Why collect or own Carriage Clocks?
I know many collectors who have a large variety of Antique Carriage Clocks that give them much pleasure, not only just owning them but in the search over many years for specific examples.
Carriage Clocks start at very affordable prices; from £50 - £100 at auction for unrestored basic examples, to many thousands of pounds for mechanically complicated, rare or highly decorated or unusually cased ones. They are generally small and do not take up the space that other antique clocks do. They are eminently portable in their design - change your mind from the mantelpiece to the bookshelf? The bedroom to the landing side table? Pick it up and off you go - no need to worry about a pendulum or weights!
Here we have an example of a ‘standard’ timepiece carriage clock which were made in large quantities in the late 19th and early 20th century. Nearly all were made in France with many finding their way over to Britain as we had a high demand for them. You often find a name on the dial for example ‘EDGUCUMBE, WEYMOUTH’ but this is sometimes confused between the maker and the retailer - it is the shop name put onto the imported French carriage clock. These are generally £ 250 - £ 300 in fully restored condition with a guarantee. They represent good value for money compared to a new, reproduction mechanical one from a modern jewellers - why not own the ‘real thing’ which is 100 years old?
You may own an antique carriage clock with a mechanical feature such as an alarm, a half hour and hour strike and even a repeating button at the top of the case - this you depress and it lets you know the nearest hour. Imagine 100 years ago having it at your bedside and you could reach out at night, depress the button and know roughly what the time was - very clever as long as you did not knock the clock over in the dark! You can see the button at the case top on this example.
The more complicated carriage clocks can have quarter striking features known as Grand Sonnerie or Petite Sonnerie which strike or repeat the quarter hour intervals, some have multi dials showing days of the week and month. Some even show lunar moon phases during the month. These are often prized by collectors but need to be chosen carefully to ensure all the features work correctly as they can be costly to repair professionally.
The other main area is the case design. This usually helps date a clock as certain case styles were made in different periods of the 19th century. As a general rule the case quality pre 1870 tends to be higher as later ones have screw fixed columns as opposed to ‘one-piece’ moulded cases. Some examples have Corinthian columns, applied mouldings and fretwork, beautifully engraved cases and some with fine porcelain panels. This example shows a porcelain dial which is a desirable feature to some collectors. Some carriage clocks can be miniature, oval cased, silver and champlevé enamel, bamboo design, rococo and even with moving animals - you can see now why some collectors take years looking for rarer models! The example here is an interesting type with ‘caryatids’, (semi-nude figures) to the case sides.
Some examples have the original travelling cases. These are normally velvet lined and have a section to the side to store the winding key. There is a slide out panel which can cover the front of the case or be taken out and stored at the back so that the carriage clock dial can be seen whilst in the box. The outer cases are often a little damaged as it has a thin covering of a leather type material which can suffer over the years. Examples in fine condition with a higher quality clock are sought after by collectors as this finishes and completes the clock – a numbered mechanism and the original matching numbered key is a dream!
There are noted clock makers such as Paul Garnier, Drocourt, Henri Jacot, and Margaine. These are often identified by a stamped mark on the back plate of the clock mechanism, you sometimes need a magnifying glass and the knowledge of each of the makers stamps to identify it. You will normally pay a premium in price over comparable clocks that are not by noted makers. Do however take each clock on its own merits and chooses the type that has the features you desire within your budget. It may be that a case design is more important than complicated mechanical features. The example shown to the left is by noted maker Henri Jacot and is a higher quality ‘Gorge Case’.
Antique Carriage Clocks in depth are quite a big subject, but thankfully there are a few excellent reference books on hand to help you distinguish one kind from another. Some books are out of print and can be expensive to buy second hand so you may want to order one on loan from your library. An excellent read with colour illustrations is ‘Carriage and Other Travelling Clocks’ by Derek Roberts, Schiffer Publishing Ltd - ISBN: 0-88740-454-5.
Article provided by Paul Kembery of Kembery Antique Clocks Ltd