How to Determine the Age of a Grandfather Clock

Updated April 17, 2017

Grandfather clocks, also known as long case, tall case or floor clocks, stand between six and eight feet tall. They have been called coffin clocks because their cases resemble a wooden coffin standing upright. Since Dutch scientist, Christiaan Huygens crafted the first long case clock in 1657, Grandfather clocks have been appreciated for their beauty and accuracy. Floor clocks are often prized possessions, passed down from generation to generation.

Research Grandfather clocks. Before determining the age of your clock, it's imperative that you find out as much as possible about this type of timepiece. Books on the topic like "An Exhibition of Yorkshire Grandfather Clocks- Yorkshire Longcase Clocks and Their Makers From 1860-1920," by David Firth can be helpful as can websites like Talking with collectors and dealers is also a good source of information.

Look for the maker's name. The age of a clock can often be determined by the maker's label and/or serial number on the clock's dial--this will tell who made the clock and when it was produced. If there is no maker's information on the clock, it is best to consult an expert to find out how old your clock is.

Inspect the dial. The clock face, or dial, changed over the years as Grandfather clocks became more common. Some late-18th century clocks had paper dials that were designed to be glued to a metal or wooden backing. Painted dials were common after 1800. .

Study the case. The wood used to craft the case can help you in dating the clock. Prior to the mid- eighteenth century antique clock cases were generally constructed of oak or walnut. Cases manufactured after that time period can also be found in mahogany, pine, satinwood, and fruitwood. Grandfather clock cases were often designed in the style of the time. For example, a clock case of the nineteenth century Victorian era might be ornate with intricate carvings and embellishments while one dating to the mid-sixteen hundreds would be simpler, without the elaborate decorations of later models. In the nineteen thirties and forties, Bakelite, a mouldable plastic material, became a popular choice for Grandfather clock cases.

Examine the mechanism. The clock's mechanism or movement regulates the operation of the timepiece and determines its accuracy. The movement in a Grandfather clock includes the pendulum which drives the other mechanical parts. Wooden movements were common until around 1820. By the eighteen thirties, brass movements had become less expensive and by the eighteen forties, wooden movement was replaced all together.

Things You'll Need

  • Research book
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About the Author

Jan Czech has been writing professionally since 1993. Czech has published seven children's books, including “The Coffee Can Kid," which received a starred review from School Library Journal. She is a certified English/language arts teacher and holds a Bachelor of Arts in education from Niagara University.