The Complete Guide to Buying an Antique Mantel Clock

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The Complete Guide to Buying an Antique Mantel Clock

Antique mantel clocks are practical, historical, and often a beautiful addition to a room. By functioning as a simple and modestly sized timepiece that also contributes to décor, they are sought after by both enthusiasts and collectors to decorate mantel pieces, home shelves or collections. Before heading out to purchase a clock;; however, a prospective buyer may benefit from considering a few simple aspects of each clock as outlined in this guide. By understanding the types of mantel clocks on the antique market, what it is that defines them specifically as antique, simple methods for maintenance, and some of the typical features to look out for, buyers should be prepared to find the right mantel clock that will meet their particular style and needs.

History of Antique Mantel Clocks

Some of the earliest timepieces were built by the ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago. Water clocks and sundials used simple physical properties, such as the earth’s orbit or liquid displacement, to measure the passing of time. Over the course of centuries, scientists and philosophers, such as the famous astronomer, Galileo, contributed to the ever-increasing accuracy of minute-by-minute measurement.

Mantel clocks were invented much later, in the mid-seventeenth century. They were a sensible step for early mechanical clockmakers as they were easily placed on a shelf, and so were practical timepieces for the home. Many of the first mantel clocks, known as chamber clocks, even had handles. Over history, however, the mantel clock has been commonly defined by its departure away from this handled design. As these intricately manufactured pieces were passed or sold down from generation to generation, many have become current antiques that are still functioning perfectly today.

Discover Antique Mantel Clocks

Mantel clocks can offer a buyer a practical and attractive addition to home décor. Their ability to be freestanding and placed on shelves means that they’re versatile  and can be read easily, unlike grandfather clocks or pocket watches,, in which size can prohibit certain functionality.

As well as their function, antique mantel clocks are defined by age. This is an important point for a prospective buyer to consider before purchasing. Though the term is somewhat debated, most ‘antiques’ are agreed to be items that are at least one hundred years old. Occasionally, buyers will find that 1930 is also considered a measuring year, but the important consideration is that not every old mantel clock is defined as an antique. Considering that these popular pieces of history are still replicated today, the original antiques themselves should not be confused with ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’ pieces.

Parts of Antique Mantel Clocks

Clocks contain hundreds of moving parts, springs and gears. Below is a concise list of the components that make up most antique mantel clocks.



Power source

Allows the clock to continue working and is generally key wound


Vibrates at a steady frequency, such as a pendulum, and is connected to the controller


‘Pushes’ the oscillator to make up for frequency lost by friction and releases a measured pulse

Counter Chain

Combination of gears that converts the pulse from the controller into minutes and seconds on the indicator


The readable portion of the clock and commonly represented by two ‘hands’ and the numbers one through twelve, sometimes in roman numerals.


Additional mechanism that creates noise upon certain positions of the hands, usually on the hour


Used to periodically wind the clock and keep it running

Types of Antique Mantel Clocks

Mantel clocks are generally defined by their convenient ability to sit freestanding on a shelf. They can be further categorised, however, by a number of different criteria. Some pieces made during the Napoleonic Empire in France during the early nineteenth century are known as French Empire clocks. Other varieties, such as the lighthouse clock from America, have exposed gears and sit under a glass dome. Many designs are simply described by using the name of their manufacturer. Each mantel clock is unique, but the differences found in the woodwork, ornamentation and the century of manufacture will define the clock further for the buyer.

Below are listed some of the other mantel clock designs:





Atmos Clock

Runs using pressure and temperature from the atmosphere

Does not need winding

Contained inside a glass box

Torsion Clock

Pendulum operated clock with a dense disk or wheel sometimes decorated by balls

Runs longer than many other pendulum clocks

Difficult to operate and can be inaccurate compared to other designs

Decorative Clocks

Heavily ornate designs, often with sculpted figures or scenes larger than the clock face

Generally an interesting variation on the simple mantle clock

Extremely elaborate design

Carriage Clock

Small clock with a handle

Designed for travel

Possibly too small to be read from small distances

Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Mantel Clock

Before deciding on which of the above clocks is the right one for purchase, a buyer should consider a few further factors.

  • Maker’s Mark – Most antique mantel clocks are marked by their manufacturer; this gives the piece valuable authenticity.
  • Condition – A buyer should check to see if any wood finishing or glass is damaged or scratched.
  • Price Comparison – If there are mantel clocks of similar make and age on eBay, a buyer should compare prices.
  • Operation – A simple but important factor as some old clocks may no longer have the ability to track time accurately.
  • Transport – Antique clocks are precision instruments; check with eBay sellers to ensure that the transportation does not risk damaging the item.
  • Components – Considering that antique mantel clocks are often well over one hundred years old, many of the internal pieces may have been replaced with modern parts, potentially changing the value.

Typical Features of an Antique Mantel Clock

1.  Face

Every antique mantel clock has a carefully crafted face. From Roman numerals to numbers, there can be as many designs of clock faces as there are materials, colours and typefaces.

2.  Hands

An antique mantel clock’s hands are a distinguishing element. They can come in various shapes and designs, from straight and minimal, to more complex and ornate.

3.  Woodwork

Wooden mantel clocks may have expert woodworking as part of their construction. A buyer can chose from many different styles that vary with the period of manufacture.

4.  Wood Species

Wooden antique mantel clocks are often sought after for the quality of the wood that they were built from. Different wood varieties will give the clock different qualities such as colour and weight.

5.  Chimes

Many mantel clocks have an hourly or even quarter-hourly chime, as well as a second-by-second tick. Chimes vary in their amplitude and frequency and can also come with a silencing option. The most common chime is known as the Westminster Chime.

6.  Key Winding

Most antique mantel clocks will require hand winding with the use of a key. Some have what is known as an ‘eight day movement,’ requiring winding once a week. Others have longer movements such as 14 days.

How to Care for Antique Mantel Clocks

Antique mantel clocks, like any other antique, require a certain level of care and attention in order for them to continue working for years to come. Below are some simple tips to help take care of these fragile devices.

1.  Do not allow an antique mantel clock to overheat as it may warp the internal parts and damage the exterior. Mantel clocks, despite their name, should not be placed above working fireplaces, and should be left out of direct sunlight if possible.

2.  Treat the clock’s antique wood finish in the same fashion as antique wood furniture, ensuring dust, moisture and pests do not jeopardise its quality.

3.  An antique mantel clock that is hand-wound must be done so regularly, and care must be taken not to wind it too far, or ‘over-wind’.

4.  Due to their complex design, antique mantel clocks should be taken to professionals for any serious cleaning.

5.  Mantel clocks should be placed on even surfaces in order to tell accurate time. The owner can check the consistency of the second hand movement to learn if it is positioned correctly.

Popular Antique Mantel Clock Manufacturers

  • Simon Willard
  • Eli Terry
  • Ansonia
  • Seth Thomas
  • Ingraham
  • Waterbury

Finding Antique Mantel Clocks on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique mantel clock that you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, select `Clocks´ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching forAntique Mantel Clockson eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique mantel clocks. For example, to find an Antique Century Lighthouse Clock, type `Antique Lighthouse Clock´ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antiques with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique mantel clock you want, try shopping eBay Stores..


Antique mantel clocks offer a buyer an attractive and practical addition to his or her home, office or collection. Due to the large amount of information that buyers may find, it can be a good idea to take into consideration the above-mentioned guidelines. It is advisable to be equipped with the knowledge of what separates an antique from other used clocks, the specific features of the mantel clock to look out for, the variety of options on the market, and the care that should be taken in order to retain their value. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique mantel clock safely and securely on eBay..

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