Your Guide to Buying a Brass Antique Mantel Clock

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Your Guide to Buying a Brass Antique Mantel Clock

Antique mantel clocks are sought after for their practical functionality and beautiful presence in a room. They are made from a variety of materials, although with its durability, colour and attractive shine, brass is a common choice for antique buyers. Before heading out to browse for brass antique mantel clocks to buy, the purchaser may benefit from consulting a few simple guidelines. Readers will learn about the different types of brass mantel clocks on the antique market, features that help to define them as antique, as well as some simple methods for brass and clock maintenance.

History of Brass Antique Mantel Clocks

Some of the earliest timepieces were simple devices built by the ancient Egyptians. Ceramic water clocks and stone sundials date back thousands of years, and used physical properties such as the earth’s orbit or liquid displacement to measure the passing of time. Over the course of the following centuries, technology helped feed the increasing accuracy of mechanical time measurement, and materials such as brass became common for sturdy clock construction, both for the cases and for the internal mechanisms.

Mantel clocks were invented in the mid-seventeenth century. Designed as small and practical timepieces to be placed on shelves, many of the first mantel clocks (known as chamber clocks) even had handles for easy transportation. Over history the mantel clock has been seen to vary from this handled design and take on many other ornate forms. As these intricately manufactured pieces were passed or sold down from generation to generation, many have become current antiques that still function perfectly today.

Discover Brass Antique Mantel Clocks

Brass 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 easily read, unlike grandfather clocks or pocket watches, in which size prohibits certain functionality. Their brass construction can vary from the whole case of the clock, to a combination of brass with other materials such as wood, ceramics, or bronze. A wooden or bronze clock could easily have brass elements; however, a clock that is described as ‘a brass mantel clock’ generally refers to one that has brass construction of the case itself.

As well as their function and brass construction, these clocks are defined by their age. This is an important point for a prospective antique buyer to note before purchasing. Though the term ‘antique’ is somewhat debated, most collectors and professionals agree that it defines items that are at least one hundred years old. Occasionally, buyers will find that 1930 is also considered a measuring year, but regardless, the important consideration is that not every old brass 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 Brass 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 brass 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, or 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.


The exterior of the clock.

Types of Brass Antique Mantel Clocks

Mantel clocks are defined by their ability to be freestanding on a shelf. Considering this wide definition, mantel clocks with a brass construction can be categorised in other ways, using a number of different criteria. Some brass pieces made during the Napoleonic Empire in France during the early nineteenth century are known as French Empire clocks. Other varieties, such as lighthouse clocks, have exposed brass gears and sit under a glass dome. Tambour clocks, with a simple curved case design, are one of the most common forms of mantel clock, but a buyer will note that they are generally built from wood and have only brass ornamentation.

It is important for a buyer to note that it is not the name of the clock, such as ‘lighthouse,’ that clearly identifies its construction as brass. In theory, any type of antique mantel clock could potentially be found in brass, wood, bronze or any other number of other materials. Below are listed some other examples of mantel clocks that can be found in brass.






Runs using pressure and temperature from the atmosphere

Does not need winding

Often contained inside a glass box


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

Runs longer than many other pendulum clocks

More difficult to operate and can be inaccurate compared to other designs


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

Generally an interesting variation on the simpler mantle clock

Very elaborate design


Small clock with a handle

Designed for travel

Possibly too small to be read from some other practical locations

Factors to Consider When Buying a Brass Antique Mantel Clock

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

  • Brass Metal – A buyer should be careful not to confuse brass with other metals, such as bronze.
  • Maker’s Mark – Most brass antique mantel clocks are marked by their manufacturer and this can give the piece valuable authenticity.
  • Condition – A buyer should check to see if the brass is dented, scratched or tarnished, and be familiar with the state of the lacquer (thin protective coating), if one has been applied.
  • Transport – Though the brass case may be strong, antique clocks are precision instruments and transport options must be considered.
  • Components – Considering that brass 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 perceived value.

Typical Features of a Brass Antique Mantel Clock

1.  Face

Every antique mantel clock has a carefully crafted face that will vary slightly in size. They are often made from enamel or hand-painted ceramics. From Roman numerals to numbers, there can be as many designs of clock faces as there are colours and typefaces, though many remain minimal for easy reading.

2.  Hands

An antique mantel clock’s hands are a distinguishing element of design. They can are generally made from metals such as steel or brass, and come in various shapes and designs, from simple lines to more complex and ornate.

3.  Chimes

Many brass 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.

4.  Key Winding

Most brass 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 fourteen days.

How to Care for Brass Antique Mantel Clocks

Brass antique mantel clocks, unlike wooden designs, require a slightly different maintenance approach in order for them to continue performing at their best. Below are some approaches to maintenance.

  1. It is important to treat the clock’s brass casing as with any other antique brass. Take the time to find out if the piece is lacquered before cleaning, as it may be necessary to clean beneath the lacquer. If tarnished, brass mantel clocks can be washed with hot soapy water and polished.
  2. 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.
  3. An antique mantel clock that is wound by hand must be done so regularly, and care must be taken not to wind it too far.
  4. Due to the nature of valuable brass antiques, mantel clocks should be taken to professionals for any serious cleaning and/or lacquering.
  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.

Brass Antique Mantel Clock Manufacturers

  • Ansonia
  • Kienzle
  • Payne
  • Seth Thomas
  • Waterbury

Finding Brass Antique Mantel Clocks on eBay

Once you determine the type of brass antique mantel clock that you want to purchase, visit the Antiquespportal 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 forBrassAntique Mantel Clockson eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for brass antique mantel clocks. For example, to find a nineteenth century brass lighthouse clock, type ‘nineteenth century brass lighthouse clock’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tipsppage 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..


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