Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary .

American clock styles

The original meaning of the word "clock" was a machine which measured the passing of timeby striking the hours on a bell. The French word "cloche" and the German word "glocke" mean "bell".

It is said that many early clocks had a bell but no dial and the word "clock" was thus appropriate, and it continued in use after a dial was added.

The word therefore now properlv means a machine which measures time on a dial and strikes a bell at the hours or oftener.

Strictly speaking, a time-measuring machine without a bell is a "timepiece."

- Edgar G. Miller, Jr., American Antique Furniture, 1937, Vol. 2, p. 862.

Advertising (shelf, wall, longcase)

Collective term for clocks used for promotional purposes that display advertisingssomewhere on the clock dial or case. The clock might also be used as part of the advertising, as when a clock is incorporated into a larger sign. Most commonly found as wall clocks or shelf clocks; more rarely as longcase or 'grandfather' clocks.
Animated (shelf, wall, longcase)

Clocks with moving parts that display the actions of a person, animal or object. An example may be seen in the clock to the right. Both feathered birds are animated; the yellow one turning from side to side as the clock ticks (attached to lever pivot), and the red one tipping up and down when the musical alarm goes off.
Anniversary or 400-Day Clock (Shelf)

A clock that needs winding approximately once per year. Clocks that could run for a year were made as early as the 17th century, but it was not until 1829 that an American inventor patented a special type of pendulum that required very little power, making small 400 day clocks feasible. Called a torsion pendulum, it consists of a thread suspending a weight which rotates horizontally in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Often placed under a glass dome, these clocks gained popularity in the 1880's when they were produced by many European factories. The term "Anniversary Clock" was copyrighted in 1904 by an American importer, who promoted the clocks as a gift to be wound on the anniversary of a birthday, wedding, or other yearly event.
Art Deco style

c. 1925
Balloon Clock (Shelf)

A shelf clock whose case is shaped in a form similar to the hot-air balloons of the late 18th century.
Banjo (Wall)


A wall clock whose shape is reminiscent of a banjo. The shape derived from a new type of clock patented in 1802 by Simon Willard of Roxbury, Massachusetts (USA). Originally known as the "Improved" or "Patent" Timepiece, the term "banjo" was applied in more modern times. Original 19th century banjo clocks are highly prized by collectors.
Beehive (Shelf)

c. 1847

A shelf clock with a case whose sides curve upward and meet at a peak, reminiscent of a beehive shape. Popular from the late 1840's to the early 20th century.
Black mantel clock (Shelf)

c. 1870

General name for a shelf clock with a predominantly black case made of marble, slate, onyx, or painted iron. Often a wooden case was painted in imitation of black marble or onyx. Usually rectangular in shape, the width greater than the height, but may refer to other shapes as well. These styles and materials were especially popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Blinker or Moving Eye Clock (Shelf, Wall)

A clock with a case in the shape of a human figure or animal whose eyes blink, rotate or move in unison with the clock escapement.
Bronze statuette clock

In the New Haven Clock Company catalog, a soldier trumpeter appears alongside other classical, mythological, and animal statuettes.  Most of them do not have clocks pictured with them, which might mean that the clocks and figures were interchangeable. 
China or porcelain case

c. 1890

A clock with a case made entirely out of pottery or porcelain. The case was usually manufactured by one company and the movement made by another, as in the case of a Royal Bonn (Germany) case with Ansonia (U.S.A.) works. You may find the case manufacturer's mark on the bottom or back of the case, but they are not always marked.
Column / Column & Splat / Transitional / Looking-Glass / Triple Decker (Shelf)

All these terms refer to similar, but distinct, Empire-influenced styles of American shelf clocks developed in the early 1800's. The basic form has a rectangular case with a door in front flanked by two often gilded or ebonized columns.

The door has a clear glass panel in the top section and a reverse-painted glass or mirrored ("looking glass") bottom section. Variations include cases with a decorative splat above the dial ("column and splat" or "transitional"), and ones with a 3-section front which might include a painting and a mirror ("triple decker").

Column & cornice shelf clock

Drop Octagon / Schoolhouse

c. 1875

Empire style clock

Etched glass tablets

c. 1840
Globe clock

The globe clock is rotated on a twenty-four hour basis by means of a round clockwork movement mounted inside the paper mâché globe. Local time is shown by the hands at the top of the nickel plated Meriden Ring.

The clock is wound by turning the feather end of the arrow running through the globe's axis. Time anywhere on earth is indicated on the equatorial ring.

Gothic Revival

Grandfather Clock (Longcase)

Slang term for a floor-standing, longcase clock, derived from a song composed by an American songwriter around 1875. The song begins with the words: "Oh my grandfather's clock was too tall for the shelf so it stood ninety years on the floor. It was taller by half than the old man himself, though it weighed no a pennyweight more..." and ending with the lyrics: "the clock stopped, never to run again, when the old man died." Over a million copies of sheet music for the song were sold. The term "grandfather" clock became firmly rooted in the public's vernacular and has been used ever since to refer to longcase clocks.
Grandmother Clock (Longcase)
Popular name for a shorter version of the "grandfather" or longcase clock. Usually refers to a case standing 60' x 70' high.
Iron Front

c. 1850
Lighthouse shelf clock

c. 1822

3 basic types: shelf, wall, longcase
Looking glass (mirror) shelf clock
Lyre shape clock
C. 1820
Mirror (looking glass) shelf clock
Mission style (Shelf, Wall, Longcase)

c. 1900

These clocks reflected the aesthetics of the Mission movement of designers at the turn of the 20th century. In reaction to the overly ornate mid and late Victorian styles, these craftsmen©às "mission" was to return to the basics of simple and functional design. Mission style clocks cases are generally made of oak, with clean square or rectangular lines and flat surfaces, Arabic numerals, and simple pendulums. They were made as wall clocks, shelf clocks and longcase clocks.
Oak kitchen

c. 1880
OG / Ogee clock (Shelf, Wall)

The ogee (OG or s-curve) molding case became extremely popular in Connecticut after Chauncey Jerome adopted it for his thirty-hour "cheap brass" shelf clock. This simple case design was inexpensive to manufacture and became the most poplar case style produced in the 1840s and early 1850's. Some ogee cases were still being offered as late as 1915.

Refers to an American clock style with an S-shape, or wave-like, molding which frames the front of a rectangular case. It typically has a door in the front with clear glass in front of the dial and a reverse-painted or stenciled tablet below, sometimes with a clear portion for viewing the pendulum. Also found with a mirror ("looking glass") tablet. Produced in great numbers from around 1830 to 1914.
Picture Clock; Picture Frame (Wall)

Similar terms referring to two different styles. The first generally refers to a spring driven clock which is incorporated into a framed picture or painting as part of the scene. Usually the clock appears in a church steeple or clock tower. Sometime the clock is incorporated into the frame itself above or beneath the picture. The second term refers to wall clocks with dials surrounded by a recessed, often highly decorated apron enclosed by a "picture frame" type molding.
Pillar & scroll clock (Shelf)

The Pillar and Scroll shelf clock using a mass produced wooden movement was first designed by Eli Terry circa 1812-1815. Seth Thomas was able to sell the Terry designed Pillar and Scroll clocks and soon started making his own but with a variation to the wooden movement. This clock uses what is known as "off center" escapement.

Shelf clock design attributed to early 19th century Connecticut clockmaker Eli Terry. The clock has a full or half-round column on each side of the front of the case, centering a double scroll-cut pediment, usually with three finials.

Press-back clock

Round alarm

Schoolhouse / drop octagon clock

Shelf clock

Steeple clock (Shelf)

C. 1840

Shelf clock with a Gothic style case, its pointed top flanked by two (or sometimes four) "steeples". Of American origin, dating from around 1840.

Tambour / Napoleon's Hat / Camelback / Humpback

c. 1900

Rounded in the middle tapering to flat on each side.

Tall clock

Time globe clock

A time globe is exactly that: a globe that tells time.  A brass movement inside the 18" globe operates the clock and also makes the globe spin.  It completes a 360° rotation once every twenty-four hours, imitating the rotation of the Earth.  The clock winds by turning the feather end of the arrow at the South Pole, and the time can be read at the dial above the North Pole.  Hour and minute markings on the equator ring and a compass in the stand below help give the correct time for any location on Earth.  The information on the globe itself reflects the time in which it was made, with many countries having different names and border
Triple decker shelf clock


Wall clock
Walnut parlor clock

c. 1875
Text sources:

See also:

Photos and their arrangement © 2006 Chuck LaChiusa
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