There are many types and styles of clocks and dozens of manufacturers. If you are a collector you know exactly what you are looking for and have a good idea of its approximate value. If you are not an “expert”, selecting an antique clock can be a daunting task. But this article is not about helping you find that special clock. It is about the variables that affect clock prices in 2021.
Over the years I have learned the value of many antique and vintage clocks. When I come across an interesting clock on an online for sale site or in an antique store I have several questions in mind. Is there anything special about it? When was it made? Is it rare? Is it historically significant? Is the price too high or too low and why? How much work must I put into it if it clearly needs TLC and will the seller accept a lower price? That said, I am prepared to walk away at any point.
For example, E. Ingraham clocks are common and can be had for very little money but the more desirable Ingrahams of the 1860s and 70s are those that Elias Ingraham had a hand in designing. The Ingraham Grecian is an attractive example of a clock that was designed in a period of American clock manufacturing where dappearance and uniqueness mattered.
Condition is important. One look at the case will tell me how well it was cared for. In my experience, it is pretty rare to find a clock that has been professionally serviced and many where a previous owner applied their limited skills to get it running. However, if you have the skills to service the movement and are handy at restoration, there are certainly bargains to be found.
If acquiring antique and vintage clocks is something you enjoy but have no knowledge of clock repair, the cost of servicing must be factored into the price particularly if you want it to run reliably.
Let’s assume that you are looking for an authentic antique or vintage clock that has not been altered in any way save for minor cosmetic touch-ups. What factors influence the price you pay for a clock today?
Here is a list of factors I would consider in making your next purchase and why you would pay more for some clocks and less for others.
Variables that affect clock prices today
- Wall clocks generally command higher prices than mantel clocks, the exceptions are Asian wall clocks and the like that have little value.
- Most mantel clocks less than 100 years old have little value.
- Clocks that come from a prominent collection that are well cared for and in excellent condition are more desirable.
- Demand in your local area affects price; Canadian-made clocks are sought after in Canada whereas the same clocks are almost worthless in the US.
- Weight-driven clocks are more desirable than spring-driven clocks. The exception is the modern weight-driven grandfather clock whose value has plummeted in recent years.
- Condition is key, a clock in excellent condition is worth more than one in poor condition or with parts missing.
- Running clocks are worth (generally) more than non-running clocks.
- A recently serviced clock is worth more than one that has either not been serviced in a long time or never serviced.
- The same clock may be worth more than others that are the same or similar if it has special provenance i.e. a well-documented tall case clock that came from Grover Cleveland’s home.
- A clock with a replacement movement is termed a marriage by collectors. Marriages are worth far less than an authentic clock but acceptable by some collectors.
- Any clock that has had its mechanical movement replaced with a quartz one is worthless.
- One of the largest factors in a clock’s value is the manufacturer. Many from Sessions Clock Co. are rather ordinary and relatively inexpensive but some Seth Thomas Sonora Chime clocks, for example, have good value.
- Age does not always equate to a higher price. A clock that is 170 years old is not necessarily worth more than one that is 50 years old.
- Mechanism type; double and triple fusee clocks and pinwheel regulators are worth more than open-spring-driven mantel clocks or modern tall-case weight-driven clocks.
- Some clockmakers are more desirable than others; generally speaking a German-made Winterhalder and Hofmeier mantel clock is worth more than a similar American-made Gilbert mantel clock. Assuming both are in the same condition, an unsigned four-glass French clock has a greater value than a branded American crystal regulator.
The Law of Supply and demand and the 30-hour ogee
The law of supply and demand is the theory that explains the interaction between the sellers of a resource and the buyers for that same resource. Generally, as price increases, people are willing to supply more and demand less and vice versa when the price falls. At the end of the day, the clock market is very unpredictable. Clocks on eBay that go for $400 one month are $100 the next.
An interesting example is a 30-hour ogee clock. Prior to the popularity of online auction sites 30-hour ogee clocks (below) were commanding prices in the hundreds of dollars. Antique stores had them in the $250-400 range and when the internet came along supply increased and prices dropped.
I have paid low prices for some of my clocks but higher for what I call special clocks that are not necessarily rare but are made with some level of precision or unique in design.
In commercial transactions, the principle that the buyer purchases at his own risk in the absence of an express warranty is termed Caveat Emptor, or let the buyer beware. In the clock world, buyers have little or no recourse if those goods turn out to be defective, misrepresented, or broken. The best of luck trying to get your money back if you are a successful bidder on an online auction site and your package arrives in pieces.
Selecting and purchasing an authentic antique mechanical clock can be a daunting task but it can also be a very rewarding experience.