Grandfather clocks increase greatly in value over time


Longcase clocks, even the battered, dusty and stored-in-the-garage-because-it-doesn't-work variety, can be worth from hundreds to tens of thousands of pounds, according to a specialist.

Mr Paul Maudsley, a specialist in the clock department at Bonhams & Brooks auction house in London, says: "Whether it's working or not isn't really a factor when it comes to selling points at auction. There's a lot of clocks that we sell which have been in people's garages for a time. They're just old, dusty and need cleaning. A clock is a fairly simple mechanism. There's nothing that can't be fixed on it and cleaned up and working."

People selling clocks would be wiser to sell them in their present condition, he says. "Because if you're not careful you can spend an absolute fortune getting something done and not really get the money back for it at auction."

Longcase clocks, known in the US as tallcase clocks or popularly as grandfather clocks, tend to be either 30-hour or eight-day clocks. Given that eight-day clocks need to be wound less frequently, they are more sought after and command higher prices.

A typical oak-cased 30-hour longcase clock with square dials tends to fetch about £600 to £800 sterling at auction, although Bonhams & Brooks have sold a 30-hour longcase with a particularly beautiful dial for £4,500.

Eight-day longcases with a painted dial tend to fetch from £800 to £1,200, while good eight-day mahogany-cased pieces with a silver dial could fetch £2,000 to £3,000 at auction. "Again, the movement doesn't have to be fully working," he says.

The kinds of wood used affects values. While mahoganies and oaks are attractive, longcase clocks made of walnut and marquetry clocks (wood inlaid on top of wood) are "much more desirable", he says. "A good marquetry clock would be £3,000 or £4,000. If it's by a famous maker such as Christopher Gould it could be £10,000 to £15,000. If it's by Thomas Tompion you could be looking at £100,000."

The earliest forms of longcase clocks appeared around the 1670s. "They arose from the lantern clock. It was a brass four-sided timepiece with a bell on top which was one of the earliest forms of clocks. Then people started putting them onto brackets, hanging them on the wall, with the weights below. And people started building little wooden surrounds around them. Eventually they came up with the longcase clock," he says.

Collectors' tastes and budget largely determine their interest, he says. "It all depends on your taste. Painted dial clocks came in around the 1800s. The faces, the dials, have been painted and have sometimes scenes on them. Earlier clocks from the 1680s to 1700s are square brass and silver dials. Again it's taste and what people like."

US longcase clocks are quite rare this side of the Atlantic and when they come up on the market they are much sought after. A 1777 walnut longcase clock crafted in the Chippendale style is expected to fetch between "£40,000 and £60,000 sterling at a fine clocks auction at Bonhams & Brooks on November 8th.

Moon phases on longcase clocks are not astronomically correct. "It's just something that moves and is appealing to the person who has the clock in their house. It's not very accurate astronomically. Often on the top of clocks you get little moving figures. You might get a ship which rocks backwards and forwards and looks like its sailing," he says.

A recent auction at Mealy's of Castlecomer included an 18th century longcase mahogany clock estimated at £8,000 to £12,000 and an early Victorian Irish longcase oak clock estimated at £5,000 to £7,000.