Vintage mantel clocks are mechanical timepieces originally designed to be displayed on fireplace mantels. Their small size---generally not much more than a foot in height---also makes them ideal for tabletops. The clocks came in a variety of shapes and were often highly decorated. Vintage mantel clocks typically date form the 18th and 19th centuries, with traditional forms continuing into the early 1900s.
Note the size and shape of the vintage mantel clock. Most are about half as wide as they are high. Clocks can take the form of upright rectangles or rectangles topped by arches or domes. Some are circular or pyramidal in appearance, while a small number of mantel clocks look like statues.
Open the back of the clock. Vintage mantel clocks contain brass or wooden movements. The movement is the system of gears that works the clock. The clock will also contain a pendulum to regulate the time and a spring to supply power to the gears.
Examine the materials that comprise the clock case. The case is the actual structure that contains all the parts of the mantel clock. Vintage mantel clocks are generally made of wood, porcelain or ormolu. Ormolu is an alloy consisting of bronze with 7 per cent gold.
Look for extensive use of gilding on the mantel clock case. Cases with lots of elaborate curves and rich sculptural ornamentation are a signature of French models, as are those enclosed by glass domes. These mantel clocks date from the mid-1700s to the late 1800s.
Observe the top of the clock. Vintage mantel clocks with an s-shape are called ogee clocks and are usually English or American. Ogee clocks debuted in the 1840s. Other English and American clocks take the form of steeples or rounded steeples, called beehives. English and American clocks are generally more sober in design and are made of darker woods, such as ebony, with only a small amount of gilding.
Specific mantel clock styles were in fashion at particular periods. Knowing when a particular style was first introduced can help date a vintage mantel clock. Sites such as Antique Clock Price Guide and Checking Time offer images and information on particular styles . Mantel clocks are also sometimes called "mantle" clocks, though the first spelling is actually the original.
Beware of reproductions. Vintage mantel clocks can only be made of natural materials and must contain mechanical movements. If in doubt about the authenticity of a piece, bring it to a reputable antiques dealer or appraiser.