Restoring an 1850s Scottish tall clock case – Part II

Restoring the case of an 1850s period Scottish tall case clock with an English bell strike is the subject of this blog. This is Part II of a two-part series. Check out Part I here.

While the case was made in Scotland, the movement, dial and weights are all from Birmingham, England made at or before 1850. The clock was in fair condition when I bought it from an estate auction early in 2020, though I knew almost immediately that structural repairs and cosmetic fixes were necessary. My work was cut out for me.

It is rare to find a clock from this period that has not been subject to minor or even major repairs/changes over the years, some acceptable, others questionable

In Part I, I addressed age cracks, a cracked backboard and attaching a backboard to the waist section. In this, Part II, I will continue with installing new door pins, fashioning a missing right rear foot, cleaning the case and overall case refinishing.

New door pins

Both upper and lower door pins were missing. I considered what I would use as pins. Wood screws could work.

I cut the heads off two 3/4 inch steel wood screws and threaded each screw into the existing holes at the top and bottom of the frame. They are more than strong enough to hold the bonnet access door and appear authentic.

I learned that the poured cement on my basement floor is not level. It took me a 1/2 hour of crawling on the basement floor to find a perfectly level area

New upper and lower door pins

Missing right rear foot

The case was off balance for an obvious reason. It was completely missing the right rear foot. I measured the other 3 feet for height and cut a softwood block to fit, then glued and clamped it in place.

In the process, I learned that my basement floor is not quite as level as I thought. It took me 10 minutes of crawling on the concrete floor to find a perfectly level spot. It was only then that I could attach the missing foot.

The backboard is attached and bonnet put in place; the age crack in the backboard is visible

Cleaning the case & refinishing

Next is a thorough cleaning of the case with Murphy’s Soap. When scrubbing, it is inevitable that some of the old finish will come off but I had planned to address that with coats of shellac. I mixed traditional amber shellac and applied a total of 3 coats. After each coat, I rubbed out the case with 0000 steel wool.

After a coat of shellac

The above photo shows the case after the first application of shellac. After two more coats, I then decide how far I want to go to age the finish. This is accomplished with 0000 steel wool which will dull the finish somewhat while retaining a rich sheen.

Hot hide glue is used to secure the back section of the bonnet which had split from its frame
Anti-tip wire attachment point – steel cable is tied from that point to a nail in the wall
The permanent location, servicing the movement is next

The next step is polishing the bonnet door access knob and the lower access door hinges.

Then come the finials. On each corner of the bonnet are nubs or posts suggesting that there was once some sort of finial that might have been brass with wood bases or gilded wood finials.

Finials, yes or no?

I researched the Scottish tall case clocks of this period and found that most have brass ball finials and some wooden ones. Brass ball finials (see first photo above) are a good fit for this style of clock.

Final thoughts

It is rare to find a clock from this period that has not been subject to minor or even major repairs/changes over the years, some good and some questionable. The backboard was certainly a very questionable repair.

The case has been cleaned, refinished and all structural repairs are complete. Age cracks are best left alone and in my view, they are part of the character of the clock. The new repairs become part of the history of this tall case clock.

Modern repairs may add or take away from the value of a clock and affect its desirability. For purists, the authentic repair is the ultimate goal but if repairs are discrete and performed with utmost care I don’t think a future owner would be overly concerned.


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