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Collectible Shelf & Mantel Clocks (Pre-1930s)

While French mantel clocks were first made in the 1600s, most contained brass workings, making them too expensive for most residents. It was not until the anchor escapement, pendulum, and rack-and-snail striking methods were invented that mantel clocks started being found in most homes. If you are thinking about collecting mantel clocks, antique or otherwise, then you may have some questions.

What are the parts of an antique mantel clock?

A clock for the mantel has many different parts. The movement is comprised of the inner workings, including its escapement. When present, the chime plays music, and manufacturers could set it to sound every 15, 30, or 60 minutes. The bell produces the gong sound and may be set to go off every 30 to 60 minutes depending on the style. Housings hold everything together, and they are usually constructed of wood, glass, porcelain, or a metal like aluminum or nickel. The face tells the time, and it is usually either metal or wood with Roman or Arabic numbers.

What are some types of mantel clocks?

There are many different styles of antique mantel clock including:

  • Adamantine Mantle Clocks - This type has a rectangular housing constructed of adamantine veneer that was developed by the Celluloid Manufacturing Company of New York City in 1880.
  • Tambour Mantel Clock - Also called "Napoleon's Hat," "camelback," or "humpback," these examples made by various manufacturers starting in about 1900 have a graceful curve in their middle.
  • Steeple clocks - This style was made starting in about 1840 by various manufacturers. It featured at least two wooden spirals on the sides reminiscent of church steeples.
  • Beehive clocks - Made from about 1840 to 1900, this style has sides that sweep upward, reminiscent of a beehive.
  • Ogee Mantel Clocks - This style features "S" curves in the housing. While many companies made them, those constructed during the Civil War by Seth Thomas are some of the most well-known.
  • Ansonia Porcelain Clocks - Elaborate hand-painted scenes on porcelain housing make these a favorite of many collectors. Those prized by collectors usually have workings by the Royal Bonn Company and are assembled by the Ansonia Clock Company.
  • Simon Willard Lighthouse Clocks - After finding success with his banjo and shelf clocks, Simon Willard made these shaped like a lighthouse, and they became the first alarm clocks made in America.

What are key-wound clocks?

Many antique mantel clocks were key-wound clocks with most running for eight days between winding, although Seth Thomas and others made antique clocks that would run for 14 days or more between winding. These mantel clocks could have from one to three keyholes. In those having three, the middle or bottom one powered the clock's inner movements; the one on the left when facing the clock always powered the strike, and the one on the right powered the chime.

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