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History of the Long Case Clock

October 03, 2014 << Back

PERIOD ONE 1660 - 1700.

Christian Huygens, a Dutch scientist, is credited with being the inventor of the practical pendulum clock.

In 1657 Saloman Coster made the first pendulum clock to Huygens' specification.

Within three years the Longcase Clock was born, not in Holland however, but in England.

Dutch influence in the cases was evident almost from the start, even though for the first fifteen years the shapes of the hoods closely followed the lines of English Bracket clocks of the period.

One of the earliest materials used for the construction of tall clock cases was oak, which was almost always used in the form of carcase work. Upon this foundation was an applied veneer of ebony or walnut, these being occasionally varied by olivewood, laburnham, kingwood, pollard oak or yew.

For marquetry work, walnut veneer was almost always employed as the 'ground', this being inlayed with holly, boxwood and sometimes ivory.

Dutch marquetry decoration began to be the fashion in London in around 1675, but at that time English cabinet-makers did not possess the high degree of skill necessary and it is probable that most of the cases were decorated in Holland.

Period One 1660 - 1700

Period Two 1700 - 1725

Period Three 1725 - 1750

Period Four 1750 - 1800

Period Five 1800 - 1860 and beyond.

When in1685 Louis XIV revoked the 'Edict of Nantes', many thousands of Huguenots fled from France to escape the Religious persecution, many settling in Holland. Then, with the accession of William III in 1689, the Dutch influence increased even further when a large number of Huguenot craftsmen emigrated from Holland to England.

Typically English forms of marquetry were developed over the next five to ten years, i.e. the so-called 'Seaweed' and 'Arabesque' forms of inlay.

The earliest dials were typically 8" square. The 10" square dial gained in popularity up until about 1695, and generally the larger the dial, the later the date of the clock.

After this, a number of style changes become more fashionable, for instance the convex mouldings of the earlier period, gave way to concave profiles, the barley-twist columns were replaced with slender plain round columns, and bun feet went out of favour, and a plinth to the base was provided instead.


PERIOD TWO 1700 - 1725

There was generally little change to the design of Longcase clocks in this period, with the exception of the tendency for them to become taller. From the earliest examples of Longcase clock at about 6 feet high, some clocks by 1725 are 8 feet 6 inches high, and have dials up to 12 inches wide. Marquetry became less popular and the lacquer or 'Japanned' finish became more sought after.


PERIOD THREE 1725 - 1750

Marquetry was but rarely employed after 1725, Japanese lacquer or Walnut being almost universal for cases in London. In the provinces, however, fashions were much slower to change, and there may be a difference of as much as fifteen to twenty years before London fashions were copied around the country.

Dials were no longer always square, the break - arch hood also being reflected by arch topped trunk doors.


PERIOD FOUR 1750 -1800

Before 1750 mahogany was very rarely seen in England. From this date on, its' popularity rose rapidly, and most top quality Longcase clocks are constructed from it or veneered in it.

Dials have been universally fabricated from brass with separate spandrels and chapter rings, the engraved numerals etc filled with black wax.

A new and cheaper method arrived with the introduction of the painted dial.

By about 1770 the painted dial was the most fashionable type to possess, and even those makers still using engraved brass dials were making one piece dials, silvered to emulate the appearance of the new white dials.


PERIOD FIVE 1800 - 1860 and beyond.

As we progress through the 19th century, the area covered and the complexity of decoration on the painted dial gradually increases until there is hardly any of the white ground left uncovered.

There is also a tendency for the size of the dial to increase from the 12" dial of the previous period, to 13", 14" and even 15".

At the same time there is a renewed interest in the multi-piece brass dial, though the quality and attention to detail is generally far poorer than before.

Oak and mahogany are the most commonly used woods during this time and indeed are often used together. Oak cases with mahogany cross- banding being very popular. The trunk door reduces from the full length of the trunk, to only half the length of the trunk.

The proportions of the cases have now changed, because whilst the dials, hoods, trunks and plinths have increased in size, generally the overall height has remained at around 7' 6". Clocks from the late Victorian period are often described as being ugly. This must be a very subjective view, and certainly they were not considered ugly in their day. The quality of the craftsmanship, particularly with the case-making was every bit as good as anything which went before.