Tony Sheffer Antiques Notes on Mantel Clocks

Published: 12th January 2011
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Most of the mantel clocks that appeared towards the end of the eighteenth century and became popular in the nineteenth century were made in France and typically of French taste with elaborate decoration. The English clocks of the same period were usually bracket clocks and these were much larger and wooden cased. The French antique clocks were made of metal or marble and often had elaborately applied decorative features such as cupids or classical figures with scrolls and garlands of flowers.

Eighteenth century French clocks were made mainly in Paris and were then at their most ornamental. These clocks are fairly rare today and therefore very expensive. Most of the French mantel clocks were produced in the nineteenth century. They usually had porcelain or enamel dials and a hinged circular glass bezel.

The better quality and more expensive clocks had bronze mounts or cases and sometimes these were gilded. The cheaper clocks had spelter cast mounts or cases. Spelter was lighter and less durable but could also be gilded to make it look expensive.

French mantel clocks can come with a variety of different pendulums particularly where the pendulum is visible such as in a four glass clock or portico clock. Examples of different types of pendulum are as follows:-

1. A mercury pendulum which contains mercury in two or three glass jars with the object of compensating for differences in temperature;

2. An Ellicot pendulum which has levers in the pendulum bob. The downward expansion of a brass rod attached to the steel pendulum presses on the levers and so raises the bob thus keeping the centre of oscillation constant;

3. A grid iron pendulum often in the shape of a lyre;

4. The swing pendulum with a cherub or similar figure sitting on a swing.


The French clock movements were very well engineered and there were many different makers. Later in the nineteenth century the cheaper polished Belgian slate clocks appeared. Although these were mass produced the French movements were very well made and were accurate timekeepers. Through most of the nineteenth century the French clock movements were bell striking but towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth century gong striking clocks became popular. The simple form of French mantel clock in a polished slate case sometimes with marble decoration still represents very good value for money and a timepiece of this type can be purchased for as little as 130.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and during the beginning of the twentieth century wooden cases became quite popular. The Edwardian mantel clock in a mahogany or oak case usually with some marquetry inlay such as a bat wing or snail nearly always had a simple timepiece movement with a platform lever escapement. However, these movements continued to be mainly French. It was not until later in the twentieth century that English manufacturers made mantel clocks with English movements.

It should also be mentioned that during the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century German clocks with German movements became quite popular. The German clock movements were good but were not regarded as being as good as the French. Some of the better known German names are Lenzkirch, Junghans and Gustav Becker.

Tony Sheffer is Director of Tony Sheffer Antiques. More information at specialises in a range of Carriage Clocks, Mantel Clocks , Longcase Clocks, Bracket Clocks, Wall Clocks, Lincolnshire and throughout the UK.

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