Lantern clocks

Brian Loomes Antique Clocks

Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Hook-and-Spike Clocks

A hook-and-spike clock (sometimes called a hoop-and-spike clock) is a term not familiar to everyone, not even to all clock enthusiasts. It refers to a certain type of relatively simple clock designed to hang on the wall. These are almost always thirty-hour clocks, that is to say they are wound every day. Eight-day clocks would have needed weights far too heavy to have been supported on a wall hook, and the essence of a hook-and-spike clock was that it was a cheap alternative - eight-day duration would have made it much more costly.

In a sense lantern clocks were the first hook-and-spike clocks, made from about 1600 for a hundred years or so in London, considerably longer in provincial areas. They did hang from a wall hook by a hoop and were supported by two spikes at the base, the spikes being both to hold the clock at a set distance from the wall thereby keeping it upright to allow the pendulum to swing, but also to keep it firmly braced and prevent it from slipping from side to side. But a lantern clock had a large amount of brass content and much fine engraving work, so was by no means a cheap option. The point of the hook-and-spike clock was to keep its price below that of a lantern clock, down to a level that could be afforded by those not affluent enough to buy a costlier type. Hook-and-spike clocks were therefore made with a large proportion of iron, as its cost was only one tenth of the price of brass. The dial was still made of brass, being that part that was the most visible. Brass of course was the engineer's gold, it looked well and remained bright and shiny and was so hard-wearing it was virtually indestructible.

Lantern clocks were single-handers, indicating time to the nearest quarter-hour, and so were hook-and-spike clocks. A single-hander was not only simpler, and therefore cheaper, to construct, but was also easier to understand, and so would appeal more to a less-affluent and perhaps less-educated clientele than a two-hander. Later on, after about 1760, when education was a little more universal, we see two-handed hook-and-spike clocks, but these were always uncommon to the point where we automatically think of a hook-and-spike clock as being a one-hander.

These clocks could be of two types mechanically, just as the lantern clock had been. You could have one which struck the hours on a loud bell, or one which had alarmwork instead. A hanging clock will do one or the other, strike or alarm, but not normally both. Of course, if you were contrary enough you could get the clockmaker to make one for you which did both, for he was certainly capable of making a striking alarm clock, and I feel sure examples must exist - but they are pretty unusual. Generally speaking common sense meant that you opted for one or the other. Firstly you would hardly want an alarm clock to be striking all night long if it was to be close enough to your bed for you to hear the alarm. Secondly by the time you had paid for both striking and alarmwork the price was mounting considerably, and was beginning to leave that territory which was occupied by the intentionally 'cheap' wall clock.

Striking examples are in effect a smaller version of a thirty-hour longcase clock hanging from the wall. Some even have dials as large as the ten or eleven inches, which was the typical size of a longcase dial, but earlier hook-and-spike clocks usually have small dials, anywhere from five inches to about eight inches square. Again it all comes down to common sense - small was cheaper than large as it used fewer materials, but also took up less wall space. All therefore have bells. A striking clock would have a large (longcase sized) bell with a large, single-headed hammer to count out its hours; an alarm version would have a bell too but with a small, double-headed hammer inside the bell which rattled to and fro when the alarm was released. The time of alarming was set by the owner, by turning the alarm disc in the dial centre to the required time of waking, before winding up the separate chain (or rope) which wound the alarm. The presence of an alarm disc in the centre of the dial means that you can recognise an alarm version at a glance.

A non-striking clock was strictly-speaking called a 'timepiece'. The word 'timepiece' is often used casually today to mean any sort of clock. An alarm clock was therefore correctly termed an 'alarm timepiece'. A 'clock' was one which struck the hours, anciently from the French word 'cloche' for a bell. An 'alarm clock' would therefore be a contradiction in terms, meaning an alarm clock which also strikes. However we are very lax with these terms today and, even if you call it an 'alarm clock', collectors know that what you really mean is an alarm timepiece.

A hooded clock was essentially the same thing as a hook-and-spike clock, but made to fit inside a wooden hood and therefore without any hook or spikes. All the other criteria were the same - small size, alarm timepiece or striking clock, but most of all modesty in price! The hooded clock was probably a little costlier than the hook-and-spike by virtue of the cost of the wooden hood itself, which boxed it all in and helped keep out the dust at a time when many houses had straw on the floor. The hook-and-spike version left the movement open to the elements, though these sturdy clocks would cope with most of household dust for a few years anyway, and when the time came, the clockmaker could always take the clock away and clean it - meaning more work and income for him!

Some hook-and-spike clocks were signed, and such clocks were at times made by even the finest London makers, perhaps for the servants' quarters. But many were rustic affairs made by country clocksmiths, who would often leave their work unsigned - for the very good reason that they might take their products to sell in local market towns contrary to by-laws, and the absence of a maker's name made it harder to track down the culprits. Not for nothing were many unsigned. The absence of a maker's name is a very negative factor to a collector in such a clock as a longcase. In hook-and-spike clocks however we often expect to see unsigned ones, and a signature is an unexpected bonus.

Hook-and-spike clocks were made mostly in the southern half of England. Examples made north of Birmingham to the Wash are very uncommon. In fact hook-and-spike clocks are far from common nowadays anyway. They were cheap clocks when first made and tended to be thrown away when cheap, spring-driven, bedside alarm clocks came into wide circulation in the later nineteenth century. They may not have actually been destroyed, but dismantled and re-used, as clockmakers would often take in old clocks in part exchange for new ones just for the sheer value of the metal content, as brass, and even iron, could be melted down and used again.

These clocks were made from the late seventeenth century, but examples of that age are exceptionally rare. More likely to be found are clocks from the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century. By the 1790s they had fallen pretty well out of favour, probably giving way to clocks of a slightly more sophisticated nature. The earliest are the most prized, not only because of the sheer age, but also because the earliest are often the more quirky and unusual.

One particular form of hook-and-spike clock went unsigned for a quite different reason. There were certain groups of Quaker clockmakers, who felt, as some of their American Shaker cousins did, that to sign one's name on possessions, or on manufactured products, was a mark of vanity. They felt that when a Quaker died, all trace of his existence should be totally lost, and for this reason some Quakers even refused to put up tombstones. Quakers included many clockmakers amongst their following, some of whom made it a regular practice not to sign their clocks. A few felt it might be permissible to sign an object in a concealed spot, as if hidden vanity was not vanity at all. And yet other Quaker clockmakers, particularly Quakers in Northern England, did regularly sign their work. Perhaps vanity sat more easily on northern shoulders, where the living was harder, but it is surprising what people can convince themselves of when of a mind to.

One group of Quaker clockmakers, whose work we recognise although unsigned, worked in North Oxfordshire. Richard Gilkes and various other prolific members of the Gilkes family were central members of this group. Their work is recognisable by the fact that the dials of their clocks were decorated with concentric circles of rings of 'wrigglework' engraving, a kind of decorative engraving that could be done by an engraving tool held in a brace by someone who was not a skilled freehand engraver. We call these 'zig-zag' dials, from the nature of the zig-zag circles of engraving, which might form two or three rings in the dial centre.

North Oxfordshire Quaker clocks exist in hook-and-spike form. In fact it was an especially popular type amongst this group. But the hook-and-spike clock had an advantage over other clocks in that you could buy the clock initially at a modest price as a hanging wall clock, and then, when the family fortunes increased, you could buy a wooden case for it. Such clocks, which were originally sold as hook-and-spike clocks and later housed in a long case, can be recognised by the fact that the movement has a hoop and spikes at the back, which would have been pointless to fit on a clock purpose-made to be go into a long case. Moreover these clocks sometimes are suspended from a hook in the back of the case, in just the same manner as they would have been hung from the wall in their first years of ownership. We don't often see examples of this, and when we do the age of the case is often not much newer than that of the clock. The implication is that a family bought a hook-and-spike clock, hung it as a wall clock for five or ten years, then had a case purpose made for it, and hung it ever after in the long case.

Hook-and-spike clocks are highly collectable today. Firstly they are unusual enough to be desirable. They are very varied in nature, each example being a talking-point in itself. They are small and fit easily into any house that might otherwise be cramped for larger clocks such as longcases. In terms of prices it is possible to pick up one in poor condition, neglected, rusty and with parts missing, for a few hundred pounds. But better examples, especially if complete and original can run to £2,000 or £3,000. If you find one by a famous maker, then expect to pay a lot more. These were 'down-market' clocks, but that did not stop even the finest clockmakers in the land making them just the same - perhaps for the servants' quarters of gentlemen's houses.

A version of this article was published in Antique Collecting.

Several hook-and-spike clocks are featured on the website on pages: 12, 16, 35, 7.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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