The antique clock and the dilemma of identity

The antique clock and the dilemma of identity. Some may feel this is much ado about nothing but discussion on identity and antique clocks tends to prompt a lot of debate. Let me explain.

Let’s say you are looking for that particular antique clock and you think you have finally found it. The photos look great and the description hits all of the boxes on your list. Let’s assume you found it locally and are meeting the seller soon to close the deal. You arrive, they present the clock and you notice things that are not quite right with the clock. The clock you thought was an authentic antique has been changed over the years and the seller may or may not even be aware of the changes. If the clock has been changed is it an antique in the truest sense of the word. You walk away feeling that too much has been done to the clock and continue your search.

A clock collector might have the opinion that if too much is done to restore a clock it is not fundamentally the same and cannot be considered original even though the new parts were made from the same materials using similar methods when the clock was first made. An antique shopper who knows little about clocks might not be bothered by the changes if the clock “looks” original.

Another might have the opinion that changes or alterations to the clock that bring it back to its original look and function including the making of new parts make it more “original” and therefore more desirable. But has the clock changed its identity during the change process and is it less original if it has undergone restoration?

Here are some examples.

From This.

Ansonia Extra short drop wall clock
Ansonia Extra Drop wall clock that some would have thrown out

To this.

Not perfect but saved from the trash heap

From this.

Junghans clock in pieces
Junghans Crispi wall clock in a parts box

To this.

Junghans Crispi wall clcok with compensating pendulum
Junghans Crispi wall clock resurrected from the grave

If one replaces one part at a time on a clock so that at some point all parts are replaced, at what point does a clock no longer become the same clock? It follows that if you take all of those parts and make a “new” clock which of the two clocks is original? What is the nature of the clock’s identity since no two objects can occupy the same identity? This is an example of a thought argument that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object.

I was working on a clock recently that was said by its owner to be an antique. At first glance, it looked original. The case was a little tired, the movement looked like it was cared for or at least properly serviced at some point in its life. As I began to examine it more closely I discovered several anomalies. Although the movement was the “correct” maker as the case, the movement was taken from a kitchen clock and slightly modified to fit the case. Is this clock still an antique or has it strayed too far away from the definition of an antique because it is a “marriage”

People pay for originality. For my money, I prefer a well-cared-for clock in original condition. I will take a second look if it has been tastefully restored or repaired and know that it is better than having it trashed or perhaps parted out. However, I would not expect to pay as much for a “changed” clock”

If a clock is overly restored how should it be valued? I am not against conservation or restoration but if a clock was two steps away from a garbage can is it less valuable if restored?

There are no clear answers. There will always be buyers who demand originality and those who overlook certain changes. Is this much ado about nothing?


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