Lantern clocks

Brian Loomes Antique Clocks

Brian & Joy Loomes

Pateley Bridge

Contact us by email only, please, NOT by phone nor text.

We have a large archive of sold clocks, and almost 150 articles by Brian Loomes on clock collecting, clockmakers and clock care and identification. For more information, please click the links on the right.

Winners of the 2001 BACA award for excellence under the category of specialist clock dealers, judged on 1. quality of service, 2. consistent quality of stock, 3. depth of knowledge.

Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Lantern Clocks - some frequently asked questions

lantern clock

Standard-size weight-driven lantern clock of the 1690s by James Delaunce of Frome, Somerset, with anchor escapement and long pendulum set up on a bracket.

How big are they?
Usual ('standard') size about 15 to 16 inches high including top finial. A few lantern clocks exist about 9 or 10 inches high. Miniatures lantern clocks exist about 6 or 7 inches high, but they are usually alarm clocks without strikework. Proportions are a very important factor in determining the price. Those with a very slender chapter ring (one inch or so) have more elegance than those with wider ones, which much overlap the body sides, and slimmer ones are much more prized by collectors. This slim factor usually comes with the greatest age and is commonest on lantern clocks made before about 1680.

How old are they?
Lantern clocks were first made in England about 1600, though we seldom see examples before the mid seventeenth century. They were made first in London, then by the mid seventeenth century in the provinces, arriving sooner in the South than in the North, where lantern clocks were never especially common. By 1700 lantern clocks had virtually stopped being made in London in the conventional form, after which date arched dial examples were still made, and occasionally square dial examples. In provincial England lantern clocks continued to be made until perhaps 1720, but in East Anglia they persisted in traditional form longer than elsewhere, until the 1760s, and in arched dial form till maybe 1790. It never ceases to amaze me that a lantern clock may still work and keep reasonable time despite three hundred years of wear and neglect.

How long do they run for?
The earliest lantern clocks were built with a balance wheel escapement, and these would need winding every twelve hours and some every eight hours. Virtually none survive today with original balance wheel drive, though some were re-converted from modified escapement form back to balance wheel and these may have been made to run for longer than the usual eight to twelve hour period. Some balance wheel lantern clocks converted to anchor escapement still retain the short duration, needing winding as often as every eight hours.

Those lantern clocks built with verge escapement and short (called a 'bob) pendulum will normally run for thirty hours at one winding. Those lantern clocks built with anchor escapement and long pendulum (like a longcase clock escapement) will usually run for thirty hours.

The length of duration will depend how high on the wall the lantern clock is hung. This may sound obvious, but in the seventeenth century lantern clocks were hung as high as possible within the room, as close to the ceiling as could be managed and much higher than we might first expect, probably to achieve the longest duration. Today collectors will often hang a lantern clock a little above head height, at which height many will need winding more than once a day.

No original lantern clocks run for eight days.

How are they driven?
The movements of lantern clocks were driven by weights. Those lantern clocks driven by springs are either old weight-driven clocks which have been 'converted' to spring movements much later, or are modern replicas or copies.

The oldest (balance-wheel) lantern clocks were driven by two separate weights, one for going, one for striking. When converted to anchor escapements such clocks were also often modified for convenience at the same time to thirty-hour duration and usually also to single-weight drive using a continuous (figure-eight) rope or chain, known as the 'Huygens' winding system. Just occasionally other types of non-balance-wheel lantern clocks had two separate weights, but the great majority had one weight and a continuous rope or chain.

Why do some drive with a rope and some with a chain?
It is said, I am not sure how reliably, that the earliest lantern clocks had rope, and the chain drive option came later. It is said that lantern clocks had rope drive until the last decade of the seventeenth century, after which they could have either. I have never studied this aspect of the subject in such depth as to be sure about this. I do know that when the option was for either one or the other, the customer could select which he wanted, and that chain cost one shilling and six pence (seven and a half new pence) more than rope. It is important to run a lantern clock on whichever it was made for, as chain will slip on a ratchet made for rope and vice versa. Special chains can usually be bought from parts suppliers as can special clock rope, which has an open weave and may look similar to, but is not at all the same thing as, washing-line rope.

Do they strike?
Most lantern clocks strike the number of the hour. The strike was controlled by a countwheel on the back of the clock, just like a thirty-hour longcase.

Some lantern clocks had alarmwork, and those with alarmwork would generally not strike, though some did.

A very few, exceptionally rare lantern clocks, were made to chime the quarter hours. Very rarely they may play a tune.

One hand or two?
Genuine lantern clocks always have just one hand, which indicates hours, halves and quarters. They were never made with two hands. Yes, I know a handful of lantern clocks are known made originally with two hands but we are never likely to see one outside a museum or a book illustration. To all intents and purposes genuine lantern clocks had one hand at the time of making.

Just occasionally, but not often, an original lantern clock movement was modified later to read with two hands, by adding to the wheelwork. It is therefore possible to find a lantern clock with its original weight-driven movement and two hands, but it was not made that way originally.

Most two-handed lantern clocks are copies, replicas or modern reproductions.

But quite a number of genuine old lantern clocks had their movements removed and their 'cases' re-fitted with a two-handed spring-driven bracket clock movement, which will usually run for eight days. These spring-drive conversions were normally done about a hundred years ago or a little more. They preserved the external antiquity of the clock with the convenience of two-handed eight-day timekeeping. These movements were often purpose-made to fit the case, are often of high quality, and English ones usually have double fusee movements. Some replacement spring movements chime quarter hours or strike the half hours, sometimes with ting-tang quarters on two bells. Some retained the original hour hand and had a minute hand (made at the time of conversion of course) made in what was thought to be 'matching' or appropriate style.

Sometimes the replacement spring movements were of French or German make, and these are not as highly regarded as English fusee movements.

Are the frets original?
Frets are those pierced attachments which sit above the dial of a lantern clock and above each side, their purpose being to fill in and conceal the gap between the clock and the bell, that otherwise unsightly area where the hammer sits. The commonest pattern has two dolphin-like sea-serpents; others have a central shield, or a lion and unicorn holding a shield. Frets are a bit of a problem in that they have often been replaced. Original frets would have their two attaching lugs sited above the two receiving holes drilled in the top plate, to which they are screwed. Original screws were often square-headed (like a bolt head with a slot in it), but not always. The presence of one or two secondary holes now unused implies that the frets are not the original ones the clock was built with. The fact that the present frets do fit by screws in the two original holes, is not necessarily proof that they are not replacements.

Why frets should so often have been replaced with others, I cannot say, nor have I ever seen any convincing explanation. It might just be that some owner of the clock didn't care for the original frets and replaced them with others of a pattern which he liked better. It is difficult to think of frets becoming lost by their screws having dropped out.

Naturally a lantern clock is more desirable with its original frets, if it can be established that they are original. But replaced frets are so common, that we tend to have to accept that as a fact, and replacement frets will not be adequate reason to put off a serious buyer from a lantern clock he otherwise likes. Generally we take the view that old replacements are better than new replacements. But is a clock has some particularly offensive frets, or some totally out of character with the clock's age, then new ones can be purchased today of a more suitable pattern.

A few lantern clocks have lost their frets altogether, and lantern clocks without frets looks very strange. In such cases the best policy is to fit modern replacements.

Are the side doors original?
Lantern clocks were fitted originally with doors, which pivot at the back, swinging in two holes one in the top plate and one in the bottom plate. The doors themselves have protruding lugs at the top and bottom of the back edge, by which they can be inserted into position, the top lug longer than the bottom one, thus allowing a door to be lifted up into place and to be removed in the same way. The very nature of their being removable, presumably to make access to the mechanics easier, means that if a lantern clock is laid on its back or side, the doors will tend to drop off when it is picked up again. It is for this reason that many lantern clocks, probably the great majority of them, lost their original doors, which would be left behind whenever a lantern clock was packed into a storage box or removed from one. By nature of their obsolescence, lantern clocks will have been stored away unused at some time or other. Many lantern clocks today therefore lack side doors altogether or have replacement ones.

Many lantern clocks today have replacement side doors, some of which can be of considerable age. It is probably not possible to be certain whether an ancient door is original or an old replacement. Replacements were sometimes fitted in such a way that the door was held permanently in position by the plates, and can only be removed by dismantling the top plate. Doors fitted in this way are replacements, as this was not the original method of fixing.

Attitudes vary as to whether to replace missing doors with purpose-made replacements or to leave them without doors. The purpose of such doors was to help keep out dust in days when houses had straw on the floor. Nowadays most houses don't and occupants kick up less dust, so that the function of the doors is mostly aesthetic. Personally I would rather look at a lantern clock without doors than with new ones, but it's a matter of individual preference.

The presence of original doors on a lantern clock could be looked on as a nice bonus, but their absence or replacement with newer ones would not put off a serious collector from buying a particular clock. The doors are incidental to more important factors.

Shouldn't lantern clocks have backplates? And hanging hoops? And spurs?
When first made lantern clocks were fitted with an iron backplate, which fitted into place by a lower lug and two upper pins, in the same way as the dial. The purpose was principally to keep out dust, but backplates were also often used for other purposes. Lantern clocks with alarmwork often had the alarmwork attached to the outside of the backplate. Those alarm lantern clocks converted to long pendulum from some other form of escapement would normally have the backplate removed, as it was likely that it carried the alarmwork, which was in the way of the pendulum.

Conversion to anchor sometimes also meant that the original hanging hoop was in the way of the anchor support cock, and often the hoops were also removed. The two rear spurs which kept the clock spaced from the wall and firmly braced were also often attached to the iron backplate, and so its removal meant that the spurs were also removed with it. Being of iron, the backplates would suffer from rust and were sometimes removed because of poor condition. As backplates were no longer regarded as essential to keep out the dust, just as doors had done, they were often not replaced at all, but left absent, which also made for easier access to the countwheel, etc. at the back of the movement. In cases where they were replaced, principally for the sake of neatness, brass backplates were often used, and a brass backplate is almost certain to be a replacement.

Do they hang on the wall?
When lantern clocks were first made they invariably had a hoop and spurs at the back to hang from a stout hook knocked solidly into the wall. Some lantern clocks still retain them and can be hung from a wall hook, if the owner wishes. Over the years and through varying modifications which many have been through, some lantern clocks have lost either the hoop or spurs or both, removed because they were in the way. It is sometimes possible if the hoop remains, to fit replacement spurs if the owner so wishes. Spurs were often in the iron backplate, but some were screwed into the rear feet.

In more recent years lantern clocks have usually been placed on a wooden wall-mounted bracket or shelf, even those which still retain the hoop and spurs. This is a far safer method, and avoids the problem of hammering a giant hook into the wall firmly enough to hold the considerable weight (30lbs or more?) and exactly long enough to hold the clock in a vertical position. Having once had a lantern clock fall from an insecurely-mounted wall hook, I now never use hooks, but always prefer a shelf. Sometimes an old wall bracket survives with the clock, but I have never seen a bracket I believed to be as old as a three-hundred-year-old lantern clock.

Do they keep accurate time?
Balance wheel lantern clocks are said to have been very subject to gain and loss according to temperature change and to vary by plus or minus ten minutes a day. The only way to regulate timekeeping of a balance wheel lantern clock is by adding or subtracting more weight, usually in the form of loose lead shot in an open-topped canister. With patience a balance wheel lantern clock will keep reasonable time, but will not compete with a pendulum clock.

The short pendulum with verge escapement (sometimes called a bob pendulum or verge pendulum) will keep reasonable time, within perhaps two minutes a day or so. The long pendulum with anchor escapement will keep time within a minute a day, or even less. Both kinds of pendulum can be regulated by an adjustable rating nut at the base - in the case of the bob pendulum the bob is itself the rating nut. The long pendulum on a lantern clock is exactly the same thing as on a single-handed longcase clock and will keep time equally as well as that. A lantern clock will keep the same time each hour. The difficulty is that the hand may appear to register slightly differently at each hour.

The point is that a single hander can only register time to the nearest quarter hour. By visually dividing the quarter into three, the owner can guess approximate five minute units. Trying to read individual minutes is at best a guess. Any slight variation or imprecision of the engraved quarter hour markers on the chapter ring will make the apparent time indicated by the hand less than exact. But with the tiny dial of a lantern clock, the precise positioning of the markers is even more critical than on the larger dial of a single-handed longcase clock. Allowing for slight imperfection in the engraved chapter ring positions, possible 'slop' on wheels and pinions that carry up to three centuries of wear and therefore cause the hand to lag back or hang forward from its true position, possible inaccurate fitting of the hand to its shaft ... all these mean that a lantern clock will not register time as precisely as a two-handed longcase.

Lantern clocks strike the hour on a loud bell. The factors described above may cause the clock to strike at a fraction before one, slightly after two, a minute before three, and so on. And this will vary hour by hour. The lantern clock will work, will keep time and will strike the correct number, but you cannot run your life by it as precisely as you might with a digital clock. But then, that's not the reason for owning a lantern clock - you have other clocks to time your life by.

Is it in working order?
Some collectors like to keep their lantern clocks uncleaned and do not run them, just merely preserve them and enjoy them in the state they got them in. When we buy lantern clocks we often buy them in a state where they have not been run for years. All lantern clock buyers, experienced and novices, feel happier to see them in this neglected state, because, if nothing else, they can see instantly that they have not been meddled with in recent years. We usually offer our lantern clocks for sale in the first instance exactly as we bought them. The buyer can then decide to clean or not to clean, to have it put into running order or not, either by us or by some preferred and trusted restorer in his own locality. If so desired we will quote for doing the job.

In the initial stage we do not normally try to run a lantern clock in dirty condition. If we sell it 'as is', that means exactly as we got it and possibly not in running order. If the lantern clock does not sell promptly in this condition, then we will restore it as soon as its turn comes up in the queue, at which point the price will obviously change to allow for the restoration. If we do clean it, we normally will have pictures taken before cleaning, so that the buyer can see 'before' as well as 'after'.

Some lantern clocks are of quite extra-ordinary age, as much as three hundred and fifty years old. I personally think it unwise to run a clock of this age on a daily basis, because mechanical parts do ultimately have a finite life. Wheels and pinions can always be replaced, but collectors prefer not to have to do that, but to retain the original ones. With lantern clocks of this age, those owners who want them in 'running' order tend to use them only on occasions, perhaps at a weekend or when interested friends might call. After all, you have other clocks for merely telling the time by. And do you really want to wind a balance wheel clock every eight hours?

Is it genuine?
By being genuine we mean a lantern clock which still is what it always was and is substantially as made by its original maker. If the maker was alive today he would recognise it as the clock he made.

Modifications to the way it keeps time (its type of escapement) are normal with the two earliest types (balance wheel and verge pendulum) and do not impinge on the clock's genuineness. With conventional standard-sized lantern clocks no balance wheel clock is believed to survive with its escapement unaltered. Excluding small travelling alarms, arched dial versions and Turkish Market ones, very, very few verge escapements survive unaltered. Almost all balance wheels and verges were converted to anchor escapement and long pendulum, and that is to be expected.

Of course a few of these conversions to anchor were later re-converted back to balance or verge for the benefit of owners who wanted them to look the way they did when first made. So those lantern clocks that you see today with a balance wheel escapement are almost certainly re-conversions; those lantern clocks you see today with a verge escapement, may well also be re-conversions. Today's practice is that we do not re-convert lantern clocks back from converted anchor escapement to their earlier form, but accept the change to anchor as being a part of their natural progression through history.

Anything broken will have been repaired, and that is only to be expected with any machine of around three hundred years old. There is no shame in a repair. Sometimes repairs of the past were not done as perfectly as we might do today, with our modern ideas of 'conservation' and making repairs in 'matching' style to the original. We take the view that an old repair is better than a new repair. If a lantern clock has an old repair which works, we leave well alone.

Our usual restoration on lantern clocks amounts to cleaning and bushing where necessary. We do the minimum needed and do not undertake any work that we think not essential. We replace no parts unless missing or seriously damaged. If we do replace a badly-damaged part, we will keep the damaged part with the clock for the buyer to see.

What are square dial and arched dial versions?
Towards the end of lantern clock making in London (the late seventeenth century) a few were made with square dials, like a small longcase clock dial, but in all other respects a normal lantern clock. We don't see many of these square dial lantern clocks but when we do, they usually date from this short period around the turn of the century.

Arched dial forms of lantern clock began to be made in London about the same time. Often arched dial examples are miniatures with alarmwork, travelling hanging alarm clocks suitable for taking on a journey. These clocks usually do not strike, as you would tend not to want an alarm clock which was located near the bedside, to be striking all night long.

Larger arched dial versions of lantern clocks by London clockmakers are known, more often made in the middle eighteenth century, but these are uncommon, as by this time the lantern clock was pretty well extinct except for Turkish market examples. Arched dial examples of lantern clocks are often two-handers.

What is a Turkish Market lantern clock?
These were lantern clocks usually with arched dials made for exporting to middle eastern countries. They are numbered in pseudo-Arabic numerals and are often two handed. They were made from about 1730 to about 1770, mostly by London makers, certain of whom seem to have specialised in these types. To facilitate the transporting of these clocks over considerable distances, they often retained the by then old-fashioned verge escapement and short (bob) pendulum, which was also less fussy about being level when the clock was set up. Turkish Market lantern clocks are not as popular as the more traditional English type, but do have an appeal to collectors in so far as it is one means of obtaining an original verge clock.

For more detail on these clocks for the Middle East, see my article 'Turkish Market Clocks'.

Any further questions - please ask.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

more articles by Brian Loomes on collecting antique clocks

Home page || Valuations, appraisals & identification services || Can you help us with our research? || Who made my antique clock? || Lantern Clocks for sale || Books || Contact
About us || Clock how-tos || Articles on clock collecting || Buying or selling clocks on a commission basis

Archive (sold clocks): 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25 - 26 - 27 - 28 - 29 - 30 - 31- 32 - 33 - 34 - 35 - 36 - 37 - 38 - 39 - 40 - 41 - 42 - 43 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 47 - 48 - 49 - 50 - 51 - 52 - 53 - 54 - 55 - 56 - 57 - 58

Our valuation/identification/appraisal services cost from £100 (currently $150 US)