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Antique Clocks

The first mechanical clocks were developed in the latter half of the 13th century. Since then, inventors have created more than 44 different ways to craft vintage and antique clocks. Understanding some of the major factories and people involved in these clocks’ creation can assist collectors looking for a new device, whether a pendulum clock, an ornate porcelain timekeeper, or a more contemporary piece, to add to their collection, hang on the wall, or display on the mantel.

What are some collectible types of timepieces?

Old timepieces for homes and businesses work in numerous ways, including:

  • Water: These mechanisms are designed to measuring the flow of water to tell how many hours have passed.
  • Marine chronometer: Christian Huygens built the first marine chronometer in 1673 allowing ship captains to tell time and determine their longitude and latitude.
  • Morbier: Named after the region where they were produced, these wall clocks operate by weights hanging from a tin box with an iron frame. They are unusual because they strike the hour twice.
  • Regulator: About 1670, Benjamin Vulliamy and James Harrison independently developed the first clocks to have a deadbeat escapement working with weights.
  • Carriage: These small spring-driven clocks were first developed in 1812 for Emperor Napoleon by Abraham-Louis Breguet. While many companies made this clock standing 16 inches tall, they can range between 5 inches and 30 inches tall.
  • Electric: While many people tried to develop an electric clock, the first to receive a patent was Alexander Bain in 1840. This clock did not require springs or weights to keep running.
  • Atomic: The atomic clock relies on microwave signals given off by electrons in atoms to tell hours, minutes, and seconds. While early models were developed as early as 1879, the first accurate clock was built in 1955.
  • Atmos: These perpetual motion clocks work by relying on natural changes in temperature and barometric pressure for energy. The Atmos 1 was introduced in 1929.
  • Digital: Digital clocks refer to the number display and not the mechanism used to drive them. The first digital clock was built by Josef Pallweber in 1883 using his jump-hour mechanism.
Who are some American antique clockmakers?

There were over 10,000 clockmakers in Colonial America. Some, however, are more known than others, making their clocks more collectible. Some of these clockmakers include:

  • Seth Thomas: Seth Thomas started as an apprentice in 1807 before buying his employer out. While Seth Thomas was very conservative in clock building, his sons are credited with introducing many different styles. The company is still operational as Alliance Time.
  • E. Howard: Starting in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1842, this company was mainly known for making grandfather clocks before eventually turning their attention to wristwatches.
  • Ansonia: Founded as the Ansonia Brass Company, the company started by building watches in 1850 in Connecticut before moving all their operations to New York. They built many models until the company dissolved in 1927.
  • New Haven: Originally founded to create brass movements for the Jerome Manufacturing Company, this company made many antique shelves, banjos, and mantel clocks.
  • Ingraham: Unlike other manufacturers, Ingraham focused on patenting their shelf and wall clock designs using many parts patented by other producers.
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