How to Spot a Valuable Antique
As far as 19th century antique wall clocks are concerned, the best known maker is Seth Thomas who started his business in 1813 manufacturing wooden gear clocks. By the 1850’s brass was being used in the mass-production of clocks. These days antique wall clocks made by Willard, Ingraham, Ansonia and of course, Seth Thomas clocks are all of interest to collectors. One type of wall clock to look out for is the Willard banjo- shaped wall clock. A banjo clock made by Willard or his descendants who carried on the business is a very valuable item in the current market.
If you’re looking at an antique wall clock in a wood case, check that it has its original finish. The dial also needs to be in good condition. If it’s a paper dial it shouldn’t have any abrasions or be dark and stained. Porcelain dials shouldn’t have any chips or cracks. Always inspect the case and the dial carefully before you buy an antique wall clock.
To check if the clock mechanism is any good give the pendulum a little push and see if it runs. If it runs for about 5 minutes and then stops, it probably only needs a normal service. But if you push the pendulum of an antique wall clock and don’t hear any ticking sound, it’s got a broken spring. When the powerful spring breaks it usually damages other gears and shafts and gear teeth get sheared off. This means that the clock would be very expensive to repair.
Another trick to check if the clock mechanism is in good condition is to advance the hands to the hour and if it strikes, even if it sounds a bit slow, this means that it’s worth repairing. So listen for ticking and striking to check the condition of the movement.
Dating of 19th century antique wall clocks can be made by looking at catalogue reprints starting from the 1850’s – 1930’s. If your clock is in the catalogue you have a good idea of when it was made. However, with some popular timepieces that were made for decades it can be difficult to pin down the exact year it was produced.
The ‘schoolhouse’ d, also known as the drop octagon wall clock, is an example of this but when you look at the movement you might see a patent date. That can give you the earliest date that a particular clock was manufactured, but even that’s not certain. Sometimes the patent dates were stamped in the mechanisms for twenty years after the patent was granted.
Another thing to look out for when you’re inspecting a clock is what is called a ‘marriage’, where the movement doesn’t match the case. This will greatly reduce the value of the object. If you look at the case at the back where the movement is mounted and there is a set of holes that isn’t being used, that’s a tell-tale sign that there’s a mismatch. Another easy way to check for a ‘marriage’ is to check all the trademarks ‘ components. The dial, the mechanism and the pendulum weight often all have a trademark and you can check to see if they match or not. If a pendulum weight isn’t original, it doesn’t really affect the price, but if the movement isn’t original then the value of the antique wall clock will be much lower.
Trends in collecting antique wall clocks go up and down all the time, so it’s impossible to say which are the best clocks to acquire. Ones with original pillar and scroll feet are very collectible mantel clocks which are fetching good prices at the moment. Collecting antique wall clocks is really more of a hobby than a business, but it can be a really interesting and rewarding pastime. I spend many a happy hour sorting through old clocks in junk shops and sometimes, if you have the knowledge to see it, you can find a very valuable antique!