Grandfather Clock Dials and Faces Do More Than Tell Time
by: Michael O'Brien
The analog style of clock face has remained the standard in clock making for over two hundred years. This is no less true for the classic tall case or grandfather clock. The history of the long case clocks and grandfather clocks is the history of clock dials and faces. Early in the development of mechanical clocks, the face featured only an hour hand. Based on a twelve hour cycle, the hand would simply indicate the hour. As clock mechanisms became more sophisticated a minute hand was added to and eventually a second hand to indicate fractions of a minute. As they say the rest is history.
The Clock Face Becomes an Artistís Canvas
Grandfather or long case clocks have long been valued for the craftsmanship and beauty. From handcrafted hardwood cases to ornate designs that depict geographical and cultural influences, grandfather clocks are truly unique. French and Colonial period clock cases were often finished in lacquers and milk paints then adorned with decorative flourishes. At the same time the clock faces themselves evolved into a canvas for artists.
Moving from simple numerical markings, many artisans and clockmakers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would use the clock face as an ornamental embellishment. Artistic themes of all kinds were used to decorate simple clock faces. Floral patterns, landscapes, themes from popular folk lore and ornate scrolling became the subjects for the clock dial artist.
Before the introduction of processes using appliques and stencils, grandfather clock faces were painted by hand. Like other pieces of painted art, an individual artist would gain notoriety by adding unique illustrations and design patterns adding to the beauty, not to mention the value, of an antique grandfather clock. Painting of clock faces became an art form separate and apart from crafts such as crafting cases and building movements. Clock face artists often sign their work, either on the front or the back of the dial.
More Then Just Decoration
The phases of the moon and the lunar calendar have been tracked for thousands of years and gained a great deal of significance. Farmers often relied on the lunar calendar to determine the best time to plant their crops. Since the movements of the tides were closely tied to the lunar calendar, sailors would carefully track the phases of the moon.
The early eighteenth century saw a functional addition to many grandfather clock dials. Makers of tall case clocks began to include clock dials that tracked the lunar calendar which is twenty nine and one half days. The moon dial revolutionized clock making industry and is considered by many to be the precursor of chronographic wrist watches.
Culture Determines Style
Grandfather clock dial done in the Shaker style are simple in design, easy to read and lack the artistic embellishments of more ornate clock faces. Featuring a white background with black characters, Shaker style clock faces are characterized by the use of Roman numerals. A feature unique to Shaker-style dials, the numeric representation of the number four is four Roman numeral one characters. Some Shaker-style dials can be found with Arabic numerals in place of the roman style. This style contrasts with other clock face designs that display the numeral four as a combination of the Roman numerals one and five.
Tall case or long case clocks are often categorized as grandfather, grandmother and granddaughter styles. Grandfather clocks are characterized by dials that are larger than eight inches in diameter. Not as tall as the average grandfather clock, grandmother and granddaughter clocks usually have dials that are less than eight inches in diameter.
Regardless of the clock style, hand painted clock faces makes many clocks unique and collectible. If your clock has a damaged face there are artists who specialize in restoring the clock dial to its former beauty. Replacement dials are available to that can add a new look to old clocks.
About the Author
Michael O'Brien is Staff Writer for Grandfather Clock Sale.com