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Clock Collecting Tips, Issue #006--Examining an Antique Clock Before You Buy
September 01, 2008

Examining an Antique Clock Before You Buy

Before buying any antique clock , you should have a way to examine it objectively. It is very easy to be emotionally attracted to a clock that you know nothing about. More times than not, this will cause you to either overpay, or get a clock that you are unhappy with. Experienced clock collectors usually have some type of checklist that they use to examine the clock objectively.

The checklist I use is not nearly as extensive as some, but it does force me to look at a clock objectively and makes it easier for me to reach a conclusion to buy or not. Of course, you can add to this list as you deem necessary until you are comfortable that you know enough about the clock before you plunk down your money for it.

The Clock Case

First, note the type of clock. Is it a grandfather, wall clock, mantle clock, marine clock, etc.? Then, note the general condition of the case. Are there parts missing? What condition is the finish in? Are there any missing moldings, veneers, or decorations?

Next, check the case for replacement parts. Do the feet to look original? Does any part of the cases appear to be altered? Does any wood look to have been replaced? Does the finish look original? Has the case been painted?

Inside the Clock

First, look for an original label. An original label adds value to a clock. Then look at the movement. How is it attached to the case? Do the screws look new? Are there any extra holes visible that could mean a marriage? What we would like to see is an original looking movement, tightly screwed to the case, with no extra holes visible.

Next, check the dial. Is it signed? If so, make a note of the name and/or address that is on the dial. Also, make a note of the type of dial. It could be paper, brass, silvered, enamel, painted metal, or painted wood. Are the numbers readable, or are they worn off. Do the hands look original? Are they the right size? The minute hand should reach to the minute chapter ring, if such a ring is there. If there is no chapter ring, the minute hand should reach just to the outside of the numbers. The hour hand, should reach to the inside of the numbers. Check the hands for signs of trimming.

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The Movement

Now we will check the movement, itself. First, check its general condition. Look for rust, dirt, etc… Make a note of the movement’s function. Is it time only? Time and strike? 30 hour? 8-day? 31-day? What is the construction of the movements? Wood, brass, steel? How is it powered? Electric, spring driven, weight driven? What type of escapement does the movement have? Pendulum, balance wheel, Crown verge?

If the movement is a strike type, is it rack and snail or count wheel? Does it strike on a gong, chime rods, or bells? Check to see if the hammers are there and the tips are intact. If the movement is a chime movement, is there a hammer for each chime rod. Many times, delicate chime rods can be missing. Usually, there are 2, 4, 5, or 8 rods.

If the clock has a pendulum, does it look original? Does it appear to be the right size for the clock?


Last but not least, check any glass or mirrors. Does the glass look original? Old glass usually has bumps or small imperfections that can be seen by looking at it at an angle. New glass is fairly obvious in an old clock. It is free of imperfections or marks. Note the condition of any reverse painting or mirrors. Your own judgments may help you decide if the paintings, or mirrors, are in original condition or have been restored and/or refinished.


Now, you should have a very good idea of the overall clock you are trying to buy. It will be much easier to make a decision objectively. Completely original clocks have a greater value to a collector than those that are not. But, you should remember, that during life of a clock, that may be up to 200 years old or more, chances are very good that repairs have been made over the years. Your job, as a prospective buyer, is to make a determination of the quality of the repairs that have been made.

Although a completely restored clock will generally have less value than an all original clock, that does not mean a restored clock should not be bought. If a clock is quite rare, exceptional in any way, or happens to be one that you need for your collection, this may be the only chance you have to purchase this particular clock. As clock collectors, we all have to make our own judgments as to whether a clock is worth its price to us.

The checklist above is the way I use to study a clock before purchasing. It is far from a definitive study on the subject. Books have been written on clocks evaluations. But, using the list above will greatly reduce your chance of buying some of the forgeries, reproductions, marriages, and fakes that are out there.

Happy hunting! As always, you can find a wealth of information about clocks and clock collecting at

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