Learn all about the different types of grandfather clocks and discover the interesting history as well as the cultural significance of these iconic longcase clocks.
Ever wondered why grandfather clocks are called by this particular name; or perhaps, how they acquired this unique name? When was the last time you actually saw a grandfather clock in someone’s house?
Given their incredibly long cases, echoing bells, swinging pendulums, and the prominent Roman numerals, one might assume that they belong to the world of ‘grandparents,’ as the name implies. However, that is not really the case. The exclusive name of these longcase clocks actually has nothing to do with grandparents. In fact, it has quite a rich, fascinating history behind its name and significance.
So how exactly did grandfather clocks they end up with this name?
The History of Grandfather Clocks
There was once an American songwriter named Henry Clay Work who visited England sometime during 1875. He was staying in the George Hotel in North Yorkshire.
One day, Henry noticed quite an unusual clock just sitting in the hotel’s lobby, serving no real purpose. It was a large, unmoving, motionless pendulum clock with its hands completely jammed at the 11:05 mark. That really intrigued Henry, so he went on to inquire about its history.
The proprietors of the hotel told him that the clock belonged to the late Jenkins brothers who once also owned that very hotel. The clock was meant for the older brother, and it was supposedly one of the greatest and the most reliable timepieces one could ever get. However, the clock suddenly started to slow down and became less accurate when the older brother passed away. Some years later, the clock is said to be ‘dead’ and ‘silent’ since then.
Although that story is more local folklore than anything, the hotel credits it as the main inspiration behind grandfather clocks. Their website also has an entire page dedicated to that old clock, which is still displayed in the hotel’s main lobby.
However, according to another story about how the grandfather clock got its name, it is believed that the right credit goes to Henry Clay Work. Being a songwriter, he wrote an entire song about that whole clock incident. The song was released in 1876, and it was called “My Grandfather’s Clock.”
The song became really popular, and fans went crazy over it. Soon enough, ‘grandfather clock’ became the new moniker for those longcase clocks.
Significance of the Grandfather Clock
Also called ‘floor clock’ and ‘tall-case clock,’ the grandfather clock holds quite a rich and noteworthy historical and cultural significance.
Its importance majorly stems from the fact that the clock is one of the most powerful objects created by the human race. Among all other objects, this is the one that has evolved through its measurement of the passage of time. It is also the sole entity that reminds us of the time and impresses upon us the meaning of staying on schedule.
Speaking of clocks, one of the most popular and unique types of clocks is none other than the ‘grandfather clock’. It was invented during the mid-17th century when a man named Christian Huygens came up with a fascinating way to help clockmakers. His newly devised formula was supposed to help clockmakers create a pendulum that would swing every second. This was considered to be quite a breakthrough because the earlier types of clocks made use of springs or weights in order to power their system.
This new method required a long pendulum, which further called for the need for a long case. This is basically how the design and style of the grandfather clock were developed. Not only did this really help clockmakers, but it also had a very profound impact in terms of its position in the world of clocks. The clock went on to become an object of great cultural significance and proved to be a major cultural artifact. This is because it was looked at as an object of authority that told people when to eat and when to work, among many other things.
Grandfather clocks became the ultimate timekeepers back then, and they were also the objects that helped organize things and people in space, particularly during the era of the Civil War. Ever since its inception, people no longer had to look at the sun in order to measure their working hours. People were better able to manage their time, and their lives also became much more regulated. Since it was possible to keep track of time with the help of the grandfather clock, the concept of ‘lateness’ was no longer a socially accepted phenomenon.
The Grandfather Clock Movements
Grandfather clocks are not exciting and intriguing only because of their unique story and history, but also for the way they work and move.
Did you know that the only major element about these clocks that have been altered over time is its clock movement?
From the time that grandfather clocks were created, they were manufactured with two main types of movements: the one-day movement and the eight-day movement.
This is also called the 30-hour movement, and its key requirement is winding on a daily basis. Longcase clocks that run on a one-day movement system basically only have a single weight. It is supposed to use that weight for two purposes: to run the striking mechanism and to drive the timekeeping system.
This style of movement was considered to be largely inexpensive and was also meant for those people who couldn’t afford to buy eight-day movement styled clocks.
This movement style requires you to wind it only once a week, and unlike the one-day movement, this style is run with the help of two weights. One weight drives the striking mechanism while the other propels the pendulum. The striking mechanism of this movement basically consists of a bell or chime. It also has two keyholes on either side of the dial that are mainly used during the winding process.
Types of Grandfather Clocks
Nothing says history, elegance, creativity, and charm like a tall, slender grandfather clock does. Standing at almost 6-8 feet tall with a strong body that supports the weight-driven swinging pendulums, these clocks are, indeed, quite a primarypiece.
Take a look at some of the most popular types of grandfather clocks from ancient times that are considered to be real, priceless gems in today’s time.
Also known as ‘Morez clocks’ and ‘Morbier clocks,’ this is one of the most common types of grandfather clocks.
Comtoise Clocks are a type of longcase clock that mainly originated in France. These clocks were specially made in the French region called Franche-Comté, which is primarily how the clock got its unique name. Since these clocks were also produced in the vicinity of Morbier in France, they were given the name ‘Morbier clocks.’ The name variation is simply due to the different names of areas in the Franche-Comté region.
These clocks were first produced during the 1680s, and their production lasted for a period of almost 230 years. Their peak production period started in 1850 and ended somewhere during 1890. During that time, about 60,000 comtoise clocks were manufactured each year. Although they were initially found only in France, their popularity eventually spread to Germany and Spain, along with a few other European regions. These clocks were later also exported further to Thailand and the Ottoman Empire.
The comtoise clock is a type of a provincial, weight-driven clock that represented, or in other words, marked the beginning of the popularizing period of clocks in France. Till the 19th century, these clocks were found wide and far across the entire country. They gained so much popularity during that period that they practically ended up ousting all other local types of clocks.
The manufacturing process of comtoise clocks was quite similar to that of Gothic clocks. They were built on huge frames that were made of iron strips. The original version of comtoise clocks was supposed to have a full, long case made with vine, but later, several variations made the clock hanging from a bracket. The long case was frequently grained and painted in the country fashion, and the sides were often tapered or were shaped like that of a violin.
The dials on these clocks were initially made with brass or pewter that were filled with black numerals and had a single hand. However, later, the dials were displayed on enamel cartouches, and by the 19th century, they were even made of printed paper and sometimes had a third hand that basically indicated the date.
The other versions of comtoise clocks had a pierced brass pediment that was used as a replacement for the early dials. This pediment was shaped like a rooster and had royal arms. Often times, it also had certain motifs that were basically used to represent the political enthusiasm which was alive at that point in time.
This pediment style didn’t last for long, and it was replaced by other pediment styles that consisted of a variety of brass devices. The most common of these devices incorporated a pair of cornucopias in its design. Others also featured a sunburst and a basket of flowers.
Comtoise clocks faced a sudden decline in their popularity, particularly in 1871, when German clocks were allowed into the country without any taxes. This greatly affected the trade of comtoise clocks regardless of how popular they were and how diversified their output was. The First World War marked their final decline, after which, the clock industry in the respective French regions was restructured for the production of more efficient and modern types of clocks.
Although a few French manufacturers were still found making these comtoise clocks toward the end of the 20th century, their initial popularity had, in fact, completely died down.
As the name suggests, this type of grandfather clock originated in Bornholm, which is a Danish island in the Baltic Sea. The island is situated south of Sweden, east of Denmark and north of Poland.
The production of clocks began in 1745 and lasted till 1900. These are basically Danish longcase clocks with a delicate crown, often square-shaped with a tiny window on both sides. The windows allowed one to see the working of the clock from the inside.
Interestingly, before the creation of these unique clocks, Bornholm Island had no reputation for clock-making. Its production only began when a Dutch ship that was traveling from England changed its course to the Ronne coasts. Ronne is a town on Bornholm Island, and among all other towns found on this island, Ronne is the largest of them all. Surprisingly, the ship contained five longcase or grandfather clocks in its cargo. This incident took place in 1744.
Since clocks were a rare commodity but were considered to be extremely vital back then, the sailors decided to save those clocks, and so they transported them to Paul Ottesen Arboe in
Ronne. He, along with his local craftsmen, went on to repair the clocks and tried to restore the English longcase clocks. However, most of these craftsmen were turners, and they didn’t really know anything about grandfather clocks.
As a result of their lack of knowledge, they had to study the mechanisms of longcase clocks before they could actually begin repairing them. So, these determined craftsmen took their time to study the clock, during which they learned all about its internal mechanisms and fully understood the structure of these longcase enclosures. What’s great about this whole learning process is that these craftsmen ended up learning so much about these clocks that they were all set to create their own version of the longcase or grandfather clock. Eventually, they did produce their own clock, which is how the Bornholm clock came into existence.
The Bornholm clock consists of lead weights, and each of them weighs almost 8 pounds. The main body of the clock is divided into three key sections: head, foot, and case. All these sections have straight sides, but the foot often has rounded corners coupled with a four-sided molding. The face of the clock is made of brass or iron, and it is usually adorned towards the corner, which is often made of lead. The ornamentation includes Roman numerals on tin with pierced brass hands that look absolutely beautiful. The top of the face has a little round tin placed with a five-pointed crown. This crown contains the clockmaker’s name along with the year in which the clock was manufactured.
The case of the Bornholm clock, on the other hand, was usually painted with biblical motifs and sometimes had an imitation of a Chinese lakarbejde. Other variations of this clock from those times also had large bowed gesims on the case.
This is a type of Bornholm clock that was produced in the 1800s and eventually faced a steep decline in the 1900s. The Empire Clock consists of a white face made of iron, coupled with black-colored numbers and simple brass hands. The backside of the face often has the clockmaker’s name or initials painted in ink.
The body of the Empire clock also consists of three pieces: the foot, case, and head. The head has a round window with even sides. The window often has a row of pearls or a carved laurel wreath below it. The foot, on the other hand, consists of angled sides while the corners of the case have a carved drape with capitals and a column base toward the corners.
The Empire clock is also called a ‘Han’ or He, and its counterpart clock is called a ‘Hun’ or She, which has bowed-out sides and was created somewhere during the 1830s.
This is a classic Swedish clock made in Mora, which is a town situated in the Dalama province of Sweden. It has gained significant popularity in recent years, mainly because of its unique shape and design.
The origin of the Swedish Mora clock goes as far back as the 18th century, at a time when long periods of droughts had severely affected the Mora town. Many residents left the town during this difficult time and fled to Stockholm. This period is known as one of the toughest economic crises for Mora and its people.
The group of people that had escaped to Stockholm learned numerous skills over there so that when they returned to their hometown, they could help their fellow people and turn things around in economic and financial terms. Two of the most common skills that they learned were clock making and innovative farming techniques.
Upon returning, these people realized that they had to begin a whole production of clock making as a way to earn money and make ends meet. Since Mora was primarily a farming community, its people were greatly drawn to the idea of clock making, and soon enough, many families began to specialize in the art of making different parts of a clock. From the exterior painting of the clock to the mechanical interior parts, the people of Mora established quite a niche in the clockmaking industry.
Hundreds of families were engaged in producing this treasured timekeeping object that eventually resulted in some of the most unique and creative clock designs ever made. Different types of clocks were being produced in different regions, which led to a variety of styles and designs of these clocks. For instance, the ones produced in Northern Sweden were generally slender and tall, while those manufactured in the southern part of Sweden were highly accentuated, and they consisted of elaborate curves.
The production of Mora clocks eventually reached its peak-time in the mid-19th century, during which a total of a thousand of these clocks were being produced every year. Their peak period lasted for over 50 years until the local cottage industry was led to its ultimate demise because Sweden started importing foreign clocks from Germany and the USA.
In terms of looks and feel, the Swedish Mora clocks typically have a long and slender body, which means that they can easily fit into narrow and tight spaces, unlike other English clocks that have a similar style and design. The size of these clocks measures up to 12 inches deep, 99 inches tall, and 28 inches wide.
These clocks have eight-day movements with cast-iron weights. These movements strike the hours on either a spiral wire gong or two bells that are located at the top of the clock. Mora clocks are believed to be the most classic yet timeless of all clocks because every single piece of the clock was handcrafted and each clock has its own distinctive identity and personality. This kind of significant and rich history of these clocks is what makes them so special, and their very existence is unparalleled by any other type of clock.
Fryksdall Mora Clock
This is a popular type of Mora clock that is known for the exceptional carvings on the main unit of the clock. It is considered to be more a high-end clock and was popularly owned by wealthy individuals.
The Fryksdall Mora clock typically comes in white and gray colors, has a prominent belly, and a pinched kind of waist.
City Mora Clock
This style of Mora clocks made quite a strong stylistic statement, mainly because it included a beautifully painted finished. They were meant for finer and more elegant decorative spaces, which is what set them apart from other Mora clock varieties.
Country Mora Clock
This is one of the least decorative Mora clocks and has quite a plain appearance. It was a popular choice of clock in poorer families and was often given as a wedding gift to most couples on their big day. As compared to other clock varieties, the Country Mora clock used a lesser amount of glass in its making and usually came with a simple hood crown.
If you own an ancient grandfather clock in today’s time, consider yourself lucky because it is truly one of the most timeless antique primarypieces that have been passed down to generations as family heirlooms!