Your Guide to Buying a Bronze Antique Mantel Clock
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Antique Mantel clocks are sought after for their practical functionality and beautiful presence in a room. They are made from a variety of materials, although with its durability, colour and attractive shine, brass and bronze are a common choice for antique buyers. Before heading out to browse for brass or bronze antique mantel clocks to buy, the purchaser may benefit from consulting a few simple guidelines. Readers will learn about the different types of brass & bronze mantel clocks on the antique market, features that help to define them as antique, as well as some simple methods for clock maintenance.

History of Brass & Bronze Antique Mantel Clocks

Some of the earliest timepieces were simple devices built by the ancient Egyptians. Ceramic water clocks and stone sundials date back thousands of years, and used physical properties such as the earth’s orbit or liquid displacement to measure the passing of time. Over the course of the following centuries, technology helped feed the increasing accuracy of mechanical time measurement, and materials such as brass became common for sturdy clock construction, both for the cases and for the internal mechanisms.

Mantel clocks were invented in the mid-seventeenth century. Designed as small and practical timepieces to be placed on shelves, many of the first mantel clocks (known as chamber clocks) even had handles for easy transportation. Over history the mantel clock has been seen to vary from this handled design and take on many other ornate forms. As these intricately manufactured pieces were passed or sold down from generation to generation, many have become current antiques that still function perfectly today.

Discover Brass & Bronze Antique Mantel Clocks

Brass & Bronze mantel clocks can offer a buyer a practical and attractive addition to home décor. Their ability to be freestanding and placed on shelves means that they’re versatile and easily read, unlike grandfather clocks or pocket watches, in which size prohibits certain functionality. Their construction can vary from the whole case of the clock, to a combination of brass & bronze with other materials such as wood, ceramics, or bronze. A wooden or bronze clock could easily have brass elements; however, a clock that is described as ‘a brass or bronze mantel clock’ generally refers to one that has brass or bronze construction of the case itself.

As well as their function and construction, these clocks are defined by their age. This is an important point for a prospective antique buyer to note before purchasing. Though the term ‘antique’ is somewhat debated, most collectors and professionals agree that it defines items that are at least one hundred years old. Occasionally, buyers will find that 1930 is also considered a measuring year, but regardless, the important consideration is that not every old mantel clock is defined as an antique. Considering that these popular pieces of history are still replicated today, the original antiques themselves should not be confused with ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’ pieces.

Parts of Brass or Bronze Antique Mantel Clocks

Clocks contain hundreds of moving parts,, springs and gears. Below is a concise list of the components that make up most antique brass mantel clocks.

Part

Description

Power source

Allows the clock to continue working and is generally key wound.

Oscillator

Vibrates at a steady frequency, such as a pendulum, and is connected to the controller.

Controller

‘Pushes’ the oscillator to make up for frequency lost by friction and releases a measured pulse.

Counter Chain

Combination of gears that converts the pulse from the controller into minutes and seconds on the indicator.

Indicator

The readable portion of the clock and commonly represented by two ‘hands’ and the numbers one through twelve, or numerals.

Chime

Additional mechanism that creates noise upon certain positions of the hands, usually on the hour.

Key

Used to periodically wind the clock and keep it running.

Case

The exterior of the clock.

Types of Brass or Bronze Antique Mantel Clocks

Mantel clocksare defined by their ability to be freestanding on a shelf. Considering this wide definition, mantel clocks with a brass construction can be categorised in other ways, using a number of different criteria. Some brass pieces made during the Napoleonic Empire in France during the early nineteenth century are known as French Empire clocks. Other varieties, such as lighthouse clocks, have exposed brass gears and sit under a glass dome. Tambour clocks, with a simple curved case design, are one of the most common forms of mantel clock, but a buyer will note that they are generally built from wood and have only brass ornamentation.

It is important for a buyer to note that it is not the name of the clock, such as ‘lighthouse,’ that clearly identifies its construction . In theory, any type of antique mantel clock could potentially be found in brass, wood, bronze or any other number of other materials. Below are listed some other examples of mantel clocks that can be found in brass.

Type

Description

Advantages

Considerations

Atmos

Runs using pressure and temperature from the atmosphere

Does not need winding

Often contained inside a glass box

Torsion

Pendulum operated clock with a dense disk or wheel sometimes decorates by brass balls

Runs longer than many other pendulum clocks

More difficult to operate and can be inaccurate compared to other designs

Decorative

Heavily ornate designs, often with sculpted figures or scenes larger than the clock face

Generally an interesting variation on the simpler mantle clock

Very elaborate design

Carriage

Small clock with a handle

Designed for travel

Possibly too small to be read from some other practical locations

Factors to Consider When Buying a Brass Antique Mantel Clock

Before deciding on which of the above brass clocks is the right one for purchase, a buyer should consider a few further factors.

  • Brass Metal – A buyer should be careful not to confuse brass with other metals, such as bronze although this does not effect the value
  • Maker’s Mark – Most brass or bronze antique mantel clocks are marked by their manufacturer and this can give the piece valuable authenticity.
  • Condition – A buyer should check to see if it is dented, scratched or tarnished, and be familiar with the state of the lacquer (thin protective coating), if one has been applied.
  • Transport – Though the brass case may be strong, antique clocks are precision instruments and transport options must be considered.
  • Components – Considering that brass antique mantel clocks are often well over one hundred years old, many of the internal pieces may have been replaced with modern parts, potentially changing the perceived value.

Typical Features of a Brass or Bronze Antique Mantel Clock

1. Face

Every antique mantel clock has a carefully crafted face that will vary slightly in size. They are often made from enamel or hand-painted ceramics. From Roman numerals to numbers, there can be as many designs of clock faces as there are colours and typefaces, though many remain minimal for easy reading.

2. Hands

An antique mantel clock’s hands are a distinguishing element of design. They can are generally made from metals such as steel or brass, and come in various shapes and designs, from simple lines to more complex and ornate.

3. Chimes

Many brass or bronze mantel clocks have an hourly, or even quarter-hourly chime, as well as a second-by-second tick. Chimes vary in their amplitude and frequency and can also come with a silencing option. The most common chime is known as the Westminster Chime.

4. Key Winding

Most brass or bronze antique mantel clocks will require hand winding with the use of a key. Some have what is known as an ‘eight day movement,’ requiring winding once a week. Others have longer movements such as fourteen days.

How to Care for Brass or Bronze Antique Mantel Clocks

Brass or bronze antique mantel clocks, unlike wooden designs, require a slightly different maintenance approach in order for them to continue performing at their best. Below are some approaches to maintenance.

  1. It is important to treat the clock’s casing as with any other antique brass or bronze. Take the time to find out if the piece is lacquered before cleaning, as it may be necessary to clean beneath the lacquer. If tarnished, brass mantel clocks can be washed with hot soapy water and polished.
  2. Do not allow an antique mantel clock to overheat as it may warp the internal parts and damage the exterior.
  3. An antique mantel clock that is wound by hand must be done so regularly, and care must be taken not to wind it too far.
  4. Due to the nature of valuable brass antiques, mantel clocks should be taken to professionals for any serious cleaning and/or lacquering.
  5. Mantel clocks should be placed on even surfaces in order to tell accurate time. The owner can check the consistency of the second hand movement to learn if it is positioned correctly.

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