any changes to our newly acquired clock if its condition is less than desirable and in Part II, later this week, I explore the movement and the case.

If your newly acquired antique or vintage clock is in excellent shape count yourself lucky but often it may either need major remediation or at least minor adjustments. The impulse is to do something to make it better but not enough to change it in a significant way.

Let’s consider what you have. Is it a clock or a historical object? Should it be changed in any way? And if changed how different would it be from what it had been? Should it be preserved or restored? It may represent an important part of horological history but if value is important will restoration or preservation have a  positive or negative effect on its worth?

Fully restored Mauthe wall clock CA. 1895

To preserve or restore is one of the fundamental questions concerning collectors. Preservation means halting further deterioration. Restoration, on the other hand, involves returning the object to its former state or period-correct condition.

Junghans Crispi wall clock
Fully restored Junghans Crispi wall clock

One must primarily consider the needs of the object and the amount of change, damage or wear that has occurred over the years. If the clock case has sustained little damage or wear over the years, small measures such as cleaning may be all that is required to preserve it. If the clock is in running condition servicing the movement and addressing minor wear issues is all that is required. If the movement is not running remediation may be necessary to have it run or you may even decide to keep it as an ornament.

A true barn find; Ansonia Drop Extra with new lower access door and other changes

If the objective of preservation is minimizing future deterioration one must consider the environment the clock is in.

Can we manipulate the environment to minimize deterioration? Can we change seasonal temperature variations by heating the environment, controlling the humidity or changing the location? To preserve is to stabilize or limit further deterioration. Clocks over 100 years old often survived in harsh environments since most homes at the time were difficult to heat, humidity was a challenge to control, candles or oil lamps were used for light, wood fires produced smoke and ash, and cooking produced airborne grease in the home environment. It is a wonder that clocks survived.

The solution to preserve or restore might not be the only factor to consider. Technical limitations of the collector (owner) must also be considered. Cost and time are other factors. A decision now might not be the same decision someone else might make or I would make at a different time.

Join me in Part II as I explore the movement and the case.