In these days of high tech and iPods many people don’t appreciate that ornate mantel clocks were sophisticated machines and would have been at the cutting edge of technology when they were first made. While mantel clocks had their use as a time piece their main function was ornamental, namely to sit on the mantelpiece and add to the decor of the room. If you want to start collecting ornate mantel clocks there is a wide choice and you might want to specialise in a particular era or style.
18th century clocks tend to be highly ornate and, unless you live in a Georgian mansion they might look a bit out of place in your living room. These clocks would have been made to order and wealthy owners would choose the movement as well as the casing. If any of these ever come up at auction they fetch high prices – a mantel clock similar to the one made for George III and Queen Charlotte by Matthew Boulton, with a movement by Thomas Wright, was sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2005 for £411,000. That is probably a bit steep for the average collector and it might be wise to look at something a bit more modest.
In the early 19th century these mantel clocks became a bit more affordable as more attention was paid to the design of the cases and the movements became less complicated, which meant that they could be mass-produced. While style became more important than the maker of the clock there are still one or two names that collectors should look out for. Benjamin Vulliamy made mantel clocks which were highly decorative in white marble, Derby porcellain and ormolu. While some can fetch six figure sums there are others that can be found at specialist auctions for under £5,000. Another maker to look out for is EJ Dent & Co who made the clock for Big Ben In London.
As we get towards the middle of the 19th century the mantel clocks became more and more ornamental and ormolu-cased clocks became much sought after. While they are very unfashionable now they have investment potential, especially if you can find clocks from the Empire period of the 1820s and 1830s. A name to look out for is Japy Freres and mantel clocks bearing this name can often be fond for under £1,500.
Nowadays the plain mahogany cased Edwardian mantle clocks are more popular with collectors, probably because they blend better into a modern house with modern furnishings. Collectors should look out for the names of Mappin and Webb and Waring and Gillow. The designs are often quite masculine and the collectors tend to be men. You might be lucky to find a 1950s or 1960s original for around £850, a modern one would cost a lot more.
If you intend to become a serious collector of ornate mantel clocks here are some pointers that you should be aware of. When buying a clock make sure that the case and the movement are the original pair, if they are not the value of the clock will be greatly reduced. While minor damage to a case can often be repaired by a general restorer a movement that isn’t working should always go to an expert who specialises in that particular type of movement. Always ask for a guarantee and a description of the work that has been done.