Refreshing an Ingraham “octagon top” 30-hour shelf clock – keep or sell?

This 30-hour shelf clock (hour strike) was manufactured by American clock-maker E. Ingraham and Co. in the 1870s. There are various iterations of the name over the maker’s history but this was the one the company used from 1861 to 1880.

The clock was bought at auction in mid-March 2022 along with 3 other clocks. In this post, I will take the reader through the process of refreshing the case.

Auction photo

This is an excellent example of a tired case that needs attention. When I look at a clock case such as this I assume the movement is well worn but a pleasant surprise awaited.

The movement is in surprisingly good condition as a result of regular (somewhat) servicing over the years. It has been in the shop at least three times, 1879, 1916, and 1994 according to dates found on the back of the case and perhaps more occasions that are not recorded.

Analysis of the case and plan of action

The gold banding on the front face of the “octagon top” and the inside frame of the access door has some losses and the goal is to hide the nicks with gold artist’s paint matched to the trim. First of all, it is not a true octagon but half of one, but that is how these clocks are described.

The overall finish is in fair condition. Numerous cosmetic issues such as scratches and nicks here and there over the rosewood case are evident, but a good cleaning with soap and water followed by a fresh coat of shellac should fill in the scratches and improve things dramatically.

Auction photo showing nicks and scratches

The dial shows considerable wear after years of daily use and this is a situation where a replacement paper dial might be considered but I am always hesitant because replacement dials take a certain something away from and antique clock.

However, I am going to see what I can do by attempting to bring the numbers back with black acrylic paint while retaining some of the patina.

The moon hands look correct for the period of the clock.

As a collector who has seen a good number of these styles of clocks, I first thought the access door glass was a replacement since many clocks from the early to late 19th century had reverse painted tablets.

Because of the decorative pendulum and the bright brass bell both meant to be seen, the stylized panel that serves as the base for the dial, the total absence of any paint remnants, the glass panel with its waviness and various imperfections plus the putty-like material that is used to mount the glass to the door, the glass appears to be original to the case. A pleasant surprise!

It is always a bit of a disappointment when something is lost or changed on an antique clock especially one that is close to 150 years old and when replacement parts are difficult to source.

No doubt some of the scratches on the case, dents, etc. (not all, of course) are the result of rough handling either when transporting the item to the auction house or during its stay.

Addressing issues with the case

The very first step is a good cleaning. Cleaning a clock will generally result in the removal of some of its protective finish but it is inevitable given that it has been on the clock a long time.

Auction photo

For old American clocks I generally use traditional shellac made by combining shellac lacquer with shellac flakes. Amber Shellac adds a certain hue to the case and the cut is light enough that it dries to the touch in less than a minute which is my preference.

When there are large flat surfaces I will use a “french polish” but for this project, a broad artist’s brush is best. I apply the shellac in long strokes completing each section at a time.

The decorative black wood panel that serves as the dial mount is also shellacked allowing for small scratches to fill in very nicely.

The original paper dial is well worn and presents significant challenges as all the numbers on the dial are either partially worn off or completely erased. This was a well-used clock!

Top and bottom lines of the numerals are filled in

Using an artist’s fine-tipped brush, black multi-surface acrylic paint, and a steady hand I filled in as much as I could. The numbers around the winding arbours were the worst because I had little to work with and they were the most difficult to reproduce.

Once all the Roman numerals were completed and thoroughly dry, I used a Sharpie fine-tip “artist’s permanent marker” and a straight edge to clean up the lines. I decided not to touch up the chapter ring other than the 5-minute markers. I am not entirely happy with the number 4 on the dial but that’s as far I am going.

Closer view of the dial

As for the gold trim on the face, I did not want to mess with the patina, nor did I wish to cover the gold which would have completely taken away from the antique look. I mixed acrylic multi-surface gold paint and a very small dab of black paint for an “aged” effect and used a fine-tipped artist’s brush to carefully dab the bare areas.

Finally, the brass bezel and inner ring were given a polishing.

The clock is complete

The clock has been transformed. The dial has been rejuvenated, the movement serviced and reinstalled, the bell gong attached, the case given its many touch-ups, and the decorative pendulum is attached. Now to regulate the clock.

In the final analysis, I believe that I have struck the balance every collector and restorer seeks and that is maintaining the original patina of the clock while not taking away its antique look. It is 145 year old antique that has seen good use over the years but applying modern techniques that are minimally invasive have brought it back to life.

I have one more decision to make. I acquired this and three other clocks to sell in order to offset the cost of new equipment but now that I have seen the final result I wonder!

One thought on “Refreshing an Ingraham “octagon top” 30-hour shelf clock – keep or sell?

  1. Can see why this one speaks to you. It is a handsome, modest fellow that has done yeoman service and willing to continue to do so.


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