Articles At A Glance
Figural and Funny Clocks
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, August 2008
Some clock makers had a great sense of humor that spilled over not only to the designs on clock faces but the cases that contained them. While humorous carved figures decorated clocks as early as the 18th century, it was in the late 19th and early 20th century that anything from cartoon characters to windmills became clock subjects.
Two novelty clocks were offered at a May James Julia auction.
One, a rare Queen Anne "Town Crier" figural clock, Circa 1675-1725 , estimated at $7,500/12,500, went unsold. It was of carved and polychrome-painted pine with the timepiece mounted in the body.
However, a 20th century, American carved oak wall clock depicting three minstrels with instruments, sold over estimate for $3,680. It was manufactured by the Michigan Chair Co.(1890-1926).
Many of the most elegant figural examples were of bronze, ormolu and ebony, usually of neo-classical figures, Julius Caesar and popular poets. They corresponded to the popularity of bronze sculptures. As decorative accessories they can command thousands of dollars.
Collectors continue to be fascinated by the "blinking eye" clocks when they come to auction. Made of cast iron in the 1860s, a variety of painted figures contained the clock works in the stomach. Subjects included animals and people. They were first patented in 1857. When marketed they sold for $3.75. At auction these days prices range from $1,000 to $1,500 or more.
Among the most popular were the automaton figurals known as "industrial series mantel clocks". Made in France from the 1880s to around 1900 they were miniature models of steam hammers, engines and lighthouses. They can sell at auction these days for as much as $7,000. They were made of steel, brass and copper. Their purpose was to glorify French industrial development.
During the 1930s the clocks used Art Deco designs with grey hound and Aztec maiden figurals.
For the contemporary generation of collectors novelty clocks from the 40s, 50s and 60s are affordable, funky and still plentiful. There are World War II patriotic subjects, kitchen clocks in plastic fruit and vegetable cases as well as examples from the psychedelic 60s. They can be windup or battery run.
CLUES: Several factors influence value. Authenticity, rarity, condition and in some cases material and age. For instance, if there are few existing examples of a 1950s, 60s plastic figural automaton clock the price could be much higher than a similar item showing up often in shows and shops.
Be wary of the Blinking Eye clocks. Many have been reproduced, especially the "Black Sambo" figural. Check for signs of new paint that lowers the price.
Also, if you are buying a supposedly bronze clock make sure it isn't really "bronzed" white metal.
If you have any questions, you can Email us at email@example.com
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