Tall case clock

by Dr. Lori Verderame

The tall case clock experienced its golden age in Baroque England from circa 1660 to 1700. First made for the monarchy, early tall case clocks were constructed with architectural proportions in mind. They were constructed to highlight the features found on buildings.

Clockmaking Centers

Initially, tall case clocks were imported to the American colonies from England, but clock making centers emerged in several American colonies including New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Owning a tall case clock would reference an owner’s status within the community. So, tall case clocks were found in the most well-to-do homes of 18th Century America.

Characterized by its narrow pendulum cabinet body and portico-shaped bonnet and hood to protect the clock work mechanism, early clockmakers and cabinetmakers sparked  new trends for decorative tall case clocks worldwide. Originally, the hood of a clock was added to keep dust and dirt from the clock’s movement while the slender pendulum case was added later.

Tall Case Clock Movements

Typically made of brass, the movements on most tall case clocks ran for eight days. This was called an 8 day strike. Until about 1845, American clocks were similar to their English counterparts in that they struck on the hour—at the top of the hour, to be specific–only. In the middle of the 19th century, American clockmakers began to make clocks that struck on the half hour as well.

The Face of Tall Case Clocks

From 1600 to circa 1740, dials and faces on most tall case clocks were 10 inches square. Made of brass, with spandrels of pierced brass, the numbers on the clock’s dial were presented on a silvered chapter ring. By the mid 1700s, the arched clock dial was introduced including the popular moon phases designed in the lunette or crescent pattern along with the clockmaker’s name. A painted dial and Arabic numerals appeared later, around 1780, on most tall case clocks. This change to the face of the clock replaced a century old tradition of using brass dials.

Contemporary Collectors

Collectors look for value in the beauty of the carvings of the a tall case or grandfather clock cabinet. They look for the accuracy and integrity of the clock work mechanism. Often, collectors seek out a decoratively painted or pierced brass dial or face. With a wide range of values for clocks based on many factors, most tall case owners obtain insurance for their family’s tall case clocks. Many tall case clocks depending on the condition, origin, maker, and cabinet can easily command values into the six figures in the antiques market.

Request an online appraisal of your tall case clock from Dr. Lori.