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Tick-Tock Tips for Identifying Vintage Clocks

Updated: Jan 2

The invention of the clock was one of the most important human advancements in history. Between the antique wall clock keeping time in your family home and the digital smartphone timer in your pocket, everyone knows that clocks are some of the most useful items. But, with so many designs to choose from, from elegant grandfather clocks to retro vintage mantel clocks, the timepiece you choose can be functional while still being stylish. 

With hundreds of years of clock designs made around the world, coming across one of these timeless (no pun intended) pieces is common. But how can you tell when a vintage wall clock was made? And what determines the value of a grandfather clock? Learn how to identify an antique clock with our expert tips and invest in a design you love. 

Why Do People Love Vintage Clocks?

Clocks are pretty darn useful, whether you’re setting a timer or checking the time on your grandfather clock as you get ready in the morning. People love decorating with vintage mantel clocks because many of them work as functional art pieces around the home, from extravagant Art Deco designs to colorful ‘60s pieces. Make a unique and bold choice for your home décor and upgrade your everyday timepiece to a vintage wall clock to show off your style and personality. 

Vintage mantel clocks and grandfather clocks are common collector items for people passionate about antiques. Whether they want to learn how to sell vintage items or love feeling included in the rich history of vintage mantel clocks, these timepieces are a common and beloved item in antique malls around the world. Between collecting antique wall clocks from one design era or stocking up on pieces from across time, a vintage clock collector has endless options. 

Are Vintage Clocks Worth Anything?

With countless styles, eras, and designs available, vintage and antique wall clocks are one of the most popular and valuable collector’s items. Everything, from the fascinating inner working parts to the stunning artwork and engravings, can add to the value of a vintage mantel clock. The rarity and condition make a massive difference in the final price point for a buyer, but just about any antique wall clock found at antique mall locations has the chance to be valuable. 

5 Tips for Identifying a Vintage Clock

If you come across a grandfather clock or vintage mantel clock at a thrift store or in a relative’s home, there are a few things you should know if you want to be able to identify the age: 

1. Check the Clock Materials

The overall material used to build the body of a vintage mantel clock is the first clue you’ve found an authentic piece. In the 19th century, for example, high-quality oak and mahogany were often used to produce a grandfather clock or antique wall clock. But, in the 1930s and 1940s, molder plastic or early Bakelite became the norm to match the rest of the home good designs. Yet, in the Art Deco period, many antique wall clocks were made with marble and granite. The list goes on—when you come across a suspected vintage timepiece in a Chicago antique mall, the materials will be the first production-year giveaway.    

2. Consider the Style

From the sleek look of mid-century modern décor to the classic aura of Victorian décor, every year has a unique style. Each decade is known for different types of ornamentation, silhouettes, shapes, and colors, whether you’re searching for an early grandfather clock or a ‘70s vintage mantel clock. When shopping at an Indiana vendor mall, remember that if you prefer cohesive home décor, stick to pieces made from one time period, but if you like an eclectic feel, any antique wall clock style can work. 

Clock Styles for Each Time Period:

  • 17th century—large wood and metal pendulum clocks were invented, leading to the invention of the grandfather clock.

  • 18th century—timepieces became decoration, with ornate porcelain clocks, wooden grandfather clocks, and electric clocks.

  • 19th century—antique wall clock designs became smaller and more portable, with carriage clocks, cuckoo clocks, mantle clocks, and pocket watches.

  • 1920s—Art Deco design takes over with geometric shapes and bold colors in antique wall clock designs.

  • 1930s-50s— all vintage wall clocks featured the colorful plastics and metals to reflect the era’s décor. 

  • Mid-century modern—true to the MCM time period, clocks from this décor era were designed with sleek and modern colors and woods in mind.

  • 1990s-2000s—novelty vintage mantel clocks to reference popular TV shows and cartoon characters were sought after by teenagers everywhere.  

3. Authenticate the Maker’s Marks

Since the first clock, different companies and horologists have produced timepieces, and many still have their original maker’s mark intact! While these rarely have a date written out, the labels always include the name of the grandfather clock manufacturer or retailer, and if they are clear, they can help you determine the most likely era when you research the company. Check for any engravings or printed labels near or around the center of the dial, behind the bezel, backplate, or inside or back of the clock case. 

4. Take a Look at the Clock Movement

The movement of a clock refers to all the moving parts, weights, springs, and gears that work together to make the hands move and tell time. If you stop to examine these pieces within the clock, you can narrow down on the production date and era of the timepiece. Wooden movements were the norm until the mid-1800s when brass movements became popular. Most metal plates tend to have an identification mark that date the antique wall clock itself.

5. Look at Individual Clock Parts

When it comes to aging and valuing a vintage wall clock, understanding the individual parts is essential. Different pieces can help date the production of a vintage mantel clock, whether it be the metal used or the decorative accents engraved in the wood or included in the glass. Before purchasing, make sure each of these is in place or check with a repair expert or experts at an antique mall event to see if they can be replaced.

Clock Parts include: 

  • Bell gongs

  • Clock movements

  • Dials

  • Pendulum rods

  • Glass doors

  • Bezel 

  • Hands

Whether you’re searching for the perfect accent decoration for your retro office design or are interested in becoming an antique vendor with a clock collection, there’s plenty to learn. Use our five tips to accurately guess the age of a vintage wall clock before purchasing and find your perfect timepiece today. 

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