This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Grandfather Clocks

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Grandfather clocks are an excellent piece of furniture to use in an historical novel. People didn't have wrist watches back then and the grandfather clock was not only an elegant piece of furniture, but it chimed the hour to keep the household and servants aware of the passing of time. The chimes brought a certain ambiance to the the home and it's a hearing sensory you can use to describe your setting.

The clock in the first photo is c. 1725 from Charleston, SC. It is English baroque style made of red lacquer with ormolu mounts and brass inlay.

The first mechanical clocks were developed in the late 13th century, but they lacked dials and arms and consisted of heavy iron frames and gears. Most of these massive devices were hung in church towers where a bell was struck every hour. By the 15th century small domestic clocks were available and by the 1630's a lantern clock became available in upper class homes.

A breakthrough came in 1582 when Galileo Galilei discovered that a pendulum was an appropriate time keeper. Almost a century later in 1656, a Dutch scientist made the first pendulum clock. These clocks were called "wags-on-the-wall" as they literally hung on the wall. By 1670, William Clement developed an anchor for the wood case that allowed these clocks stand upright at 7-ft tall as a single piece of furniture with a long swinging pendulum, introducing the Floor Clock or Long Case Clock as they were known until the 1880's. It wasn't until later that these clocks were encased in glass to display the weights and pendulums.

Between 1630-1730, these clocks were only made for royal families and nobles as the cost of production was so high. By 1700, several colonies had their own clock makers constructing the Floor Clocks. Even so, due to the cost of craftmanship, a Floor Clock was only in households with means and became a symbol of status.

The Gran
dfather Clock was not known as a term until the 1880's when a song by Henry work, an American songwriter wrote and published a popular song entitled, "The Grandfather's Clock". The inspiration for his song came from a story of a family Floor Clock that stood in the lobby of a country inn, the George Hotel of Piercebridge, North Yorkshire, England. You can read the lyrics of the song here.

The second photo is a Gothic Tall-Case Timepiece, c. 1830 made of mahogany and white pine. It is a precision clock mercury pendulum with a silver face on brass with three separate dials for hours, minutes, and seconds.


About 20 years ago I almost bought an art deco grandfather clock in an antique store for $1500 as a present for my husband's birthday, (he's partial to art deco). It was a simple design, very elegant. Anyway, I bought him a video camera instead. About a year ago I saw a similar clock for sale, the price? $8500. Oh well, win some lose some. I made the WRONG choice.

Great post!

The clock which you say is baroque was a popular London style which I would date to about 1760-1780, not 1725. It appears to be oak, I note no lacquer, nor ormolu mounts. There are brass finials that are meant to represent torches.

You can still buy a good 18th century clock at auction for $3000.
Better and cheaper than the modern equivilents

Elizabeth, Sounds like it was a great deal! I hate it when I'm unable to take advantage of excellent offers like that.

Anonymous, I appreciate your comment. As to the clock you are referring to, I took a photo of the description card for that particular piece and used the description from it. I do not feel qualified to contradict the Charleston Historical Museum historians.

Great post...Just blog hopping and enjoyed yours tonight...
Stop by and visit my new Christmas blog. There will be a drawing on October 1st for a GREAT prize...all you have to do is leave a comment..

It is extremely interesting for me to read the post. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.