Treasures: ‘Wag-on-the-wall’ clock | The State


Dear Helaine and Joe:

I cannot find any information on this clock. My mother bought it at an estate sale in 1960.

Thank you,

J. A. R.:

Dear J. A. R.:

We discuss certain aspects of his clock, but the pictures we were sent are small and it hard to see the details. This gives us the opportunity to ask those who want information about their antiques, art, and collectibles to send us good, large, and detailed pictures – because the better the photographs the better the answers (for the most part).

There is no question that this is a “wag-on-the wall” or “wags-on-the-wall” clock and that it was made in continental Europe – probably Switzerland, Germany or Holland. These clocks have an interesting history that requires us to go back to 1582 and the day that the scientific genius, Galileo Galilei, was praying at the cathedral in Pisa, Italy.

While at worship, the lamplight came by and lit the candles in the chandeliers and in so doing set them swinging. Being the consummate scientist that he was, Galileo is said to have used his heartbeat as a measuring device and discovered that no matter how long or shot the swing of the chandelier happened to be, the time it took to make the arc was the same.

Galileo and his son tried to incorporate the pendulum into a clock but failed. Then in 1656 Dutch astronomer, Christian Huygens managed to incorporate a pendulum into a clock, and this more accurate timepiece allowed him to better measure the movements of the stars and planets.

Before too long (in the 1660 to 1870 range), the wag-on-the-wall clock (so named because the pendulum appears to wag on the wall like a dog’s tail) was deemed not to be attractive enough to hang on the wall in many upscale homes, so wooden or glass and wooden cases were added.

In 1670, English clock maker, William Clement, introduced a pendulum that was 39 inches long and before long and with some other developments, the long case or floor clock appeared. Today this type of clock is popularly called a “grandfather clock,” but that name is like fingernails on a blackboard to us.

We believe that J.A.R.’s clock was never intended to be housed in a case and it was made much later than the clocks discussed above. In our estate work, we see wag-on-the -wall clocks such as this one fairly frequently. Joe remembers walking into a storage building not long ago and finding this clock’s near twin hanging on a metal shelf.

Looking at the pictures we have, we want to say that this is early 19th century but fear we cannot without better images. Our instincts (and experience) tell us this clock is probably last quarter of the 19th century. Now the question comes down to condition.

Are all the original parts there – we have our doubts that the weights are of the period. But here’s what is really our main concern: Does the clock still work? If it does, we feel the insurance replacement value is in the $450 to $650 range.

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