Clearly, Ebay has opened up a plethora (I’ve always wanted to use that word) of buying opportunities when shopping for an antique or vintage clock. Hundreds of wonderful pieces, all looking for a home. So, where do you start?
There are two kinds of clock buyers and sellers on Ebay. Those who know what they are doing, and those who don’t. If you are a buyer, you need to ask yourself which category you fall into. If you are a novice, or not very good doing clock repairs, then let’s cut through the chase. The best advice we can give is to pony-up to a seller who specializes in clocks. The extra money that you spend buys you peace-of-mind as well as a clock you will enjoy long after you forgot what you paid!
We have seen several good clock professionals on Ebay. Unfortunately, they are far and few between. Normally what you find are thousands of descriptions ranging from very well written to totally useless. The further you move down this food chain, the less you pay. The less you pay, then the greater the chance of receiving disappointment. This category is just a perfect example of "You get what you pay for". But regardless if you are seasoned or a novice, there are some things in a description you should watch for. Below are common quotes you will frequently see in a clock ad. The trick here is learning to read between the lines. We see many of the statements below as "Red Flags", and you should, too.
"I am not a clock expert, so please ask your questions before bidding."
This is a totally worthless statement! What the seller is actually saying is "I am no expert, but I assume you are." Are you an expert? If you are not an expert, then how do you know what questions to ask? And if you are an expert, then what good is asking a technical question if the seller doesn’t know the answer? We have also found out through experience that "I’m no expert" is a good hiding place for some sellers after the sale. You get the clock and find out this is broken, and that is missing, and something else is cracked. The reply to your emails usually comes back as "I apologize. Like I stated in the ad, I’m not an expert in the field of clocks and you should have asked questions before bidding."
"It’s an Easy Fix."
One of our favorites! We always wondered, if it’s so easy, then why didn’t the seller fix it before putting it up for sale? Wouldn’t it worth more money?
The term "It Works" seems to vary from one individual to another. We received a lot of 3 electric clocks advertised as "They Work". Yep, they worked alright. One made so much motor squeal when I plugged it in my dog howled, and garage doors around the neighborhood started going up and down. One of the others "Worked", too, but only half way. It lost 30 seconds for every minute. So don’t assume that just because "IT WORKS!" means it keeps time. We learned a lesson here. It’s a shame when you have to email a seller and ask if the clock they are selling keeps time.
"Not running, I think it just needs cleaned."
Oh, is that all? Let’s set the record straight about this. Cleaning, or an overhaul of an antique movement (Especially key-winds) is neither easy, nor cheap! Overhauling a movement requires taking it totally apart, cleaning each piece, and then rebuilding it to new! Overhauling a simple Time and Strike Movement will usually run about $125 plus bushings, if needed. Fancy movements, like Westminsters will run more. Ask the seller when the last time the movement was overhauled. Better yet, ask them if they are willing to pay if that is what it needs. Then watch them run in horror.
"I only let it run for a few minutes, so I don’t know if it keeps correct time."
Hmmmm! I take it sellers like this must not have any running clocks in their home. Too difficult of an endeavor, I guess. You can read between the lines two ways on this statement. The first is "I was in so much of a hurry to get it listed on Ebay that I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to give you a better description." Or, secondly "I ran the clock for hours and it’s not keeping correct time. So let’s just say I didn’t run it, and you figure it out after I have your money." In either case, assume you are not getting a clock that keeps correct time. Bid appropriately.
"I don’t have a key, so I don’t know if it works."
Most American-Made clocks take what is known as a #6-size winding key. I think there are about 200 of them for sale on Ebay for around three-dollars. Since a working clock will sell for more money, there are two possibilities here. 1.) The seller has so little regard for the item that they won’t spend the $3 for a key. 2.) They had a key, but found out the clock didn’t work. In this case, it’s just better to play ignorant. During Christmas Season 2005, a seller stated in the description "I have had this clock sitting on my mantel for years, but never wound it to see if it runs." In the photos, she showed not one, but TWO winding keys. Hmmmm! So I emailed "If you have keys, why don’t you wind it and see if it runs?" I received no reply. You do the math here. Hmmmm!
No…..sorry! Antique Key-Wind Clocks do not have tiny, delicate mainsprings like watches. Either the mainspring is broken, or it’s not. If broken, the key will turn loosely and never stop. If it doesn’t turn, then that indicates another problem with the clock. (Go back up to "I think it just needs cleaned".)
"I don’t know if it works because I am afraid to plug it in."
What kind of confidence does that statement instill in you when making a buying decision? The fact is, electrical clocks are not filled with nuclear devices, gasoline charged motors, or a hundred wires carrying 5000 volts of electricity. None will explode into a ball of fire and electrocute all living things in a 4-block radius. Of all the electrical clocks I have ever worked on, I can only think of a small handful that were so bad I didn’t plug them in. If you are considering buying a clock where the seller makes this claim, expect receiving a clock that doesn’t run (or runs poorly), so pay less. Isn’t ignorance bliss?
"Even if you just sit it on the mantel it is a great conversation piece!"
The last nail in a clocks coffin! Here is a prime example of where an uneducated buyer over-paid for a clock to just to find out it was DOA. It’s bad enough when a seller tells you that the clock has problems. It’s even worse when they try and recoup their mistake by finding other ways to get you to buy it. It’s like playing Old Maid-the junk passes from one hand to another. This should have been a 99-cent auction. The seller wanted $100 for this doorstop just because it was cute. It would cost you an additional $130 to have us repair it.
At the time of this writing, there are 1,795 clocks listed on Ebay with the word "Rare" in the title. This is one of the most abused words on Ebay, so don’t believe it. A clock that starts out at $9.95, gets 32 bids, and ends at $1100, yea, there was clearly some rarity involved here. A clock that gets one bid and ends at $9.95? What was so rare about it? The truth here is that a seller who advertises a rare clock will SUBSTANTIATE that claim with facts or figures in the description. That’s about 2% of the clocks. The rest? Well, they figure because it’s old and dirty, it has to be rare. And the funny part is that many sellers advertising a "Rare" clock are the same people who state "I’m no clock expert". If you are considering a clock advertised as "Rare", email the seller and ask what makes it so rare. Oh, and if they answer because they haven’t seen others on Ebay, go on to the next clock.
We do not feel there is such a thing as a "Mint" antique clock. Why? Because there is no definitive definition of the term. Therefore, the term "Mint" varies from individual to individual. What is one sellers "Mint" treasure, is another buyers junk! We never have, or ever will use the term "MINT" when describing any of our clocks. We recently sold a reconditioned clock to an individual. He emailed to complain that under close scrutiny, there was a tiny scratch on the dial, and felt the clock wasn’t "Mint". See what I mean!
"Was made around 1927."
Here is another misconception based on incorrect data. The rule of thumb here is simple: The older a seller can make a clock appear, the more valuable it will appear to you. I once saw an electric clock the seller dated "Circa 1890". Many clocks will have patent dates or numbers stamped on them. Reveres are famous for this. If the last patent date shown on a Revere is 1927, that doesn’t mean the clock was made in 1927! Or even 1947! The patent date refers to the movement! But those movements were used right into the 1960’s! So that advertised 1927 clock could have been made in 1958! Many clocks do have production numbers or date codes stamped inside some place. The difference here is that only a seller with knowledge or proper resources can identify and date a clocks age accurately. Many times you don’t even find this information inside a clock unless you take it apart.
"Antique Clock. Seth Thomas? Ansonia? New Haven?"
Ummmmm, hey seller! Are you telling me? Or are you asking me? At first this looks like a cheap method of keyword spamming. But when you read the description, you usually find out the seller is truly clueless. Most of this is due to a total lack of research on the seller’s part. Most of the clocks I see with something like that in the title aren’t even American Made. Many English and German clocks had no names or identifying marks. When I see the picture of the movement, I can tell right away where it came from. And the funny part? Hermle (Germany) date-coded their movements, so many times I can see the numbers. That so-called "Antique" clock was made in 1979. But again, because it’s dirty, it has to be antique.
Again, please understand we do not chastise sellers who honestly try and describe the clock they are offering. Although, too many sellers offer up 2 lines of description, and then 6 paragraphs on how they want paid, and what they will do to you if you don’t pay. We can honestly say through experience that many clocks you see are blatantly misrepresented. This is either done through lack of research, ignorance, or the seller failing to disclose information and then hiding behind their "AS-IS-NO RETURNS" statements to cover their butts.
Spend some time leafing through the Ebay listings before deciding on a clock. When you find something you like, check the sellers other listings. Is it more and more clocks? Or is it used ladies shoes and scrapbook supplies? It may take you a while, but believe me, there are many individuals on Ebay who have a true passion for these old clocks. And those are the people you want to get to know.