Collecting Antique Clocks Lantern Clocks - some frequently asked questions
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?
How old are they?
How long do they run for?
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 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?
Do they strike?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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
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