Longcase Clocks

In 1656 Christian Huygens from Holland was the first person to use a pendulum, as a driving device, in clocks. This was the birth of the Grandfather clock, or to use the correct terminology, Long Case clock.  A longcase clock, also tall-case clock, floor clock, is a tall, freestanding, weight-driven pendulum clock with the pendulum held inside the tower or waist of the case. Clocks of this style are commonly 1.8–2.4 metres (6–8 feet) tall. The case often features elaborately carved ornamentation on the hood, which surrounds and frames the dial, or clock face.

For the first 15 years of its making Long Case clock makers struggled to develop a pendulum device capable of keep accurate time. By 1670 an anchor escapement had been developed that, when used in conjunction with a pendulum, allowed great accuracy to be achieved. The earlier cases were made from oak and higher quality clocks would be finished with ebony or pear wood. Later cases were made from high quality African mahogany. Early dials were square and made of brass.

Traditionally, longcase clocks were made with two types of movement: eight-day and one-day (30-hour) movements. A clock with an eight-day movement required winding only once a week, while generally less expensive 30-hour clocks had to be wound every day.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary states that the popular 1876 song My Grandfather’s Clock is responsible for the common name “grandfather clock” being applied to the longcase clock. It is claimed that the song was composed by an American songwriter by the name of Henry Clay Work who discovered a long grandfather clock in The George Hotel in Piercebridge, in County Durham, England. When he asked about the clock, he was informed that it had two owners. After the first owner died the clock became inaccurate and when the second owner died, the clock stopped working altogether. It is thought that the story inspired Henry to create the song.