A Brief Look At The History of Antique Clocks

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An extremely quick view of the historical development of antique clocks


Man has for a long period considered time, and for much of that tried to discover methods to enable the measurement of time and tried to be able to mark its passing. The mere alarm clock came to being after centuries of work on time and experiments to accurately record its movement and passing.

Farming soon required ways to record the passage of time and the division of their time was key to ancient farmers. Farmers came to realise they needed to break time up into seasons so they could record when to plant and harvest crops. At these ancient times, only the idea of dusk and dawn was of importance for early farming methods.

As civilization moved on and farming and building knowledge became more complex, accurate measures of time became important. Ancient Egyptian populations started by splitting the day into two, by using the shadow of an obelisk. They discovered that they could use that shadow to mark the high point of the sun in the middle of the day. As technology advanced further and other measures of time we created, things such as the hourglass, marked candles and numerous other devices appeared to mark time.

Early Mechanical Clocks

In the medieval days of yore, preceding what we would call the basis of the antique clocks that we know today, monastic calling to prayer was performed using bells in a tower. This construction soon changed drastically the way of life of major towns and cities. This was later followed by using mechanical bell towers, and then clock towers. The cultures could be identified by the different types of clocks they used.

The earliest precursor to antique clocks, the ancient mechanical clocks appeared in the 1400s, and were not driven by a pendulum. They are considered to be the work of monks in central and northern Europe, developed for use inside churches and monasteries. They probably employed the existing church bells, and only rang bells on the hour, so had not need for hands or dials. Over a 100 years later, dials and hands would have been added as improvements were made. These early clocks were large in size sturdy in construction. They would have been created by local blacksmiths and craftsmen.

Galileo performing an analysis of the swing of a lamp in a cathedral, realised he could calculate its rate of motion from every swing of the lamp, which he realised was equal. He noted that the rate of motion was proportional on the length of the lamps chain. Many years later he designed a clock mechanism with a pendulum. It incorporated the swing of the lamp. He died before he could use his design in a clock, so he never got to see his design put to use.

The antique clock as we know it is born.

It was a Dutchman, Hyugens, and his creativity in creating the basis for the pendulum, that made the massive change in clock design that led to the antique clocks we know today. In 1656, he adding a pendulum to one of his own designed clock mechanisms. He found this allowed the clock to keep better time. Regulating movement was achieved by raising the pendulum bob up and down to allow the clock to advance or speed up, or slow-down or retard as required.

His invention allowed the clocks to become accurate to within four every day. This was a huge advance the up to half an hour difference per day that was achievable at the time. This advance heralded the development of minute hands, and the anchor escapement that he developed later pushed the accuracy of these clocks up achieving only 2 or 3 seconds lost time per week.

Domestic clocks of smaller dimensions appeared in the fifteenth century. Gunsmiths or locksmiths would have been the craftsmen responsible for the first appearance of these clocks. In the late 1600s, weight driven lantern clocks became popular with the wealthy and the aristocracy leading to these becaming extremely popular for use in the home.

The large clock movements had to be positioned high above the floor as they required long pendulums and heavy weights. These are what became what we know as the typical antique clock (grandfather clock). The wooden cases we constructed to hide the ugly weights and pendulums of these popular antique clocks.

In the history of antique clocks, England became supreme as clockmakers in Europe the development of clocks from the 1600s to the early 1800s. After this time American inventions of inexpensive brass movements started being used in clocks and these are what we would see as typical of antique clocks today. Thanks for reading my article on the history of antique clocks.

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Writing about everything to do with antiques


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