1930s mantel clocks

Updated July 20, 2017

A mantel clock is both functional and decorative. Its place on the mantelpiece above the fireplace creates a focal point in a room. It is also known as the shelf clock in America. Compared to larger wall or floor timepieces, mantel clocks are relatively inexpensive to manufacture. In the Depression of the 1930s, they remained a popular household item because of their affordability.


The utilitarian nature of between-the-wars decorating influenced the design of the British mantel clock in the 1930s. Companies like Smiths, Enfield and Bentima produced affordable clocks that were reliable everyday timepieces. The most popular style was the oak or mahogany "Napoleon's hat" shape, available with or without chimes. This classic vintage design, despite being lower-end, has proved to be hardy. Many examples have survived and are still in use today.


The heyday of American clock-making was ending as the 1930s began, but established names continued to innovate with their designs. Seth Thomas produced a mantel clock made from a block of clear, gold-bubble-infused Lucite. Waltham framed their mantel clocks in bands of marble or jade, while Henry Miller and Telechron made good use of new materials such as Bakelite and Catalin.


French mantel clocks from this period incorporated Art Deco features and used a range of high-end materials. Cartier produced clocks with distinctive silver filigree on enamel. Edgar Brandt's designs typically combined wrought iron and marble. Other French mantel clocks used marble, onyx, brass, glass and chrome, and featured figurines or animals from mythology. Compagnie Industrielle de Macanique Horelogere introduced a colourful geometric line in 1934, which incorporated mirrors into its design.


Coloured glass, bronze and chrome were some of the imaginative materials used in Swiss mantel clocks in the 1930s. New manufacturing processes allowed stylised casings to be moulded using contrasting substances. Arthur ImHof used black Bakelite as a foil to shiny chrome and LeCoultre paired Lucite with copper. Architectural and aircraft design was highly influential, with geometric, angular and streamlined designs establishing the mantel clock as a decorative focus as well as a practical household item.

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About the Author

Catherine Ketley was a teacher in London for 20 years, later authoring online materials for the British government and National College. She moved into print media in 2001. Ketley holds a bachelor's degree in education and English. In 2002, she also earned a distinction for postgraduate research.