History of Clocks

History of Antique Clocks

It is generally accepted that the first British domestic clocks were what we now call lantern clocks. Lantern is thought to come from the word ‘latten’, a past name for brass or possibly from the clock’s resemblance to a lantern.

These clocks were constructed largely of brass with some iron components. They were wall hung, weight driven, striking the hours on a large overhead bell and usually about 16″ high. Production seems to have started in the early 1600′s, and rapidly settled into an established design which continued largely unchanged for about 150 years.

The three most important changes to lantern clocks all occurred around the middle of the 17th century. Firstly, the introduction of the Huygens endless rope system for the drive weight, which increased duration from 12 hours to 30 hours. Secondly, two new designs of escapement which vastly improved timekeeping.

The first clocks had balance wheel escapement which was a poor timekeeper, this was greatly improved by the verge and short bob pendulum escapement but this in turn was soon to be outperformed by the new anchor escapement and long seconds beating pendulum. This provided a quantum leap in improved timekeeping compared to the now outclassed balance wheel. Sadly, from the collector’s point of view, most of these early clocks were either scrapped or converted to one of the newer escapements.

Many writers think that the adoption of the long pendulum may have led to the evolution of the lantern clock into the longcase (or Grandfather clock). This theory is supported by examples of lantern clocks that are housed in early longcase type wooden cases- perhaps to protect the long pendulum from interference by children and pets.

However, right from its earliest days the weight driven longcase clock appeared in both 30hr form, which was a direct descendant of the lantern clock, and in the new mechanical design and layout seen in 8 day clocks. These were built on completely different principles.

Whilst the English longcase clock was in production for about 200 years- from about 1660 to1860- production had ceased in London by C.1800, although it continued to be very popular elsewhere in Britain. Throughout this long period of production, both 30hr and 8 day clocks where produced.

The 30hr’s seemingly were less expensive to produce than 8 days for they involved fewer pieces and were also lower technology due to their (almost) invariable continued use of the countwheel strike system

as against the rack strike system which gradually became universal on 8 day clocks from around 1700.

The other main features or change over the 200 years were in the external appearance of the clocks. Case styles, woods and finishes gradually evolved- with strong regional characteristics emerging.

The early multi-piece ‘chapter-ring and spandrels’ dials acquired optional arches from C.1715 and subtly evolved in details of design, but remained unchallenged until C.1773 when the first painted dials appeared almost simultaneously with the engraved single sheet brass dials.

All three ran until C.1800 after which the painted dial was the only option except for ‘special’ and precision clocks.

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