There is no single method of dating an antique or vintage clock but there are some strong clues in some cases and subtle inferences in others that help determine when a clock was manufactured. Occasionally, the exact month and year is displayed somewhere on the case and in other instances the clock by way of serial numbers, date stamps on the movement, style of hands, spandrels, dial design, case design and so on, establishes the date to within a certain period.
This is by no means an exhaustive reference but my thoughts on how to date a clock. I will therefore rely on examples in my collection.
Elisha Manross steeple clock
This Elisha Manross clock is an attractive steeple design. Steeple clock were made in the thousands from the early 1830s to the end of the century.
Elisha Manross was an important pioneer of the Connecticut clock and lived from 1792 to 1856. An distinctive feature of this clock are brass mainsprings.
From 1836 to 1850 brass mainsprings were used in clocks because steel was considered very expensive. It was not until 1847 that the tempered steel mainspring developed for everyday clocks was introduced and with it, the brass mainspring faded into clock history.
This provides an important clue when dating this clock, that it was made before 1850. The second clue is the label located inside the case. Elihu Gere, the printer was in business at 10 State Street Hartford Conn. (printers name and address on the bottom of the label) until 1847. Armed with these pieces of information one can date the clock from about 1845 to 1847.
Daniel Pratt Jr revers ogee columns with splat top
Next is a Daniel Pratt Jr shelf clock. A distinctive feature of this clock is that it has a woodworks movement. Woodworks movements were very common prior to 1840 and were considered the first mass produced clocks.
Daniel Pratt (1797-1871), Jr., clock-maker, banker, town clerk, legislator, lived in the town of Reading, Massachusetts, in the 1800s. Pratt did not contribute much to clock-making and was regarded as an entrepreneur rather than an innovator.
This particular Daniel Pratt Jr. reverse Ogee shelf clock was made in Reading, Massachusetts, c. 1832-38, a period within a range of six years. It has a splat-top mahogany case with half reverse Ogee mouldings flanking the door, painted wooden Roman numeral dial, mirrored lower tablet and wood dial face. The mirrored tablet was considered a luxury at the time.
McLachlan tall case clock
It is a classic Scottish design from the mid 1800s. The removable bonnet is 23 inches at its widest point, the waist is 15 3/4 inches wide and the base is 20 inches wide. The bonnet has tapered columns on either side. The dial access door which covers the entire bonnet swings to the right. The solid wood access door on the waist measures 9 X 24.
The well-preserved sheet iron white dial has painted spandrels, each one depicting a ewe with a lamb and a painted arch top showing a man resting on a rock with two working horses directly behind.
The robust movement is made in the Guild style and movements contained in these clocks are commonly called “English bell strikes” with anchor escapements.
McLachlan was not a clock-maker in the true sense of the word but rather an assembler, bringing the dial, clock case and movement together to assemble into a tall case clock for a particular customer. Signatures on a clock dial may or may not refer to someone other than the clock-maker. 19th-century retailers and distributors often put their own names on clocks as an attempt to ‘brand’ their product. The actual movement may have been made by someone else. 19th-century clock cases were almost always made separately from the movement and are rarely signed.
The name Wm McLachlan, of Newton and Stewart is on the dial. In his book, Clock-makers & Watchmakers of Scotland 1453 to 1900 David Whyte lists McLachlan, William, clock & watchmaker in Newton-Stewart, Wigtownshire as a business advertised for sale on 25 May 1852. McLachlan either retired or passed away prior to the sale date. Newton-Stewart is a former burgh town in the historical county of Wigtownshire in Dumfries and Galloway, southwest Scotland.
This clock was therefore made between 1848 and 1852. The painted dial which originated in or around 1810, style of the hands, style of spandrels and shape of the case are other clues that it was made within that period.
Sessions Beveled #2 tambour style mantel clock
This Sessions tambour style clock represents a very popular style of clock sold in the 1920s and 1930s in the USA.
It is a fairly attractive mantel clock featuring a toned mahogany finish with faux inlay below the dial face.
Occasionally the date can be narrowed down to the year and month of manufacture which makes it simple to date. In this case the clock was made in September of 1927.
Arthur Pequegnat kitchen clock
Sometimes dating a clock can be difficult. Unfortunately, this clock is tough to date precisely.
Here in Canada, the Arthur Pequegnat Clock Company made clocks from 1903 to 1941. The Pequegnat company made clocks in Berlin, Canada before the First World War. The name changed to Kitchener during the war years in response to the conflict with Germany at the time. Below the six on the dial is the inscription “The Arthur Pequegnat Clock Co. Berlin, Canada” but there is nothing on the case or the movement that brings the date any closer than the period between 1903 to 1917.
This is part 1 of a two-part article. In part two, I will describe other clues to dating a clock.