The thin line between restoring a clock to its former glory and ruining it

There is a thin line between restoring a clock case to its former glory and ruining it forever. While the intent is to make them look like the day they were made, many clocks get stripped and poorly refinished and the results are beyond sad.

Although there is much debate in the world of antique furniture about what is appropriate, in serious antique clock circles, it is never a good practice to remove a finish that has aged well. Original surfaces and their preservation is the concern of every serious clock collector and some clocks must be left untouched.

There are certainly clocks that must be refinished, but that is often a process that is not well understood or practiced.

Clocks that sometimes end up on my workbench suffer from extreme neglect. They are usually found in an attic or barn, covered in filth. My first decision is whether or not they are worth saving and if so, what steps should be taken, what additional parts are required, where can they be sourced and what is the expected outcome.

Ansonia Extra short drop wall clock
A $5 barn find with a finish that is completely gone

Perhaps the best example is a $5 Ansonia Extra Drop wall clock saved from the trash heap.

Ansonia Drop Extra wall clock
The same clock, while not perfect, is a survivor and runs daily in my office

Even the movement, complete with rusty mainspring, has found a new lease on life.

A very rusty movement that most would throw out or harvest for parts

The intent was never to save it for re-sale purposes but as a test bed for case refinishing and movement repair.

The same movement, cleaned, wear issues addressed and on the test stand

My approach is to either leave it completely untouched (other than a soap and water cleaning) or go full on, there is no half measure. Some clocks require the full treatment whereas others can be left completely as-is.

This single-weight Vienna Regulator from about 1880 had the movement serviced and the brass polished. Otherwise, the original finish was preserved and that is to be expected of a clock that has been well cared for during its life. There is no requirement to refinish this clock.

one-weight Vienna wall clock
Miniature one-weight Vienna wall clock

The value of a clock that has been poorly refinished is severely diminished. When destroyed by well-meaning folks they have little to no value. More is lost in so-called refinishing than many well meaning people realize. However, when the ravages of time, environment, and neglect have taken their toll refinishing is justified.

Another example of a complete restoration.

Junghans clock in pieces
Literally a box of parts

Junghans Crispi spring driven wall clock circa 1895 .

The same clock, with new parts, refinished, movement serviced

Although some are faded now, many antiques had a near piano finish when new and the finish has simply aged. Like furniture, they are admired for their original finish and polishing brass, like silver, would have been practiced on a regular basis if the clock were still in a home. Antiques must be cleaned regularly and maintained properly so that they may last.

However, correct refinishing of a case is a long and involved process that includes the filling of all the pores in the wood, cleaning sharp edges on corners, the use of traditional glue, fashioning parts from similar wood material used at the time, cleaning the various recesses, staining wood when originally stained, artificially grained when done so originally, painted when originally painted, gessoed gold-leafed details when gold-leafed was present originally, sourcing authentic replacement parts to name a few considerations.

Too many clocks are ruined by well meaning people and that is sad.


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