Artifact Corner: Grandfather Clock

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at this beautiful clock that is in our dinning room. The body of the clock is made from mahogany with brass accents, and a hand painted dial or face. The dial has delicate flowers around it with a larger cardinal at the center top. This clock was made in 1810 by a local furniture maker, Nathan Taylor. Taylor is a local to our area. Nathan Taylor was born in Peru, NY in 1765. He became a furniture maker, and spent quite a bit of time working in Troy, NY. By the 18-teens Taylor was involved in local politics, and an upstanding member of Clinton County’s society. He sold some of his goods at other people’s stores in Plattsburgh, but his actual workshop was in Peru. He was also the Post Master in Peru for some time. Nathan Taylor passed away in June of 1865 and is buried in the Peru cemetery. Let’s learn a bit more about Grandfather clocks.

In the 1650’s Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens wanted an accurate clock to help him track the movement of stars and planets. Clocks of the time period could lose as many as 15 minutes over the course of the day. Huygens attached a pendulum to the workings of a wall clock, which meant that now his clock lost less than a minute a day. A huge improvement over prior clocks. The first “Grandfather” clock was made in the 1670’s and is attributed to a British clock maker named William Clement. At the time it was called a long case clock or a floor clock. Clements created the “royal pendulum,” which was 39 inches in length, and took a full second to swing back and forth. This style of clock movement was a large improvement because it only varied by no more than 10 seconds a day. This clock was so accurate that a minute and a second hand could be added. This clock movement was now enclosed in a wooden case that was between six to seven feet tall, hence the name, long case clock.

In 1685, the first long case clocks crossed the Atlantic and came to the American colonies. About ten years later, these style of clocks were being produced in the colonies. These new and far more accurate clocks were cutting edge technology in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Because of this, they were insanely expensive. Only the extremely rich could afford them. Like most technology, the longer it’s on the market, the cheaper it becomes as production techniques improve. By the late 1700’s long case clocks were becoming more affordable, and therefore, more common in people’s homes. So, why did long case clocks come to be known as grandfather clocks? In 1875 a songwriter named Henry Work wrote a song called “Grandfather’s clock,” which became an incredibly popular hit all across the United States. The opening lines of the song are as follows:

“My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more”

Our clock case is in good condition, but the clock itself has seen better days, and would need quite a bit of repair work to get it back to working condition. The painting on the dial is still quite lovely, and in good condition. We hope you enjoyed this look back at the history grandfather clocks. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,