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Clock Collecting Tips, Issue #007-Evaluating Clock Movements
January 02, 2009

Evaluating Clock Movements

When I first started collecting clocks, the hardest part of evaluating the clocks I was interested in was the movement itself.

I guess the main reason for this is the fact that I was hesitant to ask the seller if I could remove the dial, back, or other parts so I could see the movement clearly. After a few unpleasant surprises, I lost this hesitancy. When getting ready to part with a significant amount of money for a clock that is well over 100 years old (a long time for wear and/or abuse to accumulate) if a seller will not let you see the movement, look elsewhere! This is where the most serious hidden defects are usually found.

Even though the clock may run and strike normally, does not mean all is well "inside".  Many antique clocks were very over powered when manufactured so they would run well in less than perfect conditions. What this means is the pivots could be very worn, but the strength of the springs will still keep the clock running. But, a clock in this condition will eventually quit. On weight driven clocks, heavier weights were sometimes used to keep a worn clock running.

Visually inspecting the movement can be very helpful in determining the real value of the clock. I will list the main items to look for when evaluating a spring or weight driven movement.

1.  Check for the overall cleanliness of the movement. Dark, crusty oil on the plates are a sign of improper servicing. Completely dry movements increase the chance that it's worn. Rust on the movement, or springs can ruin the chance that it can be restored to original condition.

2.  Check for signs of the movement being a marriage. A clock where the movement is not original detracts greatly the value. Obvious signs are extra mounting screw holes in the case. Also, look for wood or metal looking newer, or not matching the rest of the case. Another seemingly obvious, but often overlooked sign is the movement signed by a different company than the clock. (I recently looked at a beautiful Seth Thomas mantel clock and when I looked at the movement, it was signed Sessions Clock Co.. The movement was such a good match, there were no new holes in the case and the winding holes lined up perfectly.)

3.  Check for oblong pivot holes. This can be done visually by moving the gears forward and back while watching the pivots for sideways movement. You will not be able to see the back side of the movement, but if one side is good, the chances of a badly worn movement are greatly reduced.

4.  Look for signs of alteration of the movement. I have seen old solder on plates, soldered gears, springs that were the wrong size, wrong type of pendulum rigged to fit, and many more signs that the movement was incorrectly repaired.

5.  Finally, look for bent or damaged gears or pinions (many get damaged when a spring breaks). Also try moving the hands forward to make sure there is enough tension to allow them to be driven without slipping. They should not be so hard to move that the hands could bend either. The tension on the hands is important because to repair the clutch in many movements requires a complete disassembly, and could be quite costly to repair.

No one thing will help more in evaluating clock movements than good knowledge of the types of clocks being collected. This is one reason that most collectors specialize in the type of clocks they collect. Many clocks are unsigned, both movements and dials have no markings. Knowing what clocks have which movements will go a long way toward knowing if a clock is original or not. Reading the information available at and other similar sites will help. There are also many books and magazines on the subject.




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