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The Face of the Grandfather Clock Does More Than Tell Time

Jan 24, 2008
Most of us take the dial face of a clock or other timepiece for granted. The history of the venerable grandfather clock is the history of clock faces. Based on a twelve hour cycle, early clock faces had just one hand. The hand would simply indicate the hour. As clock mechanisms developed, a second hand was added to indicate fractions of the hour in minutes.

As clock movements became more sophisticated, a third hand was added that would show elapsed seconds. The rest as they say is history.

Even in the days when the sundial was the primary means of time telling, designers and artisans added flourishes and decorative features. Many of these artistic touches were integral parts of the sundials functionality.

The development of the grandfather or long case clock, gave rise to dial faces that went beyond merely telling time. Just as the designs of long cases became more ornate, the dial faces became a canvas for artisans. From simple numerical markings, many clockmakers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would use the dial face as a decorative and ornamental embellishment. Floral patterns, landscapes and ornate scrolling were popular subjects for the clock dial artist.

Before the introduction of stenciling and appliques, all clock faces were painted by hand. Each artist might have added a unique design patterns and illustrations. The presence of hand painted illustrations on an antique clock greatly enhances not its beauty but adds to the value of the clock. The painting of clock dials became an art separate and apart from the tasks of case and movement building. Dial painters and designers would often sign their work often on the front or back of the dial.

One innovation in clock face design had a very utilitarian purpose. The phases of the moon and the lunar calendar were significant for several reasons. Farmers often relied on the lunar calendar to determine the best time to plant their crops. Sailors relied on the phases of the moon since the movements of the tides were closely tied to the lunar calendar. In the early eighteenth century, makers of long case clocks began to offer clock dials that tracked the twenty nine and one half days of the lunar calendar month.

The addition of what became known as the moon dial revolutionized the grandfather clock industry. The importance in the introduction of the moon dial can be compared with the development chronograph watches.

Shaker style clock dials are simple in design, easy to read and lack the artistic embellishments of more ornate dials. Usually painted in black on a white background, shaker style clock dials are characterized by the use of roman numerals. In a unique twist, the numeric representation of four is simply four roman numeral one characters. This is contrast to other clock face designs that display the numeral four as a combination of the roman numerals one and five. Some shaker style dials can be found with Arabic numerals in place of the roman style.

Long case or tall case clocks fall into three general categories, grandfather, grandmother and granddaughter. Grandfather clocks are characterized by dials that are larger than eight inches in diameter. In addition to not being as tall, grandmother and granddaughter clocks usually have dials that are eight inches or less in diameter.

Whether you own a floor clock, mantle or clock, the style of the dial makes many clocks unique and collectible. If your clock has a damaged dial, there are artisans who specialize in restoring the clock dial to its former beauty. You can also find replacement dials that can add a new look to an old clock.
About the Author
Mitch Endick is a staff writer for the quality online store FineWebStores.com.
Shop forGrandfather Clocks at unique wall clocks for your home or office. Please visit FineWebStores.com today.
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