Digital technology may have already progressed exponentially, but most of us still have a rather strange attraction to analogue wall clocks. Who can blame us? These grand timepieces symbolize a period in human history when craftsmanship was much more important than technology.
History of wall clocks
The modern-day wall clocks we have today come from a long line of crude clocks.
The Sundial. The earliest clock instrument used for telling time was the sundial. The sundial tells the time of the day based on the shadows that the sun’s rays cast on the marked surfaces. In its crudest form, the sundial is made up of poles or sticks set on the ground. Most wall clocks are still hinged on the sundial’s look – in fact, some wall clocks are purposely designed to look like old sundials.
To understand the history and origin of the wall clocks, a concise summary on the history of the clock is difficult. Contrary to popular belief, the ultimate in antique origins of the wall clock is certainly not a sundial, but well since there has not been any documentation to prove otherwise, it is the most likely place where the history begins. But looking at it more practically the history of wall clocks probably began with the origin of old and unique instruments such as the pocket watch and long case clock. The wall clock was mainly based on the very ideas of Isaac Blaisdell. His ideas were of designs for a clock for people who found the long case clock to be too big. In some of the typical and traditional wall clocks, the pendulum is allowed to swing freely outside the case. It is said to closely resemble a dog’s tail wagging to and fro.
About the same time as mantel and table clocks were increasing in popularity, which resulted in a lower general cost for those timepieces, similar styles were made to hang on the wall. They used a spring or weights and a pendulum, just as mantel and table clocks did. Perhaps because they were not made to be moved from room to room the original square or rectangle shape was modified with more flowing shapes to the cases. As a fixed piece there was an earlier tendency to make wall clocks more lavish than the mantel clock. This became even more pronounced after the highly ornate mantel clocks began to be created in France in the early part of the 18th century. There was also not so great a concern for the weight of the case as there was with portable clocks, allowing some wall clocks to be larger, particularly those using a pendulum. Because of the ease of transportation, many of the clocks exported in the 17th century were mantel or wall clocks, floor clocks following later. Most people around this time did not bother with clocks, using the ones installed in church towers or town halls when a more precise measure of time was needed that the sun would provide. By around 1830 wooden shelf and wall clocks were being mass-produced and sold by peddlers in the small towns that had sprung up around the farmland. For those able to afford them, clocks were still handcrafted in a variety of shapes, such as banjo clocks, lyre clocks, or round clocks as well as more fancy versions of traditional shapes.
Wall clocks with brass dials. These were perhaps the earliest wall clocks made for mass use. But back then, these timepieces were very expensive. It took craftsmen several months to finish one. Only the nobility were able to display these brass dials in their mansions and palaces.
Start of the painted dials. Britain was first to revamp the traditional brass dials and introduce the modern clock dials we have today. Painted dials soon grew in popularity and were produced for the use of the masses. During this era, wall clocks started to be used not only for timekeeping but also as decorative and commemorative pieces. British capitalists started to use them to mark and celebrate various religious and cultural events and even famous sports and war victories.
Wall clocks continue to be popular, mostly in kitchens and offices where space may not be available for a table or mantel clock.
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Most modern wall clocks are now mass-produced and made of cheaper materials such as plastic and metal. Technology enables manufacturers to fabricate wall clocks quickly without sacrificing quality. These pieces are now available for as little as £10.
There are still, however, specially made clocks that are loyal to original craftsmanship and design. These types still cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, but many people invest in them for decorative purposes – and their decision makes sense. Wall clocks are, after all, still cheaper than paintings but add just the same character and elegance to any wall.
History of pendulum wall clocks
The pendulum clock was invented in 1656 by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, and patented the following year. Huygens was inspired by investigations of pendulums by Galileo Galilei beginning around 1602. Galileo discovered the key property that makes pendulums useful timekeepers: isochronism, which means that the period of swing of a pendulum is approximately the same for different sized swings.Galileo had the idea for a pendulum clock in 1637, partly constructed by his son in 1649, but neither lived to finish it. The introduction of the pendulum, the first harmonic oscillator used in timekeeping, increased the accuracy of clocks enormously, from about 15 minutes per day to 15 seconds per dayleading to their rapid spread as existing 'verge and foliot’ clocks were retrofitted with pendulums.
These early clocks, due to their verge escapements, had wide pendulum swings of up to 100°. Huygens discovered that wide swings made the pendulum inaccurate, causing its period, and thus the rate of the clock, to vary with unavoidable variations in the driving force provided by the movement. Clockmakers' realization that only pendulums with small swings of a few degrees are isochronous motivated the invention of the anchor escapement around 1670, which reduced the pendulum's swing to 4°-6°. In addition to increased accuracy, this allowed the clock's case to accommodate longer, slower pendulums, which needed less power and caused less wear on the movement. The seconds pendulum (also called the Royal pendulum) in which each swing takes one second, which is about one metre (39.1 in) long, became widely used. The long narrow clocks built around these pendulums, first made by William Clement around 1680, became known as grandfather clocks. The increased accuracy resulting from these developments caused the minute hand, previously rare, to be added to clock faces beginning around 1690.
The 18th and 19th century wave of horological innovation that followed the invention of the pendulum brought many improvements to pendulum clocks. The deadbeat escapement invented in 1675 by Richard Towneley and popularized by George Graham around 1715 gradually became standard in precision regulators and is now used in most modern pendulum clocks. Observation that pendulum clocks slowed down in summer brought the realization that thermal expansion and contraction of the pendulum rod was a large source of error. This was solved by the invention of the mercury pendulum by George Graham in 1721 and the gridiron pendulum by John Harrison in 1726, allowing the construction of precision regulators.
Until the 1800s, clocks were handmade by individual craftsmen and were very expensive. The rich ornamentation of clocks of this period indicates their value as status symbols of the wealthy. The clockmakers of each country and region in Europe developed their own distinctive styles. By the 1800s, factory production of clock parts gradually made pendulum clocks affordable by middle class families.
During the Industrial Revolution, daily life was organized around the home pendulum clock. More accurate pendulum clocks, called regulators, were installed in places of business and used to schedule work and set other clocks. The most accurate, known as astronomical regulators, were used in observatories for astronomy, surveying, and celestial navigation. Beginning in the 1800s, astronomical regulators in naval observatories served as primary standards for national time distribution services. From 1909, US National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) based the US time standard on Riefler pendulum clocks, accurate to about 10 milliseconds per day. In 1929 it switched to the Shortt free pendulum clock before phasing in quartz standards in the 1930s. With error of around one second per year, the Shortt was probably the most accurate commercially produced pendulum clock.
Pendulum clocks remained the world standard for accurate timekeeping for 270 years, until the invention of the quartz clock in 1927, and were used as standards through World War 2. The French Time Service used pendulum clocks as part of their ensemble of standard clocks until 1954.The most accurate experimental pendulum clock to date (2007) may be the Littlemore clock, built by Edward T. Hall in the 1990s.
Traditional wall clocks that design are based on today……………
Many of the earliest wall clocks for use in schools, offices and churches originated in Connecticut. Octagon clocks were frequently referred to as "schoolhouse clocks." They were also popular in large workplaces or factories to keep employees informed of the time. The large round dial gallery clocks, most commonly found in eight-day examples, could
be easily read because of their size. These latter clocks have been made since 1845.
An extremely useful wall clock was the regulator. Because of its split second accuracy, it was used in jewelry store windows where passerby could check to see whether their watches were running correctly. Railroad stations also used regulators to make sure trains ran on schedule. Their accuracy enabled them to be used for the regulation of other timekeepers. As time passed, however, a great number of clocks called regulators, or those with this name on their tablets, were not accurate enough to be so named. "Regulator" had just become a generic term for a hanging wall clock.
Two companies, Edward P. Baird of Plattsburgh, New York, and The Sidney Advertiser were active in the manufacture of advertising clocks. From around 1895-1900 Baird made wooden advertising clocks that had embossed or painted ads encircling the dial. The Sidney Company used sound devices in their clocks. For example, one clock had a bell that rang and advertising drums that turned every five minutes.
"Wag-on-Wall" clocks produced by Waterbury were a series of oak hanging study clocks, either weight or spring driven. Waterbury called these "study clocks" and used numbers to identify them. "Wag-on-Wall" clocks were sold without a case and were the earliest wall clock made. Gideon Roberts (1749-1813) made an all-wooden "wag-on-wall" in the late 1700s. Metal plates enclosed the movement but the exposed pendulum swung below the clock's body.
In the early 1900 catalog, the Ansonia Clock Company featured wall regulators named after the following female regents: Queen Anne, Queen Charlotte, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Isabelle, Queen Jane, Queen Mab, Queen Mary and Queen Victoria. These clocks were eight-day strikers with eight-inch dials and averaged between 37 to 42 inches in height. The woods available for their cases were black walnut, mahogany, or oak. All of the clocks except the Queen Mary were available in the popular oak. The individual purchase price for these clocks was well under $20.
Wall clocks were occasionally found in the Mission-style, which were made of oak and had straight, sturdy lines. They remained in style from the turn of the century until the late 1920s. The 1960s showed a rebirth of mission furniture and reproductions in that style. Although calendar clocks did not appear until the mid-1800s, a calendar movement was put in a tall case clock in England in 1660. Almost two hundred years later, in 1853, J. H. Hawes of Ithaca, New York, was the first known American to patent a simple calendar clock mechanism. The Ithaca Calendar Clock Company, formed in 1865, used Henry B. Horten's perpetual roller-type calendar clock patent.
The difference between a perpetual calendar clock and a simple calendar clock is how they account for the days in a year. The perpetual clock indicates the day of the week, the month, and the date. It is self-adjusting to allow for leap year. The simple calendar clock requires an occasional manual adjustment to make it accurate.
The Waterbury perpetual calendar clocks could be furnished with languages other than English. Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Swedish, and Italian calendar clocks became available in 1881.
One of the clock makers who developed a calendar dial was Charles W. Feishtinger. The dial showed the day of the week, the month, and the date of the month. A sweep hand marked the dates, which circled the dial. In the middle of the main dial, a short hand marked the month. A rectangular window beneath the month dial indicated the days. The movement and the case that was used for this clock was supplies by the Waterbury Clock Company.
Appendages on wall clocks were influenced by the furnishing style of the Victorian Era, named after England's Queen Victoria who reigned from 1837 to 1901. In the later half of the 1800s, both drop and upright carved finals, curved moldings and carvings, including heads, were used on clocks as well as furniture. Incised carving prevailed around 1870. Although oak and mahogany were occasionally used for clock cases, walnut was the clock maker's choice.
The pendulum is one thing wall clocks have in common. The pendulum is a clock weight, often ornamental, that hangs from a fixed point so it can swing to and fro as it regulates the clock's movement. Brooks Palmer, in his book 'The book of American Clocks', reminds readers that the term "bob" is commonly used but incorrectly defined. He points out that a pendulum "has three parts the pendulum rod and the pendulum ball, which most people call the bob, and the real bob which is the wire loop threaded for the regulating nut."
The weight at the end of the pendulum rod is called the ball or the bob. It is often ornamental as well as necessary. Its shape may be geometrical or round and can be fitted with decorative appendages. Examples include either a man's head or a woman's head in low relief often times crystal, sandwich glass and wooden examples are found. Although genuine mercury pendulum bobs were found on French clocks, imitation mercury was used on American examples. The first man to create a practical pendulum was Christian Huygens in about 1657. Before this invention, Galileo (1564-1642) thought that a pendulum was possible after comparing the similarity between it and a swinging lamp.
The wall clock today…………
However the technology progresses, and however digital the world around us becomes, there is a strange attraction to the wall clocks that remains. And this attraction and attachment to the wall clocks is an interesting and a fascinating one. These grand old timepieces called wall clocks represent a time period in human history when craftsmanship was a quality that was highly regarded and was much more revered than it is today.
Today it is the day and age of mass customization and mass production. The very concept of exquisite craftsmanship is becoming increasingly extinct. And yet, when in all other products development seems to be a matter of digital technology, the wall clock refuses to leave the walls of the homes it has adorned for time immemorial.
The cuckoo clock
One particular variety of wall clocks deserves special mention because of its almost universal popularity: the cuckoo clock. The cuckoo is a native bird of the forests and open country of Europe, with some relatives in American, most notably the roadrunner, made famous by cartoons with Wiley Coyote. There are almost as many myths and stories surrounding the creation of the cuckoo clock, as there might have been the live bird in the forests in the early 18th century. We will not try to resolve the discussions among those horological historians, rather simply say that these clocks began appearing in Southern Germany around the Black Forest around the middle of the 18th century. The design and style of these clocks has changed very little since then. Most often there is a chalet of wood, which contains the movement, with an opening door above the clock face out of which a cuckoo pops to chirp the time, along with a chime that rings the hour. They are weight driven with the weights of cast iron in the shape and colour of pinecones, the accuracy of time maintained by a pendulum with the bob often in the shape of a leaf. The cuckoo clock became a staple of the clock industry in the Black Forest region of Bavaria so much so that the clock is often simply called a “Black Forest” clock, even though its manufacture in the 20th century was throughout Europe and America. More designs were added to the chalet, often carvings of birds and animals on the sides or surrounding the face. An additional weight was added as the design flourished enabling the clock to also play a tune in addition to the cuckoo and striking of the hour. Other moving parts were added to some, Swiss dancers in a circle moving in and out of the case being a very popular one, as clockmakers enhanced the basic, classic design.The classic ones are still made of wood in Bavaria and many antique cuckoo clocks are available. Modern Cuckoo Clocks, while mass produced, are also made of wood and convey a very good resemblance to the older, hand crafted clocks because of the attention to detail and quality of the manufacturers. Those wood reproductions have been very careful to carry with them the sound and resonance of true antique clocks. Sadly, there are some modern reproductions that are made of plastic and lack the “distinct” sound of the bird.