Antique Wall Clocks for a Touch of the Past

Updated May 26, 2021
Antique Wall Clock

Antique wall clocks developed as a new domestic time-telling mechanism that helped with efficiency in both the home and the workplace. As with most domestic goods, people around the world wanted different styles of these clocks, resulting in an array of types spanning three centuries. Take a look at some of the most significant styles and see if you recognize any of them as being the type of clock hanging in your grandparent's kitchen or favorite antique store's wall.

Antique Wall Clocks

Historic artifacts surrounding time keeping like pocket watches, wristwatches, and clocks are highly desirable among collectors because often, even the most damaged examples, can be restored to working condition. These late-18th - 20th century wall clocks are particularly popular because they're easily displayed and bring a tasteful sense of the past into anyone's home. Here are some of the designs that developed over the three centuries.

French Cartel Clocks

Cartel clocks have French origins, historically being housed in exquisite French frames of the eighteenth century. Cartel clock frames are often wood covered with gold leaf or highly decorated, cast bronze. These clock's dials are generally white with gilt figurines, cherubs, and garlands surrounding the Roman numerals on the clock face. At the lower ends, these clocks are worth a few thousand dollars and at the upper ends can be tens of thousands of dollars. For example, one 1760s Swedish Cartel Clock with its original bracket is listed for nearly $21,000 at an online auction.

L'Aîné Cartel clock

Cuckoo Clocks

Cuckoo clocks have a long-standing history as comedy devices in television and film, but at one time, they were a popular choice to have in your home. These clocks were shaped like a small cottage and housed a figurine - often a bird - that would come out and chirp at designated times. The first cuckoo clock was designed by German clockmaker, Franz Anton Ketterer, in the Black Forest region of Germany.

Cuckoo Clocks, 126 1st Ave. Minneapolis MN

Tavern Clocks

Tavern clocks arose around the 1720s and continued to be produced throughout the 18th century; often called "Act of Parliament" clocks, these wall clocks were mostly found in taverns. When a parliamentary tax forced clock owners to pay a fee that was implemented to help raise money for war efforts, many regular people got rid of their clocks to avoid the fines; however, taverns used this as a business opportunity to bring more customers in to view the time on the clocks they kept in their buildings. Visually, these clocks are recognizable for their large circular dials and the elongated section underneath to hold the pendulums.

Act of Parliament Clock (coaching inn clock or tavern clock), 1765

Grafton Wall Clocks

Also referred to as Willard timepieces, these describe small circular clocks that rest in a rectangular, wooden frame and were normally created in Grafton, Massachusetts at the end of the 18th century. They were specifically designed to resemble the previously popular bracket clocks which were portable and usually rested upon a shelf.

Antique wall clock

Banjo Clocks

First designed by Aron and Simon Willard in 1802, banjo clocks have an incredibly distinctive design. These New England clockmakers created a timepiece that was literally shaped like a banjo, with an elongated top section stretching to a rounded circle. These clocks were ornately decorated with paintings, carvings, and brass figurines. Originally labeled the Improved Timepiece, this clock remained popular for more than sixty years and is one of the most collectible clocks today.

Banjo clock

Wag-on-the-Wall Clocks

This English style of wall clock was popular during the mid-19th century and features a unique design that isn't enclosed in a case but rather has a top hood that protects the dial from dust and dirt. However, as time passed, many owners decided to enclose their wag-on-a-walls in a case. You can find these clocks for around $500, give or take; for example, this early 19th century wag-on-a-wall was originally listed for nearly $400.

Antique wall clock

Mirror Clocks

Mirror clocks, or New Hampshire Mirror Clocks as they often were called, were popular during the early 19th century. They're characterized by a split frame, with a large mirror featured beneath the clock mechanism to create a fixture that has a dual purpose.

New Hampshire Mirror Wall Clock

Other Elements of Antique Wall Clocks

No matter the fact that these wall clocks originated in different decades and centuries, they all share a few characteristics that you'll want to consider when you're thinking about collecting one or more of them:

  • Wind Length - The clocks 'day' refers to the amount of time it can last without having to be rewound. These antique clocks are manually wound, so looking for one with an eight day (one week-long) wind length would be a great choice for people who don't want to be rewinding every few days.
  • Wooden vs Metal Pieces - Most of these antique clocks were made out of high-quality woods but could include metal accents. When cleaning these pieces, it's important to take the different materials into account and check that you have the proper tools and cleaners for each item.
  • Size- While these wall clocks aren't as large as grandfather clocks, they do vary in size, so you'll want to check the dimensions of all the clocks you're considering (especially if you're looking online) to make sure they'll fit your space.

Time to Decorate the Walls

Wonderful antiques for casual collectors are items that have both an aesthetic and realistic function. Antique wall clocks are ideal items for history lovers who aren't big on clutter; so, next time you're at your grandmother's house and you go to check the time, see if her wall clock matches anyone of these and maybe convince her to let you take it home for safe keeping.

Antique Wall Clocks for a Touch of the Past