History of Grandfather Clocks
The centuries of struggle and discovery,
frustrations and triumphs spent by man in
his attempts to measure time accurately
are behind every graceful and precise grandfather
or grandmother clock. It is indeed
the culmination of a rich history, which
we are happy to share with you here.
Early man noticed that a shadow, cast
by a mountain or a tree, pointed in a different
direction at various times of the day. From
this observation, the idea of the sundial
evolved. Sundials were employed for
centuries and many ruins of these ancient
timekeepers can be seen throughout Europe.
The Chaldeans of Biblical times hit upon
the idea of dividing the day and night into
two 12-hour periods. But it took the
Egyptians to discover an improvement in
timekeeping. Through trial and error,
they invented a clepsydra or water clock.
These clocks usually operated by the
escape of water from a funnel-shaped reservoir
into a second chamber. This chamber,
equipped with a float, measured the hours
of day and night as the water level raised
The beginning of clock making and the
eventual end of other horological devices
began when the Chinese discovered a method
of preventing the power of any time device
from running away unchecked. What
the Chinese invented became known as an
"escapement", and it is still
an integral part of all clock making. The
escapement is a small brake or check that
stops the wheels of the clock regularly.
Thus, the wheels cannot build up momentum
and race when the clock is first wound,
then go slowly as the clock runs down. This
stop-and-go movement of the clock works
is quite literally what makes the clock
Galileo, the famous astronomer and mathematician,
developed the thesis of a pendulum; however,
a Dutch scientist, Christian Huygens, is
credited with putting theory into practice
Other parts of the clock were soon invented.
It took a German, Peter Hole of Nuremburg,
to devise the principle of the spring. This
was a tremendous step in making clocks more
accurate. Soon, minute hands were
added; later came the long-hanging pendulum
and detached lever escapement.
The English long case clock, better known
today as the grandfather or grandmother
clock, became known to the civilized world
during the last part of the 17th and throughout
the 18th century. This was the "golden
age" of English clock making.
The heritage of the grandfather and grandmother
clocks was carried across the ocean by American
colonists. Soon Americans were manufacturing
their own clocks with the same careful attention
to detail practiced by their English forebearers.
The demand for floor clocks has been
revived in this country. And with
reason, these clocks help make any house
a home. Their resonant ticking and
their mellow chimes evoke memories of a
more romantic and less hurried era, when
the art of being a good host rivaled that
of the clockmaker. Indeed clocks are
experiencing a renaissance, and we hope
you enjoy this renaissance as well.
The Moon Dial
Before the calendar was developed, men
judged the passing time by phases of the
moon. The arch above the moon dial
indicates the 29 1/2 days of every lunar
month (not to be confused with the calendar
month). The half-globe of the left represents
the Western Hemisphere;...the half-globe
on the right, the Eastern Hemisphere. As
the Disc moves clockwise behind these globes,
it tells the phases of the moon.
Today, it is difficult for us to realize
just how important the ever-changing phases
of the moon were in times gone by. In
the late 17th century the moon dial was
added to most long case clocks so people
could plan ahead for when the moon was full
and travel at night was not so hazardous.
Clockmasters endeavored to simulate
and approximate the appearance of the moon
in the heavens on the face of clocks.
The arched dial was first used in clocks
in the beginning of the 18th century and
presented a real challenge to the makers
of fine clocks. In approximately 1720,
moving figures began to appear in this space,
figures which moved back and forth with
the swing of the pendulum. They used
prancing deer, rocking ships and Father
Time with his scythe. At that time,
there was no practical value of this feature
on the clock; it was simply a pleasing way
of showing motion and life.
After motion had been added in the arch
above the dial the next step was to reproduce
the progress of the moon from phase to phase.
The proverbial "Man in the Moon"
was used on most dials with a landscape and/or
seascape on the other half of the circle
- symbols of sea - the rocking ship, and
of land - the prancing deer.
The moving moon dial performed a functional
purpose to the early settlers and farmers
by telling them of the various phases of
the lunar month. Crops were both planted
and harvested according to the lunar cycle.
Many beliefs concerning the moon and
its effects have been recorded. Some
of these include:
- Sweep the house in the dark of the
moon and you will have neither moths
- Trees planted at Full Moon will
- Plant peas and potatoes in the increase
of the moon.
- The number of snows during winter
is indicated by the number of days from
the first snow fall to the following
In our very
modern world today, the moving moon section
of the dial is more decorative than
useful, but it is still a very sought
after feature. While the moon
itself has remained a vital part of
the dial, now other "signs of our
times" are also depicted.