Lessons learned from 10 years of clock collecting, repair, and restoration

Ten years have flown by very quickly. Just the other day I was cleaning a clock I serviced over 5 1/2 years ago and it struck me that I have been at this for over 10 years and loving it.

Three years into the hobby I decided to begin blogging and have been at it for close to 7 years. I love blogging and it helps me gauge my progress as I explore new avenues of clock collecting, repair, and restoration and it allows me to marry my photography hobby with writing.

It has been quite the journey, I have learned a lot in that time and have some thoughts I would like to share.

Managing my collection makes me a better collector

In the early days, I would collect just about anything I could get my hands on, the cheapest clocks imaginable, some for as little as $5, generally for practice working on cases and movements but the number of clocks began to build up at a fast rate.

80 clocks is a comfortable number for me. I have adopted a “one comes in, one goes out” rule to control the size of my collection.

I learned to become more discriminatory and concentrate on particular types of clocks rather than any clock at all, selling off or gifting those that did not fit my new criteria. Spring and weight driven wall clocks and American and Canadian shelf clocks from the 1860s and 1870s are my principle focus at this time.

Museum collection

Take your time, there is no rush

Rewards come in small increments. My last major project was an antique 1840s circa banjo clock. Acquired in the spring of 2021 it took me almost a year to complete the project, working on it in stages.

Sawin Banjo clock C.1840

Whether it is restoration or repair, I take my time investigating new (to me) techniques or wait for a tool that I feel would make the job simpler. For example, the bezel repair on the banjo clock above was made much easier by the purchase of a band clamp.

Buy only the tools you require and more if and when you need them

Tools can be expensive. As in any hobby requiring the assembly and disassembly of mechanical devices, I relied on the tools I had on hand to get started. Once committed to the hobby my next decision was to determine how I wanted to grow it.

Equipment such as a pivot cutter. lathe, a decent ultrasonic cleaner can amount to hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

Bergeon Bushing Machine
Bergeon Bushing Machine

It took me four years to justify purchasing a pivot cutter, another year or two to buy a lathe and ultrasonic cleaner and over time I have managed to acquire most of the hand tools that I require. Spreading out the costs over time has also made it financially feasible.

There is always the option of buying used but I live in a distant part of Canada with a low population and there are just not as many people engaged in clock collecting and repair as would be elsewhere.

Antique and vintage clocks are cheap and there are plenty of them

Some clocks are well over 100 years old but are worth almost nothing. A glut of antique clocks offered on the internet have lowered their value. Ogee clocks that were once two and three hundred dollars years are worth a quarter of that today.

I have bought $40 clocks that are now worth, well…$40. There are a rarefied few in the world that are worth a fortune but I don’t have any of those in my collection.

Ansonia Drop Extra wall clock
A $5 barn find

Some clocks have crept up in price over the years but I do not have anything that I would call very valuable. Others, such as my collection of eight Arthur Pequegnats mantel and wall clocks are highly collectible in Canada.

At any given time there are literally hundreds of “antique” clocks offered on online for-sale sites. A majority of these clocks are trash and many are not antique though they are offered as such. Sellers often advertise clocks that are beyond repair and unfortunately clocks made in Asia are cheap, dangerous to work on, and were never meant to be repaired.

Choose repair advice wisely – not all advice is good advice

There are experts on clock repair out there, you just have to find them. It is too easy to get swept up by people who do not know what they are talking about and there are a number of well-meaning folk on YouTube that offer questionable clock repair advice. I follow a couple of well-respected YouTube repairers and have seen enough of their videos to convince me that they know what they are doing.

As I am a member of the NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) and a member of the Ottawa Valley Watch and Clock Collectors Club, chapter 111 of the NAWCC. As such I have access to a wealth of information including online library resources and articles. NAWCC has an online forum presence that anyone can join for free. There are a number of well-respected people on the forum who contribute regularly. They have years of experience and offer excellent advice.

There are few clock Facebook groups but the advice is all over the map. Tinkerers and experts can be found but the expert soon loses patience and many are chased away by the know-it-all.

Collect clocks for profit? The margins are too small. However, I do sell the odd clock to offset equipment purchases. For me, I love the nostalgia, the design, and the fascination of a machine that may be over 150 years old that works perfectly today. Value is not important to me. Hobbies for profit? For some but not for me.

Be prepared to walk away

I have walked away from more than a few clocks over the past 10 years. Sometimes you have to let it go. Whether it is the price of a clock on an auction site that has risen beyond what I am prepared to pay or a clock offered as rare when it is, in fact, quite common.

Rare Ingraham Huron found on a local online for-sale site
E Ingraham Huron shelf clock made between 1878-1880

Some would have been perfect to have in my collection but they were priced just a little too high for my tastes. Others had too many things wrong and had suspicious repairs or parts missing that would have been impossible to source.

Just when I say, darn I missed that one, a better clock comes along.

Meeting like-minded people opens up a new world

As clock collectors and repairers we are a strange lot. Some of my clock colleagues are quite eccentric. Most are introverts and although they keep to themselves have no trouble sharing with like-minded people. One of the most fascinating things about this hobby is the people and their passion for mechanical clocks.

Final thoughts

These are some of my reflections over the past 10 years. I have learned a lot, met many fascinating people, acquired some very interesting clocks and look forward to more adventurers in the world of clock collecting and repair.

2 thoughts on “Lessons learned from 10 years of clock collecting, repair, and restoration

  1. Ron, appreciate the help you have given me. Your are indeed a “Amateur” of horology, in the true sense of the word.(Hint: Not interested in etymology of the word? A good, not bad thing).


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