History of Clocks

Jacob Graff - 30 Hour - circa 1740s - Tall Case Clock
Waterbury Carriage Clock - circa 1895
1950s Black Forest Cuckoo Clock
Gilbert - 1880s Mantle - Res Swirl Finish
Waterbury - Copper Cased  Ship's Bell Clock - Barometer and Therometer
Smiths - Solid Brass Lantern Clock
German - Art Deco - Oak - 8 day Shelf Clock
American Clock Co. - Wooden Works and Tiger Maple Case (Circa 1840s)
New Haven - Box Wall Clock
Emory & Douglas Co., Ltd - Ship's Bell Clock
English “Wide Body” with an Incredible Dial - Fully Restored - Tall Case Clock - (circa 1825)
Violin Shaped Shelf Clock - 8-Day Movement

A Brief History of Clocks

The first known time keeping devices were Sundial (Shadow) Clocks and Water Clocks. Sundial (Shadow) Clocks were invented by the Egyptians, and date to around 1500 BC. The Egyptians divided the day into 12 hour periods to measure time. Water Clocks (clepsydra) use a regulated flow of liquid into or out of a vessel to measure time. Many civilizations used Water Clocks including the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Persians, Indians and Chinese. They date to at least 1600 BC, however some evidence, which is still pending scientific consensus, suggests they might have been used in China as early as 4000 BC.

Candle Clocks have a known rate of burning and were used to measure the passage of time. They were mainly used indoors, at night, or on overcast days. It is not known when or where they were actually invented, however the earliest documented reference is from a Chinese poem by You Jiangu in 520 AD.

The origin of the hourglass (or sandglass, sand timer, sand clock or egg timer) is not known. The first record of the hourglass dates to the 700s when it was documented by a Frankish monk named Liutprand. This timekeeping devise is designed with two glass bulbs connected vertically by a narrow neck which allow a regulated substance (usually sand) to flow from the upper bulb to the lower to measure the passage of time.

The main problem with these early timekeeping devices was their limitations of use and inherent inaccuracy. The development of mechanical timekeeping devices drastically improved timekeeping accuracy.

Around 1300, the first true mechanical clocks began appearing in Europe. The verge (or crown wheel) escapement is the earliest known type of mechanical escapement. Its origin is unknown. The verge escapement is the mechanism in a mechanical clock that controls its rate by allowing the gear train to advance at regular intervals (it produces the ticking sound of a mechanical clock). The verge escapement is credited as the catalyst for the invention of the first mechanical clocks and was employed with a foliot or balance wheel which resulted in accurate timekeeping. The first examples of mechanical clocks were large devices, often built in tall towers, which included heavy weights that drove the hands of the clock. They were able to keep relatively good time for long periods. 

Around 1602, Galileo Galilei demonstrated that swinging pendulums could be used in a clock movement to regulate timekeeping.

In 1656, Christiaan Huygens expanded on Galileo’s earlier pendulum work and invented the first pendulum clock. The balance spring was one of Huygens’ key developments in the progression of pendulum clock designs. (Historically there is a debate on whether Robert Hook invented the balance spring before Huygens.) The pendulum clock proved to be more accurate than earlier clocks and became popular throughout Europe. Pendulum clocks remained one of the most popular and accurate clock designs well into the 20th Century.

In 1927, Warren Marrison and J.W. Horton built the first quartz clock, which work quite differently than pendulum clocks. Quartz clocks measure the passing of time through a quartz crystal instead of a pendulum. The quartz clock proved to be more stable in various environments and was more accurate than the pendulum clocks.

By the 1980s, quartz technology became the most dominate timekeeping technology in the world for both clocks and watches.

Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeeping devise ever invented, and are used to calibrate other clocks and to calculate the International Atomic Time; a standardized civil system. Currently, the world’s most precise atomic clock (which can measure time to the closest hundred trillionth of a second) was built by the National Institute of Standard and Technology together with the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A Collection of Various Types of Clocks

German - 400 Day Clock - Disk Pendulum - Round Dial and Case - (circa 1915)

400 & 1000 Day clocks

400 day torsion clocks are designed to run for more than a year without winding, and are driven by an escapement activated by a spinning pendulum. 1000 day clocks work on the same principle, howevcr they can run for almost 3 years without winding.

Phinney-Walker - World Timer Alarm Clock - (circa 1960s)

alarm clocks

Alarm clocks are used to wake people up or alert attention to a specific time by sounding a bell or buzzer. They have been produced in many shapes, sizes and styles.

Waterbury - Brass and Glass Carriage Clock  - (circa 1895)

carriage clocks

Carriage clocks are small, spring-driven clocks designed for travelling. They were developed in the 19th century and formally known as "Officers' Clocks."

German Black Forest Cuckoo Clock with Fall Colors - (circa 1950s)

cuckoo clocks

Originally produced in the early 1700s Cuckoo clocks are typically a pendulum-regulated clock that strikes the hours with a sound like a common cuckoo's call and has an automated cuckoo bird that moves with each strike of the hour and once on the half hour. 

Griffith Jones - North Wales, English “Wide Body” with a Triple Shield Case Design - Fully Restored - Tall Case Clock - (circa 1875)

Grandfather (Tall case) clocks

A grandfather clock (also referred to as a longcase clock, tall-case clock, or floor clock) is a tall, freestanding, weight-driven pendulum clock commonly 6 to 8 feet tall. The English clockmaker William Clement is credited with the development of this form of clock around 1680.

Gilbert - Mantle Clock Featuring an impressive swirling red, pink and white painted case - (circa 1880s)

mantle clocks

Mantel clocks are relatively small house clocks that were traditionally placed on the shelf, or mantel, above a fireplace. The form of clock was first developed in France in the 1750s.

Seth Thomas - Ship’s Bells Clock - Seven Jeweled  8-Day Movement - (circa 1940s)

nautical clocks

Nautical clocks were necessary for safe sailing before modern technology and the invention of GPS. This form of clock was invented in the 18th century. They provided the main time and weather information for a ship's captain and crew, and in additon to being a precision timepiece they often included a thermometer and a barometer, and sometimes a tide monitor.

United - Electric Masked Ship Clock with Lighted  Deck and Port Holes - (circa 1940s)

novelty clocks

Novelty clocks are fun, amusing or unusual in design and feature many types of designs. Some imitate famous or rare clocks. Most of these forms of clocks have a working mechanical, electric or quartz movement.

Atkins Clock Company, Bristol, CT. - 'London' Model - Solid Rosewood Case - 8 Day Mechanical Movement - Unbelievable Overall Original Condition - Shelf Clock - (circa 1863 - 1876)

shelf clocks

Shelf clocks (can also be categorized as Mantle clocks) are traditionally placed on the shelf and can be highly ornate and decorative works. Simon Willard popularized the economical shelf clock (half clock or Massachusetts shelf clock).

American Clock Company - Wooden Works - Large and Stunning Tiger Maple Case - Scroll and Pillar Clock  -  (Circa 1840s)

scrool & pillar clocks

Scroll &Pillar clocks were patented in 1823 by Eli Terry. Mass-production began in the United States in the 1820s. Their rectangular case is topped by a scroll broken in the center by an ornament such as an urn; on either side of the case is a vertical pillar topped by the same kind of ornament that breaks the scroll.

Jerome & Co. - Double Dial Perpetual Calendar Clock - (circa 1880s)

wall clocks

Wall clocks come in all shapes and sizes. They first started appearing in the early 1700s. With the mass production of American wood clocks starting in the early 1800s wall clocks became affordable and were found in most households up to and including the 21st century.

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