How to Appraise a Clock

How to Appraise a Clock thumbnail
This long case or "grandfather" clock is in crisp condition.

Clocks come in all different shapes and sizes, from imposing long case or “grandfather” clocks to small, portable carriage clocks. Most clocks consist of three essential elements – the dial, the movement and escapement, and the case – and it is these you should look at when appraising a clock to see whether it is an original example of its type.


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      Look at the dial first. From the early 19th century onward, dials of white enamel on metal became increasingly fashionable, but you can find clocks from before this date with painted metal, painted wood and engraved metal dials. A dial painted onto a metal such as tin is usually a sign of a cheaper, provincial clock, while an engraved brass dial indicates a better quality piece. The best brass dials were fitted with decorative spandrels and a silvered chapter ring marking the minutes or quarters. Many dials carry the names of clockmakers, and this adds value if it is credible – for instance, when the name of a known regional clockmaker appears on a clock that shows other regional characteristics.

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      Look at the movement, which creates a clock's impetus and regulates its speed. The most important thing to decide, when making an initial appraisal of a movement, is whether it looks original, since it is common for dealers to “marry” dials, cases and pieces of movements that started life separately. If you buy a “marriage” accidentally, you may find it hard to resell later. Check the back plate for any filled in holes – a strong indicator that the movement was mounted differently at some time – and look for variations in the color of the metal, since this can indicate replacements. The replacement of small, hardworking parts is acceptable, but avoid clocks where you suspect large, static pieces of the movement of having been replaced. Look for bells and chimes, since this indicates a mechanism that perhaps strikes the hours or plays a tune.

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      Look for any decorative features of the case that might add value – for instance, the use of richly patterned woods on a long case clock, gilt bronze figurines on a mantel clock or painted enamel panels on a carriage clock. Make a note of any damage and ask yourself how easy it would be to repair – a cracked glass panel or missing hands can be replaced, but painted enamel panel can't. Be suspicious of wooden cases that give off a strong whiff of furniture polish, since this is likely to indicate recent restoration.

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  • "Is it Genuine?"; John Bly, et al.
  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/ Images

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