Gilbert shelf clock

How to buy an antique clock during a pandemic. I should dedicate a whole article to that subject alone.

My wife and I bought a clock on Facebook Marketplace recently. The agreed upon amount was eTranfered to the owner and they left the clock in a recycle bin outside their home for us to pick up.

We never actually met the owner. It was wrapped in a plastic bag with a note attached that said thank you. An odd way to sell a clock but it worked. As we drove away I wondered if the clock was complete.

The package is opened

This is an excellent example of a non-descript mantel clock found in thousands of homes in Canada and the USA in the 1920s. Seth Thomas, Sessions and others made similar styled models to appeal to those who could not afford the fancier, optioned-out upper range mantel clocks that were offered by most manufacturers at the time.

The clock was offered on Facebook Marketplace (Quebec region) for $40 and had no takers over a three-month period. When the price was reduced, I bought it. It was described as a non-running clock but the key, pendulum bob and all parts of the movement are intact. The only flaw is the hour hand; the spade end has been snapped off. The clock is nothing special but cleaned up and put in running order, it should look presentable and run well for years.

Normally I stay away from American mantel clocks of the 1920s and 30s because I have had a number of them in the past but for some reason I was attracted to this clock because it looked like it had not been messed with. I am expecting a little bit of wear consistent with its age, so, it looks good at first blush.

This clock is made by Gilbert. There are no exotic veneers, appliques, fancy trim pieces or finials, just a plain two column, square-shaped, tinted mahogany lacquer hardwood case measuring 10 inches high by 5 ½ inches deep by 10 ½ inches wide at the base. The enameled 5-inch dial with spade hands has Arabic numerals. On the top of the dial, within the number 12 is a regulating arbour to adjust the speed of the clock.

There is no identifying stamp on the rear plate. The seller did not know what it was. Once the movement was removed from the case the markings are revealed. On the front plate is the Gilbert trademark, a capital G within a diamond and Wm Gilbert Clock Co, Winstead Conn. stamped on the right. The number 17 is in the lower centre, the year (1917) the movement was made. The movement has steel plates with brass bushing inserts, not surprising since brass was in short supply during the period of the First World War, 1914-1918 and manufacturers made do with steel for clock plates.

Gilbert movement

However, the case has an austere 1920s look. The movement date of 1917 suggests Gilbert might have used the same movement for a number of years following the war. The entire case, especially the molded base is free of gouges, dents and other calamities associated with the rough handling and careless storage of old clocks. The case was cleaned with Murphy’s soap revealing a beautiful mahogany finish underneath layers of dirt.

If the movement is complete, I can usually have the clock running in a few minutes with a few adjustments here and there. Oiling the movement, checking the gap in the crutch loop, releasing the tension on the mainsprings and adjusting the beat did nothing and after a few seconds it stops. It was only after removing the suspension spring that I discovered a kink which is enough to stop the clock. It will be replaced during its servicing. Once I smoothed out the suspension spring kink the clock began to run. The strike side required no adjusting and works well.

Oiling and adjustments such as these are certainly no substitute for a good cleaning but it tells me what sort of problems I’m faced with. Minor wear will be addressed by the installation of some bushings. In the meantime, it is running as well as can be expected.

Judging from cobwebs within and around the movement, a couple of dead houseflies plus dirt and grime on the movement itself, I doubt this clock has been running for many years though it likely gave years of reliable service before it stopped.

The previous owner says the clock has been in the family for a long time. It had been his grandmother’s clock passed on to his mother. It was dusted and cared for but, “she got tired of dusting it”, he said and it ended up stored in a barn for the last number of years.

It is pretty plain and nondescript but I think I’ll keep it.

2 thoughts on “Gilbert shelf clock

  1. Good catch ,Ron. There are collectors who focus on one style or type . Perhaps go further to specialize into a subset of it. Others enjoy a find if it speaks to us. Sounds as this relatively humble clock fits the bill for you second category..

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    1. Not a style I choose that often these days but I was intrigued by the condition of the clock. The movement is in surprisingly good shape. Thanks, Marty.

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