I have saved a few clocks that were one step closer to a garbage bin by taking an aggressive approach to clock case restoration. Is stripping a clock case a travesty?
Firstly, I am not a huge fan of gingerbread clocks which were very popular in America at the turn of the 20th century. Every major manufacturer made them and they sold like hotcakes. Thousands have survived and a quick perusal of online auction sites any day of the week will reveal dozens if not hundreds of them.
The designs were created by using high-pressure rotary presses on oak wood that had been pre-steamed to soften it.
Gingerbread clocks are quite large for a shelf clock and generally unattractive, in my opinion. The only other gingerbread I have, besides the Sessions clock which is the subject of this article, is an Arthur Pequegnat Canuk 8-day time and strike added to my collection in 2019. The Canuk is nicely balanced, well-proportioned, and mildly attractive for a gingerbread clock.
The Sessions Grand Assortment #1, is the ugly duckling of the clock world.
The design of the top is not consistent with the side rails and the base. The crown looks overbearing. It is not very well-balanced and out of proportion but it was the style of the time and thousands upon thousands were sold.
This clock was acquired as part of an auction lot and was relatively inexpensive. I plan to revitalize the case and service the movement but I am not sure at this point whether or not it is worth keeping.
What to do with the case? Here are two shots of the case, the base, and the crown.
The mottling is what some call alligorating. Over time heat, moisture (stored in an attic or garage), dust, and dirt cause the shellac to coagulate into lumps or globules similar to the skin of an alligator. It is not fun to remove and drastic measures are required to put right.
In the past when met with a similar situation I have tried a number of approaches; lacquer thinner, sanding, alcohol, a mixture of cleaners, and so on but the only way to get rid of it entirely is to strip the case. Does stripping diminish the value of a clock? Perhaps, but if done correctly it might even enhance its desirability.
The photo above shows a Grand Assortment I worked on in 2019. Obviously, someone added the colouring to the tablet making it somewhat worse rather than better. I cleaned the case of dirt and grime but left the finish as-is. This one has darkened with age but it looks acceptable.
For my Grand Assortment, the only thing that remains is a very aggressive approach. So, off to the shop it goes.
Hmm, is it a Grand Assortment #1 or #1 in an Assortment of Grand clocks?
4 thoughts on “Stripping a clock case is a travesty, or is it?”
Ron, As always a interesting topic.
For a hard working farmer, and of course equally so, wife, these clocks where likely if not a prized pocession, at the least, a valuable household item. Often a position of honour on the parlor mantle. It too, was a high tech link to the world. To be able to know the time.
We have the advantage of knowing how they where mass produced. Let’s fast forward to today. Any dollar store has Chinese knick-knacks for a buck or two. They appear exquisitely made. Collectability? A century from now? I for one, not bet the farm on it.
It always amazes me that clocks, some made upwards of 150 years ago are now worth practically nothing. Perhaps that will change but I doubt it.
I have had good results with rubbing down an alligatered shellac finish with alcohol. A little tedious but a smooth finish was the result.
It is a gentler approach I agee, albeit quite time consuming.