The Antique Longcase Clock

Probably the best known of all old clocks is the Antique Longcase Clock, produced in England in large numbers from the late 1600s, the longcase also known as the Grandfather clock, or in the US as the tallcase clock, has pride of place in many homes in many countries.

The tallcase was made all over Europe and in the US but in the early years the majority were made in the UK. These clocks are also known for their magnificent cases in which their weights and pendulum were housed. The cases were made in all types of woods including, walnut, mahogany, oak, cherry wood, lacquered and the most magnificent marquetry inlays.

Antique Longcase Clock dialMost of the very early antique longcase clocks were made in London but as the profession gained momentum many clock makers set up shop in areas around the country and longcases from the 18th Century may be found from all over the UK.

The case was originally devised to protect the working mechanisms from the effects of dirt, dust and prying fingers. As usual with antique furniture, the case was often ornate and beautifully built. When you first open the case door you will almost always see a frame made from oak, however the exterior of longcase clocks was often veneered with exotic woods like walnut or mahogany. Later clocks featured highly detailed marquetry and also the use of solid oak cases became more widespread.

Cases gradually became bigger and grander and the addition of decorative features like finials, frets fine inlays known as stringing.

As an investment, Longcase Clocks have held their own and an investment only a few years back will have increased in value handsomely. Ultimately though, once you own one of these magnificent clocks you never want to part with it. I now have three of these in my house, all chiming and keeping great time. As far as I am able I will never part with them.

The Movement

In early clocks the verge escapement was used, but later clocks incorporated the much improved anchor escapement. The movement was kept moving with the help of a long pendulum that itself was improved with the use of different metals with differing coefficients of expansion which kept the pendulum at a more constant length and hence a more accurate beat was able to be maintained.

The momentum to keep the movement working was supplied by large weights hanging inside the case. Most antique longcase clocks would run for 8 days before needing to be rewound, which simply involved winding the weights up to the top of the case by using a single handed key in the dial.

Over the period that longcase clocks were prominent, between 1650 and 1850, the complexity of the movement improved to include complications such as moon-phase and musical chiming mechanisms. Dials started off being square and primarily of brass construction, later changing to include the top arch that often but not always incorporated the moon phase indicator.

There are a few makers names linked with these fine timepieces that are highly sought after by collectors. Clocks made by Thomas Thompion, John Knibb, Thomas Mudge and William Dutton being especially sought after. The most common longcases today are mahogany veneered examples by London makers, mainly because there were so many made during the period 1750 - 1850.

Happy Collecting!