The Longcase Clock, commonly known as a Grandfather Clock, is one that sits proudly in all of the properties it is lucky enough to find itself in. A centrepiece that entertains with its chimes, astounds with its beauty and stands the test of time as a feat of horological engineering.

At The Clock Clinic, we have been delighted to source some of the finest models of this classic clock over the years and have been delighted to see how those that purchase them appreciate them just as much as we do. Our Longcase clocks for sale are varied in size, chime and décor yet each stands to give your property a focal point that when looked after correctly, can be enjoyed for years to come.

With that in mind, we thought we would dive a little deeper into the story, and the allure of the Longcase Clock to show how they came to be and why they remain so sought after many years after they first graced the rooms of homes, offices, palaces and more across the country and throughout the world.

When were the first Longcase Clocks made?

Longcase clocks evolved from the Lantern clock that first became prominent in 1600 despite evidence supporting the fact that these same Lantern clocks may have been in existence well over 100 years before then.

The Lantern clock was mounted to the wall and had a pendulum and driving weight hanging from it but this of course provided potential hazards for children or pets as the weights and pendulums could have caused injury or been tampered with.

This sparked the birth of the Longcase clock where those same movements were put behind an ornately created case. The first of them was made available in 1680 but this could have been much sooner had Robert Hooke, the inventor of the anchor escapement mechanism developed his idea further.

The anchor escapement mechanism

In the mid-1600’s Robert Hooke developed the anchor escapement mechanism that reduced the severity of the swings other pendulum clocks exhibited. By reducing the swing, accuracy was improved, and less power was required, meaning a winding up of the clock lasted significantly longer. And with less friction, there was a smaller need for repairs due to the reduced wear. This reduced swing made it possible for the pendulums to be housed, however, it wasn’t even considered for some time.

A few years later, in 1680, William Clement made the first clocks to house this new style movement and soon a legend was born. Thomas Tompion, another famous horologist also took note of this new method of timekeeping and began making longcase clocks too.

Soon they were being sold throughout Europe and reached as far as Asia. Stately homes, presidential palaces, and homes of the rich and famous all decided this new stunning way to track time was the way to show off wealth as well as the time of day.

What were the first Longcase clocks like?

When the Longcase clock was first created, it echoed much of the workings of the clocks that preceded it.  This meant it only had one hand, an hour hand. After some time, it was understood that the improved accuracy bought on by the invention of the anchor would allow for a minute hand to be factored in as well. This was not immediate though and took some years before it was incorporated.

These first Longcase clocks were seen as things of beauty, their intricate design and their 6-8ft stature helped create an imposing yet beautiful focal point for any room. They were often only acquired by the wealthy who were eager to show off not only their wealth but their sense of style too.

It wasn’t until over 100 years after their creation that longcase clocks began to find themselves being purchased by more middle-class families. The reason?  It is thought that these clocks, when first made available, were so expensive that their cost equated to the equivalent of a year’s rent for a working family!

What type of movements do longcase clocks have?

There are two types of Longcase clocks that work in very different ways.

The 30-hour clock

This variation of the Longcase clock uses the same mechanical idea as the lantern clock and is wound by pulling on a rope. Winding would be needed once a day and that is why you will often see a 30-hour longcase clock also referred to as a 1-day clock. The rope, when pulled, lifts the single weight that drives the timekeeping and striking mechanisms.

With fewer pieces to enable it to work, these editions of the clock were much cheaper than the other version of the Longcase clock on the market.

The 8-day clock

The 8-day clock is the more expensive variation of the longcase clock. With a key used to wind it, this version of the clock used the soon-to-be-universally adopted rack and snail striking system. This Longcase clock only needed to be wound once a week and held two weights. One of these would drive the pendulum to keep time whilst the other took care of the striking mechanism.

Due to the variable costs of the two clock types, it was quite often found that owners of the cheaper model would purchase editions that showed a false keyhole to show visitors to their household that the most expensive model was not out of their reach!

The famous striking sequences of Longcase clocks

We have all heard the elaborate and unforgettable sounds that come from a Longcase clock. Their chimes bringing melody to signify the passing of certain periods of time. Introduced in the early 20th century, quarter-hour chime sequences were frequently heard as well as those on the hour.

They worked by playing the full chime at the top of the hour followed by the hour strike.  Every 25 minutes a portion of the chime would play until the time had reached the top of the hour again. As a result, it worked as follows:

  • Quarter past the hour: A quarter of the chime plays
  • Half past the hour: Half of the chime plays
  • Quarter to the hour: Three-quarters of the chime plays

Often heard would be the Westminster Quarters tune but this was often accompanied by Whittington or St Michael’s chimes.

If the noise proved to be too much, a switch on the side allowed the option of silencing the chimes to become possible.

With this introduction of the chimes, additional weight was used in the more modern longcase clocks. This meant that three, rather than two weights, were now present. The weight on the left provides power for the lengthy hour-long chime, the weight in the middle provides the power for timekeeping and the weight on the right looks after the quarter-hour chimes.

What are Longcase clocks made of?

Longcase clocks have been manufactured from a variety of woods with satinwood, rosewood, mahogany, and walnut very popular, especially with the 8-day models. Oak was often used too but this was found to be more prominent in the 30-day Longcase clocks as it was cheaper to use.

Originally, all longcase clocks had brass dials, but this changed in 1770 when painted dials started to be used.

Longcase clocks today

Today, longcase clocks are no longer sought after in the way they were hundreds of years ago, the age of digital timekeeping has seen to that. Some manufacturers still exist and whilst the clocks may appear stunning in appearance, they do not match the intricacy of those that first graced properties all those years ago. Today though, those that were constructed in the past have become desirable for collectors. Their antique value makes them a wonderful investment.

At The Clock Clinic, we have acquired some of those special models of Longcase clocks and would be delighted to share them with you. Why not book an appointment with our team to come and view our collection and discover a piece of the past for your house, or business? Contact us today to find out more. Should you already own one and feel it is in need of repair, our longcase clock dial and case restoration service can help bring it back to its best and if more is needed, our longcase clock servicing will ensure each part of your clock is in its best possible condition.