A Grandfather Clock by Any Other Name Is Still Tall
The typical grandfather clock stands between 6 and 8 feet tall, making it an imposing and elegant addition to the décor of any room. Relatives of this clock are the grandmother clock which stands between 5 and 6 feet tall, while the granddaughter clock is a diminutive floor clock that stands about 5 feet tall. Grandfathers are also correctly called floor clocks; they are placed on the floor because of their size. While there are other types of floor clocks, a grandfather clock is characterized by a long and narrow wooden case and a traditional one has a movement that is driven by weights or chains. Today, you can also buy a totally modern grandfather that does not require routine winding like a mechanical drive mechanism does.
Of course, winding a grandfather clock is part of the joy of owning one.
They typically have an 8-day movement which you wind once a week, while some older models of feature a 30-hour movement that needs to be wound every day. While some of the earliest clocks did not strike the hour, newer grandfathers are known for the wonderful tone of the hourly strike plus playing at least one of a wide variety of tunes on the hour and quarter hour. A grandfather clock is generally a prized possession in any home.
The history of this clock dates back to the 1500’s when Galileo discovered that a pendulum could be used to keep time. By the 1660’s English clock makers designed highly accurate pendulum clocks but the price they paid for accuracy was a longer pendulum, just over 3 feet in length. These clocks needed about 6 feet of vertical space with the pendulum, weights and chains and first were mounted on the wall.
Later the clocks were built with a wooden case and glass front so they could stand on the floor; these early clocks were called tall clocks or long case clocks.
Such an elaborate clock was, of course, expensive and available only to the English nobility and upper class families. By the late 1600’s the English tall clock had traveled to the American colonies and at the end of the 1600’s, colonial clock makers were fabricating their own tall clocks for wealthy families. These first clocks made in America, had wood-works movements since brass, or steel was in short supply. Manufacturing in America was still in its infancy. The ones with metal movements were mostly imported or brought to America by the clock makers. Then the cases were made locally - wood was readily available.
As the American clock making industry developed and flourished, clock manufacturers focused on shelf and mantel clocks that appealed to the average home while tall case clocks were still purchased by upscale households where money and household space were available.
It wasn’t until 1880’s that the tall clocks got the name grandfather clock. In 1875 an American songwriter was inspired by a tall case clock he found in an old hotel in England. The story goes that the hotel had been owned by two brothers. The clock began to lose time when one brother died and stopped completely when the second brother died; the clock remained just as it had stopped years ago. The song, called “Grandfather’s Clock”, was written to celebrate this story and the name came into vogue and has stuck. (See video below to hear this song.)
No matter whether you call it a tall clock, a floor clock or a
these elegant clocks occupy a soft nostalgic spot in the hearts of many. Tall clocks can be a great addition to almost any home. They can be antiques, collectibles, hand made, heirlooms, or just a beautiful furniture piece.
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