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LONDON LONGCASE CLOCKS – A BRIEF HISTORY
In this article we will concentrate on the London antique longcase clock. During the late 17th century in London the clockmakers of the time experimented to produce a clock that was a good timekeeper, subsequently the anchor escapement was invented. It was found to be a very good time keeper but due to the longer pendulum being exposed to the elements the idea of enclosing everything inside a wooden case was thought of.
The first antique clocks in London were made for a purpose and not to be decorative in any way. These designs evolved quickly and the first recognisable antique longcase clocks in London were being made by makers like Edward East and Fromanteel during the 1670’s. The cases were very slender in design, made principally of oak or pine and veneered in fruitwood which was then ebonised to create a black polished finish.
Many of these early antique clocks were of 30 hour duration but the 8 day and month duration longcase clocks followed very closely. There were even some made that were of year duration. These antique clocks are very rare and were made by the famous makers of the time such as Quare and Tompion who were working from the 1680’s in London. A number of antique longcase clocks by these makers are in the Royal collection.
Thomas Tompion is widely regarded as a very famous maker. All of his movements were of the highest quality and some of them very complicated in design. One of the reasons he is very highly thought of is because of the high standards he set. He also numbered his movements along with the cases. The only maker to do this other than Tompion was George Graham who was his Partner in the business and also worked in London. When Tompion died in 1713 Graham continued the same numbering sequence. The first type of dial used for the longcase clock was the square brass dial (separate chapter ring and brass spandrels to the corners) used approximately between the 1670’s to 1730. As more features were required the dials were made with an arch to the top (shallow at first) which would contain features such as strike/silent, phases of the moon, date and time regulation. Sometimes just the name of the maker was shown. The dials on these early London longcase clocks were also very decorative with half hour markings on the chapter ring, ringed winding holes, engraving to the edges of the dial and elaborate signatures either on a cartouche to the centre or on the chapter ring.
As a general rule all London longcase clocks have five pillars between the plates. Most provincial clocks have only four pillars. This was a sign of quality and also kept the movement more stable and assisted the clockmaker when he was assembling the movement.
The wood being used in London at this period was mainly an oak carcass with either walnut or marquetry veneer and sometimes ebonised. Mahogany virtually took over completely during the 1760’s and the first London mahogany longcase clocks started to evolve. These had features such as brass reeded pillars to the trunk and sometimes to the base. This feature was also repeated on the hood pillars. They also had the classical pagoda top with three brass finials making these clocks over 8ft tall. Lacquered cases were also very popular throughout the 18th century. This again was a mainly oak carcass but decorated with Oriental designs.
By the 1770's the painted dial had been introduced and by the end of the 18th century this had become much more popular and eventually replaced the full brass dial. Also around this period the flat silvered dial was introduced in London and throughout the country. This consisted of a flat brass dial which was silvered. This type of dial was also used with the fashionable round dial commonly used with Regulators. The cases also became smaller and plainer at this stage with fewer finials and clean straight lines. In the early 19th century the production of Longcase clocks in London started to slow down. The reasons for this are unclear but the rest of the country started to produce longcase clocks in huge numbers especially in the West Country and the Midlands.
We have therefore a period from approximately 1670 to 1870 when the longcase clock evolved in London. After this period longcase clocks were still manufactured in London but the style that was used was a reproduction of styles used in the previous 200 years.