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Antique Longcase Clock Origins

The first Long Case Clocks were produced in Britain, after the London clock maker Ahasuerus Fromenteel sent his son to Holland to learn about the use of a pendulum. For the first 15 years clock makers struggled to develop a pendulum device capable of keep accurate time. Originally they used a verge escapement and relatively short pendulum. By 1670 the anchor escapement had been developed and took over from the verge escapement, when used in conjunction with a pendulum a great accuracy could be achieved. This development ensured that history would remember Britain as the dominating producer in the world of clock making.

Names such as Joseph Knibb, Thomas Tompion, George Graham, and Daniel Quare all come to mind when discussing the history of Long Case Clocks. The earliest cases were made from oak and were architectural in appearance and had very little decoration. Over time the designs evolved and the first longcase clocks of higher quality clocks, would be made principally of oak or pine and veneered in fruitwood which was then ebonised to create a black polished finish.

During the 18th century the longcase clock became very popular not only in London but in the provincial areas, this resulted in many different kinds of styles and wood being used all over the country. Each area had their own case style which stayed with them into the 19th century, as the style of the cases progressed so did the dials and movements. Around the 1740’s the use of mahogany started to become popular for use on longcase clock cases, as the timber was shipped back from Africa and the Americas. Lacquered, chinoisserie decorated cases were also very popular throughout the 18th century, with their oriental designs.

The dials of the earliest clocks were square and made of brass, with separate chapter ring and gilded spandrels. These early multi-piece 'chapter-ring and spandrels' dials acquired optional arches from C.1715 and subtly evolved in details of design, but remained unchallenged until C.1773 when the first painted dials appeared almost simultaneously with the engraved single sheet brass dials. In 1772 Osborne & Wilson, from Birmingham, introduced the japanned dial, these early dials had simple well executed decorations, with well painted subjects and raised gesso gold leaf decoration. The painted dials followed the same format as the brass dial (Roman hours and Arabic minutes), but as time went by the Arabic minutes were reduced to only being used on the quarters and then by the 1840’s only the Roman hours remained, Arabic hours were also used in the period 1790 to 1820. Painted dials continued to be made in the arch and square format but there was also the addition of the round dial which was extensively used in Scotland and London.

British Long Case clocks were popular until less expensive, American made movements flooded the market at the end of the 1870s. During this time, production of British Long case clocks virtually ceased.
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