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Things You Should Know About Collecting Antique and Vintage Clocks

Updated: Mar 13

Maybe there’s a tall, stately grandfather clock standing in your in-laws’ living room, or your parents proudly display a beautiful antique mantel clock above their fireplace. If antique and vintage clocks have always caught your eye, then you should think about starting your own collection. These collectible clocks can make a great addition to your home, adding a peek into your personality — plus the functionality of timekeeping.

If you think an antique wall clock, like the well-known cuckoo clock, would look pretty great in your living room (and maybe even launch a fun new collecting hobby), then read on for more details about antique collectible clock types and information.

Antique vs. Vintage Clocks

First things first, what is the difference between antique and vintage clocks? An antique item is generally considered one that is 100 years old or older. A vintage item is one that is 20-99 years old and also embodies the look and feel of a previous time period. Retro items, on the other hand, may not actually be old but, instead, are designed with an antique or vintage look.

Grandfather Clocks at Antique Mall

Stately Grandfather Clocks

The term “grandfather clock” is actually a nickname for the longcase clock that stands on the floor. The nickname supposedly comes from a popular song, “My Grandfather’s Clock,” written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work. Grandfather clocks are recognizable by their large size and swinging pendulums that keep the time.

Early versions of the pendulum clock were mounted to the wall (which was difficult due to heavy lead weights), but it is believed the floor-standing grandfather clocks were created to support their heavy weight.

Important to note: there is a difference between grandfather clocks and grandmother clocks. Though both are longcase clocks characterized by long pendulums, the key difference between the two is in their size. Grandfather clocks range from six feet tall to nine or 10 feet high, and grandmother clocks range from five to six feet tall.

Graceful Antique Mantel Clocks

For more than 250 years, mantel clocks have stood on fireplace mantels providing beauty and functional timekeeping. Antique mantel clocks can make an eye-catching adornment above your fireplace, as they come in a variety of styles and sizes. What unites them all, however, is that they are designed to fit easily on a fireplace mantel or shelf.

Antique mantel clocks, also known as shelf clocks, are wound by a key and can run anywhere from 30 hours to eight days. Many of these clocks also include a swinging pendulum, much like antique wall clocks, but their movements (which is the clock’s mechanism, separate from the face or enclosing case) are positioned differently. An antique mantel clock’s movement lies horizontally on the base (“seat board”), while an antique wall clock’s movement is set in an upward position on the baseboard.

Although antique mantel clocks come in all shapes and styles, what unites them is their small size — most can be easily lifted by two hands and include a solid base (or in ornate European clocks, detailed legs or filigree). There are four main styles of antique mantel clocks recognized by clock experts:

  • French style

  • German style

  • Art Deco style

  • Modern style

Charming Antique Wall Clocks

Antique Wall Clock

Wall clocks are the largest category of both antique and modern clocks. Antique wall clocks were used widely over three centuries in home or office settings, so there are many varied styles and designs of wall clocks. Old timepieces such as pocket watches, wristwatches, and clocks are typically valuable among collectors because they can often be restored to working order, even if they have some damage.

Some of the most significant styles of antique wall clocks include French cartel clocks, cuckoo clocks, tavern clocks, Grafton wall clocks, banjo clocks, wag-on-the-wall clocks, and mirror clocks. Obviously, all of these antique wall clocks have different styles and are from differing time periods. However, if you are considering purchasing one of these antique wall clocks, you should take into account these factors: wind length, wooden vs. metal pieces, and size.

Wind length refers to the clock’s “day,” which is how long it will keep time without being rewound (antique wall clocks are manually wound). Consider what the clock is made of — wood and/or metal accents — so you know how to properly care for and clean the timepiece. Make sure your antique wall clock is a size that will fit in your space.

How to Identify Antique Collectible Clocks

If you are setting out on a journey to gather collectible clocks, you will need to know how to properly identify an antique or vintage clock and distinguish it from a reproduction or a “marriage” (when two antique items are joined). Antique clock identification can cover clocks from the 16th to the early 20th centuries, so having the appropriate identification tools and resources is very important.

The first step in identifying your antique collectible clock is by checking for the clockmaker or company name and then looking it up online or in a reference book. On 19th-century American clocks, the maker or company name may be found engraved or printed near the dial’s center face or around its edge, stamped or engraved on the movement’s backplate, or as a paper label on the back or inside of the clock case. However, clocks made in other countries may be unmarked or only display initials or a trademark symbol.

Some more helpful things to look for in helping identify an antique or vintage clock are the clock style, types of features (glass, stenciling, hand style, fasteners), type of strike movement (bell, chime rod, gong), dial material (paper, ceramic, wood, tin), and serial number. Once you have gathered all the information you can on the collectible clock, check online resources such as Antique Clocks Identification and Price Guide or the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.

Popular Antique Collectible Clock Brands and Styles

Antique Mantel Clock

Among the many, many antique and vintage clocks out there, there are several popular styles and brands that are typically valued by collectors:

  1. E. Howard & Company Clocks

  2. Seth Thomas Clocks

  3. Ansonia Clocks

  4. Drocourt Carriage Clocks

E. Howard & Company

E. Howard & Company is one of the most famous American clock companies of the 19th century that created antique wall clocks and standing clocks. Though you can purchase one of its smaller antique clocks for several hundred dollars, some of these timepieces can sell for thousands of dollars.

Seth Thomas

Seth Thomas was a famous 19th-century clockmaker who made many styles of clocks, such as antique mantel clocks and long clocks. His clocks are still popular today because of their simple, beautiful designs and affordable pricing. Seth Thomas collectible clocks typically sell for $50-$300 at auction, although some can sell for thousands.

Ansonia Clock Company

The antique collectible clocks from Ansonia Clock Company are easily recognizable. They are highly decorative Victorian clocks with detailed carvings and bright finishes. These antique clocks can sell for $100-$200, with some ornate pieces selling for close to $1,000.

Antique Drocourt Carriage Clocks

Pierre and Alfred Drocourt were maybe the most famous makers of the compact carriage clocks that emerged in the 19th century. These antique collectible clocks are known for their square silhouette and gilding. These clocks can be extremely valuable, selling at auction from around the low to upper thousands.

How to Value Antique and Vintage Clocks

Sure, you need to know about clock styles and types when looking at antique and vintage clocks, but you also need to check other important factors to make sure the clock you’re considering is worth its value. Whether it’s an antique mantel clock, a grandfather clock, an antique wall clock, or something else, the value of a vintage clock can be based on:

  1. Condition

  2. Restoration

  3. Clockmaker marks

  4. Provenance

Wooden Antique Mantel Clock with Gold Cherub Detail

Antique or Vintage Clock Condition

It’s plain and simple: an antique or vintage clock that is in excellent condition will be worth more than one that is damaged or missing pieces. Be sure to not only check the outside of the clock for damage but also that the movement is in good working shape.

Collectible Clock Restoration

Unrestored antique collectible clocks in outstanding condition (such as original features or glass) will typically be worth more than restored clocks.

Antique Clockmaker Marks

If the antique or vintage clock includes the clockmaker’s mark or the brand, it can confirm its authenticity. Without a mark or company name, the clock will probably be valued for less.

Antique or Vintage Clock Provenance

The provenance (record of ownership) of the antique collectible clock can make it worth much more — such as if it came from a prominent, well-known collection. Take, for example, the Breguet Sympathique clock, which was once owned by the Duc d’Orleans and is dated 1835. It is the most expensive clock ever sold at auction.

How to Set an Antique Clock

Although antique collectible clocks are incredibly well-crafted, they still require regular care and proper setting in order to keep them telling time for years to come. You may need to adjust your collectible clock’s pendulum bob (weight at the end) to make sure it is swinging at the right speed. You will also need to set a schedule to wind your clock (depending on its style), and remember, do not move the hands of the clock manually, or you risk damaging its inner workings.

How to Care for Antique Clocks

Once you finally find and purchase an antique collectible clock, of course, you’ll want to keep it in good working condition. In order to keep it in great shape, make sure to keep your clock away from hot or humid spaces or direct sunlight, have it oiled by a specialist every few years, and bring any repair questions to an antique clock expert.

Where to Buy Antique and Vintage Clocks

Vintage Coca-Cola Clock with Polar Bear

So, where can one purchase an antique or vintage clock? You can search online at auction websites or reputable sellers. However, it can be a gamble buying a collectible clock online as you cannot put your eyes and hands on the piece (be sure to look at the seller’s return policies, shipping fees, etc.). A much safer avenue is buying a vintage clock in person so you can see and inspect it for yourself — you can buy in person at consignment shops, from an antique dealer, or at antique stores and malls.

We think you’ll love shopping for collectible clocks at America’s Antique Mall. We offer an amazing selection of antique and vintage furniture and much, much more! Our Highland, Indiana, location features more than 55,000 square feet of shopping space with over 600 vendors, and our Melbourne, Florida, location has over 35,000 square feet of shopping space with more than 250 vendors.

If you’re looking for a unique antique wall clock, a nostalgic grandfather clock, or an elegant antique mantel clock, America’s Antique Mall is the place for you.

How to Sell Your Own Antiques, Like Collectible Clocks

You may get bitten by the “antique bug” and develop a taste for collecting antique and vintage items — maybe too many to even keep in your home! If so, you should consider setting up your own antique mall booth rental to part with some of your surplus items. If you live in Florida or Indiana, you could even apply to become a vendor at America’s Antique Mall. As you gather items for your new antique booth, like your antique and vintage clocks, be sure to check your home for these five surprising valuable items.

Start Your Antique and Vintage Clock Collection Today

Time is ticking — we hope we have inspired you to start hunting for the collectible clock of your dreams (a regal grandfather clock that will enthrall your grandkids with its swinging pendulum?) at your nearby antique mall! Building your own collection of antique and vintage clocks can become a fun and rewarding hobby that will decorate your home (doesn’t that antique mantel clock look so good above your fireplace?), show off your personality, and help keep you on time for any appointment. Don’t wait; get out there and find that antique wall clock that will become your new favorite piece of home décor.

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