There is nothing quite as comforting as the gentle tick-tock of an antique clock. I remember listening to my mother’s kitchen shelf clock back in the days when she actually let it run. My father didn’t share our nostalgic view of its acoustic appeal. To him, it was just noise, so the clock wasn’t allowed to run often. My grandfather purchased the clock at an auction for just a few dollars. The beautifully carved oak clock appealed to him because it was dated 1901, the year of his birth. The clock was a late addition to the family, but it is already considered an heirloom.
Kitchen shelf clocks are some of the most beautiful of vintage clocks. Happily, they are also some of the least expensive. These clocks were commonly made of oak, but walnut and other woods can be found as well. They are available in a great variety of different designs. It’s no wonder that the purchase of a single clock can lead to a collection. Once the beauty of these old timepieces is recognized, it’s hard to keep from buying “just one more.”
Regulators are popular with collectors. This one, made by the Sessions Clock Company in Bristol, Conn., is a 1915 School House Regulator with an eight-day time and strike. It has a value of around $300.
Wall clocks, including the ever-popular “Regulators,” tend to be more expensive. Don’t be surprised by price tags of $500, $700, and even $1,200. These clocks come in a greater variety of shapes and sizes than most collectors can imagine. This type of clock has the advantage of being a great space saver, something that is always appealing to collectors.
One of my favorite types of clocks is the calendar clock. These nostalgic timepieces keep track not only of the time, but of the month, day and date as well. This variety is not easy to find. I’ve kept my eye out for an example made by the Southern Calendar Clock Company for nearly 25 years and have only located one. Unfortunately, the example I discovered was exorbitantly priced. During my years of searching, I have located only a handful of calendar clocks. These clocks often are priced at $1,000 to $2,000, due in part to their charm, and in part to their rarity.
This beautiful example of an oak kitchen clock, made by the Ingraham Clock Company dates to just after the turn of the century. Its value is $200-$250.
Luckily, most clocks that collectors are likely to locate are the under $300 variety. Condition plays a big part in value. A non-working clock has limited appeal and therefore little value. An inaccurate timepiece often has a limited value as well. A seriously “off” clock hasn’t much value, but one that loses or gains just a few minutes a week still holds its value well. Antique clocks shouldn’t be expected to have the precision of modern timepieces. Besides, there is a certain charm moving the hand once a week to pick up those lost minutes.
Where a clock is purchased can have a lot to do with the price paid. I’ve found some really good buys at both antique shops and malls. (Of course, I’ve found some really overpriced examples as well.) Antique shows and flea markets offer some good buys. Antique clocks are notably absent from yard and garage sales, but do pop up now and then. The best chance for a bargain is at an auction. I’ve witnessed working mantle and steeple clocks sell for only $50 at auction! EBay can be a good source, but shipping and insurance will increase the cost and you can’t view the clock first hand. Clocks can’t be judged just by how it looks in a photo.
Before purchasing any clock, make sure it is complete and in working order. Make sure it chimes properly, and at the proper time. Look to see if the face is original, or replaced. Most importantly, check to see if the clock has a key. Don’t be fooled into thinking that clock keys are easy to find. Finding a key to fit a specific clock is quite a task. It’s impossible to wind a clock without the key.
This clock was purchased by my grandfather at auction over fifty years ago. It was made by the William L. Gilbert Clock Company in 1901. Such clocks often sell in excess of $200, but can occasionally be found for less.
If, after purchasing a clock, you take it home, place it on the mantle, and find that it has stopped after only a few minutes or a few hours, don’t despair. Most vintage clocks must be level to work properly. It may take a few tries to get it just right, but once a clock is leveled properly, there should be no problems. Warn family and friends not to move it or it will be necessary to go through the entire leveling process again.
Make sure to avoid overwinding a clock. It is possible to break the spring by overwinding, but more likely, the clock will simply stop operating if wound too tight. It’s always better to underwind than overwind.
When displaying a clock, avoid areas that are excessively humid or excessively dry. Too much moisture can cause mildew and rot, but if the air is too dry, the wood can crack.
This very early example of a school house regulator is dated 1875. It was made by the New Haven Clock Company of New Haven, Conn., and has a value of $400+.
A vintage clock can bring a touch of nostalgia to any home. The gentle tick-tock and charming chimes seem to reach back into time and bring the past into the present. Antique clocks are almost magical. They bring the past to life in a way few other collectibles can. They are instruments that measure time, but seem to be untouched by it. It’s as if they are immune to the passage of time, forever existing in both the past and the present. A vintage clock is a purchase that will bring joy for a lifetime.