Investments in Time
Grandfather clocks make great heirloom pieces
It seems that clocks have always been a part of my life as my father was an avid collector of antique clocks and watches. Now we have a large grandfather clock in our vacation home, and I have fond memories of waking to the sound of its Westminster chimes and the smell of coffee brewing.
The term “grandfather” came about in the last hundred years or so. Previously known as tallcase or longcase clocks, they’re generally over seven feet tall, while grandmother clocks are between five and six feet, and granddaughter clocks between three and five feet tall.
In the 19th century, Bristol, Connecticut, was the largest manufacturer of clocks in the world, according to Tom Grimshaw, curator of the American Clock and Watch Museum (100 Maple St., Bristol, clockandwatchmuseum.org). “We have roughly 2,700 clocks in our collection and 3,700 watches,” said Grimshaw. “Almost all of our pieces are donated. We’re one of the leading museums in the world for the study of American clocks and watches.” Connecticut has a long clock-making tradition with such distinguished names as Ansonia, Waterbury, Sessions, Gilbert, E. Ingraham, and New Haven—to name just a few. In 1806, Eli Terry, Silas Hoadley and Seth Thomas started a clock factory in Connecticut. Within a year and a half, the water-powered factory had a contract to produce 4,000 clocks per year during a period when a traditional clockmaker could produce only 12–18. Utilizing unskilled labor to produce interchangeable clock parts, with skilled journeymen doing the finish work, the factory lowered the cost of the clocks, thereby changing forever the availability of this essential household item.
William Hildreth, owner of Mill House Antiques (1068 Main Street, North Woodbury, 203-263-3446, millhouseantiques-ct.com), shares with us this wonderful French grandfather clock that retains its original movement made by Morbier in 1820. The case is faux-painted with a brass and enamel face and hand-hammered brass pendulum. The pair of doves above the face indicates that this clock was most likely a wedding gift. The clock caught my eye for two reasons: Its faux wood graining and exuberant brass work offer a refreshing departure from its American and British counterparts, while the unexpected curvaceous form is a feminine counterpoint to the stately masculine versions we associate with traditional grandfather clocks. “Remember to check the height of your ceiling when considering a grandfather clock,” advises Hildreth. “Look for clocks that retain their original parts as opposed to those that are ‘married’ with parts from different clocks. Most of all, a clock has to have aesthetic appeal to the individual.”
when buying a grandfather clock
At Kocian DePasqua (487 Main Street, South Woodbury, kociandepasqua.com), I spotted this circa 1785 grandfather clock by John Murphy of Easton, Pennsylvania. With its original 8-day brass works and a rare sweep seconds hand and original painted dial, it is housed in a beautiful, well-proportioned walnut case. Owner Frank DePasqua explained that when it comes to purchasing an antique clock, “First impressions are important. A clock should have an attractive face and the case should be in good proportion overall. A good dealer will guarantee the clock and can provide professional installation and maintenance, as we do.”
When considering a grandfather clock, size and overall presence are paramount to the decision. It’s unlikely that the average homeowner will purchase more than one, and usually these clocks are intended to be heirlooms for generations to come. With this in mind, take your time and purchase from reputable dealers who have expertise and a clock maker on hand, as the investment is usually in the five-figure price range and will require routine maintenance best handled by professionals.