How to care for classic timepieces
Sometimes the most shocking household accidents can lead to a golden find. This was the case when retired educator Carol Allen tripped over her vacuum cord and smashed into her 1790s Scottish grandfather clock, sending the massive mahogany timepiece onto the floor. Allen surveyed the damage and knew the clock would never tell time again. She then taped the clock’s mangled door to its cabinet and moved it to a seldom-used room. “I thought the clock was gone for good,” she says. “I just couldn’t even look at it.”
Several years later, Allen moved from her French Quarter condo to Uptown and brought the large, damaged clock with her. On the off-chance that it could be fixed, she called a woodworker to repair the damage to the broken door. That the mechanical workings of the clock could ever work again never entered her mind, until the repairman casually mentioned a friend of his, who repaired antique clocks.
After looking at the clock and determining that it was quite valuable and worth the effort, the clock repairman left Allen’s home with a box filled with the inner workings. Within weeks, the 200-year-old workings were cleaned and oiled, a damaged piece was fixed, a new dial post was made and the seat board was put in order. Allen’s clock was soon sounding its high-pitched gong once again.
Likewise, Allen also rescued a 1910 rustic Early American mantel clock that belonged to her grandparents. That same repairman was able to replace and adjust the ancient mechanisms so that it, too, could sound its rich base gong each hour.
“The mantel clock has great sentimental value to me. Sometimes when I hear its gong, I feel as if I am in my grandparents’ home in Elton, Louisiana, playing with my cousins,” she says. “I think of it as part of the atmosphere of their home and my past, a piece of my family’s history.”
Antique clocks can add charm and history to any room. Often their rich wooden cabinets add warmth to a setting, whether it is placed in your grandmother’s living room or a chic, contemporary setting. Decorator magazines often feature an antique clock in a home or office to punctuate the setting or add a touch of gravitas. Allen placed her grandparents’ clock on her kitchen counter, for an unexpected touch of whimsy.
Collectors often display small clocks on bookshelves to break up the monotony of a series of books. A grouping of antique clocks can also make a fine collage on a wall. One clever hostess alternated several small antique clocks and vases of colorful flowers on her dining room table as a centerpiece. And who can resist a stately grandfather clock anchoring a beautiful room?
With proper care, an antique clock can last for generations, as Allen’s have. Make sure you have the clock professionally cleaned every three to five years and wind the clock every five or six days. When setting the minute-hand, let the gong strike and then move the hand clockwise. Moving the minute-hand counter clockwise will damage the mechanism.
Making the decision to repair an antique clock is a judgment call. Repair work can be pricey and time consuming.
“Ask yourself what that clock means to you.
If the clock is very valuable, it’s worth the cost to repair it,” says Allen. “But even if it doesn’t have a lot of intrinsic value, it may have a lot of sentimental value, as my grandparents’ clock has to me, so it’s more than worth the cost and effort. Antiques have integrity and artistry to them. We have a responsibility to honor and protect them.”
To keep your antique clock ticking:
Modern cleaning products can damage an antique clock’s wood. Test product in an inconspicuous place first.
Use a microfiber cloth and an all-natural cleaner on the wood. Never spray cleaner directly on the clock. Spray cleaner on a rag, then rub onto wood.
Never put cleaning products on the dial.
Wind the clock often. Wind to the end of the spring and no further.
Treat the clock’s mechanisms gently and respectfully and you can leave the clock to your grandchildren to enjoy.