The grandfather clock bears a name to conjure with, one which brings back to memory many a scene in our early life. Who does not remember the feeling of awe inspired by this venerable piece of furniture as, seated, it may be, upon the floor, we listened to its slow and solemn tick-tock, tick-tock. At first we tried to urge it on. " Get on, get on ! " we whispered, but all to no purpose. Then the solemn monotony became almost unbearable, yet we dared not try to hasten it again. There seemed something terrible, relentless, and cruel about the clock, which, though belied by its benevolent face, was strangely corroborated by that cold, hard voice.
There is an old Peter Parley tale of "Peter Simple and the clock." This grandfather clock told Peter's mother each day when it was time for her little son to start for the school he hated. It also showed her when he had been kept in, because he returned late for dinner. It proclaimed aloud the hour of bed-time, and never refrained from striking that for rising, however much Peter wished to lie a-bed in the morning.
When Peter could endure the tell-tale no longer, he vowed a terrible vengeance. Having possessed himself of the key of its case, he crept downstairs at dead of night and cut the strings to which the weights were attached. These fell with a crash, and as Peter fled upstairs in alarm, he saw, with horror, a crimson stream flowing from under his tormentor's case. Peter's father kept three bottles of port in the case of that clock, for those were the days when callers were regaled with cake and wine, and he liked to have it handy.
The history of the measurement of time, and of the many contrivances invented by those men of genius who gave their minds to the task, is one of great interest, and our museums contain many wonderful and beautiful specimens of their work.
The word "clock" may have been derived from the Saxon "clugga," from the Latin "glocio," the German "glocke," or the French "cloche," all of which signify a bell. This would lead us to suppose that early clocks consisted of a bell to be sounded at intervals in connection with a sundial, sandglass, or other simple contrivance.
The clepsydra, or water-clock, was used by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Babylonians, and other early peoples. It consisted of a basin filled with water, with a spout at one end, from which the water slowly trickled, drop by drop, into a receiver marked upon the inside with the hours of the day and night. Pliny tells us that Pompey made use of one of these to limit the speeches of the Roman orators, and it is said that Julius Caesar discovered a clepsydra in England. Charlemagne was also the possessor of one of these water-clocks, so constructed that it sounded the hours.
It was not until about the year 1600 that clocks for domestic purposes came into use. Every church and monastery had its clock, and since, in pre-reformation days, church services entered largely into the work-a-day life of the people, private timekeepers were not required, the day being timed by these services.
Grandfather, or long-case, clocks were first made between the years 1660 and 1670. At first they went from twenty-four to thirty hours, and were wound by pulling down the driving-cord.
Oak was used for cases from the beginning, but the finest works were rarely encased in this wood. During the latter part of the seventeenth century walnut was employed, plain or inlaid. Woods of all kinds and colours were used for inlaying, and the designs were frequently very elaborate, though early cases were only inlaid upon the front. A favourite form of decoration was to veneer the surface with wood cut from small branches in cross sections which showed up its natural structure.
Between 1710 and 1750 Chinese lacquer became very popular. It is supposed that the East India Company introduced the fashion. Plain wooden clock-cases were sent out to China to be decorated. These took as long as two years to go and return. The Dutch, who were very apt imitators of Chinese art, soon discovered the. secret of this work, and about 1730 the art was introduced into England Amongst other colours red lacquer became very fashionable.
Mahogany first came into use for clock-cases in 1716. This wood -imported from Spain - was greatly admired in England, and cases made of it in the Chippendale and Sheraton periods were beautifully carved and inlaid.
Genuine clocks of old Dutch mar-queterie are much sought after. These were first made about the year 1685, and as the fashion only lasted some thirty years, there are very few specimens to be picked up. The art was introduced into England by followers of William of Orange, and many clocks now called Dutch were really made in this country.
To ascertain the age of a grandfather clock the features of the dial should be noted carefully. In the earliest examples the circle upon which the hours appear is a separate silvered ring. Within the numeral circle is a double circle,
Fig. 2. Beautiful mahogany grandfather clock with metal dial, Chippendale,with Corinthian pillars and carving. An arched top to the dial dates from the eighteenth century
Hampton & Son upon which are strokes dividing the hours into quarters, and there are longer strokes indicating the half hours, which generally terminate in a fleur de lys or some other small ornament.
Old clocks may be found to have an hour hand only, or both hour and minute hands, the minute hand having been in use since 1670. Many clocks were made without it, and it is quite possible that at first it was applied only to the more expensive specimens by the best makers. From the first, hands were finely finished, and in the reign of William and Mary became very elaborate. This was especially the case with the hour hand; the other hand was sometimes very long and slender, and merely curved near the centre. When, later on, white clock-faces were introduced, the hands became even more ornamental, and a smaller hand, to tell the seconds, was added.
The oldest dials were of metal, and the centre was generally matted but sometimes engraved. Upon clock-dials of the William and Mary and Anne periods a matted centre is found, surrounded by a border of leaves or herringboning, and an engraving of birds and foliage forms a border to an aperture in which appears the day of the month. This was brightly burnished, as were also the engraved rings surrounding the winding-holes. In 1750 dials were introduced which were silvered all over and had no separate circle for the hours and minutes. Upon these the centre was engraved, not matted, and the engraving was the work of artists of no mean order. The days of the week on a small separate dial are frequently found in early clocks. An arched top to the dial dates from the beginning of the eighteenth century, towards the end of which the Dutch introduced figures and devices upon the upper part of the dial, such as a ship rolling at sea or a see-saw. The phases of the moon were also added under the arch of the dial. A globular rotating moon became popular amongst Yorkshire clock-makers. These were known as "Halifax clocks," and frequently bear the name of Thomas Ogden.
Fig. 3. Oak and mahogany grandfather clock. The four corners outside the dial are engraved with a floral design, and a study of fruit fills the arched top Hampton & Son
Another indication of the age of a clock may be found in the four corners outside the dial. At first these would appear to have been filled with designs of flowers engraved, and with a raised gilt ornament in the form of a single cherub's head. Sometimes a line of poetry occurred in each corner. Later, several heads, or the nude bodies of two or more cherubs, appear, surrounded by scrollwork. Country clock-makers made a fashion of the figures of the four seasons in the corners, but these were not popular with London makers. Enamelled faces came into fashion at the end of the eighteenth century.
The doors of cases were at first straight at the top, but about 1730 these were arched to match the dial. The top did not open with a door, the whole being made to slide back. Below the hood was a wooden beading, which in early clocks will be found to be convex, whilst in those of later date it is concave.
Until the end of the reign of Queen Anne it was a common practice to insert corkscrew pillars at the angles of the hood. In the Chippendale period these were Corinthian in shape, with bands and capitals in brass.
Fig. 4. Fine inlaid walnut grandfather clock, with brass dial. The corkscrew pillars at the angles of the hood are of the Queen Anne period
Hampton & Son
Musical clocks were not made until the latter part of the eighteenth century, the names of the tunes being sometimes found upon the spandrel. Some clocks are so constructed that when they strike a part of the dial is uncovered to show a dancing girl or some other device. An old Scottish musical clock stopped playing at twelve o'clock on Saturday nights, and did not begin again till midnight Sunday. Meanwhile the words "Remember Sunday" were exposed to view upon the face.
Many quaint devices may be seen upon grandfather clocks which recall the customs of other days. For instance, painted upon the face of one of these is a river spanned by a bridge over which there is a good deal of traffic. In the centre of this a man may be seen carrying his wife to avoid paying toll for her. In 1797 William Pitt imposed a tax " for and upon every clock or timekeeper, by whatsoever name the same shall be called." Clocks were taxed at 5s. each, and every London maker paid a duty of 2s. 6d. This nearly ruined the trade, as the demand for watches and clocks decreased to one-half in a year. In 1798 the Act was repealed. It was, however, the advent of the cheap American clock that sounded the knell of the grandfather clock.