French cartel clock (1770s)
French cartel clock (1770s)

From the beginning of the 18th century, French clock making enjoyed a revival. French clocks were always designed firstly as decorative furniture and only secondarily as timepieces.. The French version of the longcase clock looks like a mantle clock standing on a pedestal. French “cartel” clocks were wall clocks in an elaborate frame of highly gilt carved wood or cast bronze.

In the 17th century, the Dutch had failed to capitalise on the technological lead given to them by Christiaan Huygens, although they had manufactured longcase clocks following the English style. But in the 18th century, the Dutch evolved their own style. Dutch longcase clocks became bulbous in shape and elaborately decorated and surmounted by all kinds of exotic figures – atlas holding the world flanked by trumpeting angels is a typical example. More typically Dutch were a range of weight-driven wall clocks of different designs depending on where they were made. Zaandam clocks (from north of Amsterdam) had cases made of polished wood with a decorative brass or lead gable supported by columns and often surmounted by a figure of Atlas. Stoelkloks, from Friesland, had brightly painted wall brackets with a roof at the top; the weights were suspended on chains rather than the ropes used in Zaandam clocks. Staartkloks, also from Friesland, have the clock mechanism contained in a hood like a longcase clock and the pendulum in a flat case below it with the weights hanging on chains in front of the pendulum case.

From the middle of the seventeenth century, clocks were made by peasants in the Black Forest area. These clocks were made almost entirely of wood They were driven by stone weights suspended by a thread or wire chain and had a painted wooden dial. In 1730, Franz Anton Ketterer added a cuckoo automaton and a cuckoo call, made with two bellows, to sound the hour. Cuckoo clocks, and other Black forest clocks, remained enormously popular until the middle of the 19th century when cheap, mass produced American imports started to flood the European market.

Early Black Forest clock (ca 1750)
Early Black Forest clock (ca 1750)

In 1797, the English Parliament introduced a levy on all clocks and watches. It is often thought that this led to a type of clock, called an “Act of Parliament” clock as a result, being developed. The claim is that the Act so reduced the number of clocks and watches in circulation that innkeepers provided their customers with a service by having large wall clocks, These were fairly cheaply made but often attractively decorated. In fact, the so-called Act of Parliament clocks, were in use for several decades before 1797 and were simply the popular clocks of the period in England.

A smaller pendulum wall clock, generally less decorated than the Act of Parliament clock, known as the “drop dial” clock was made in England from about 1830 to 1860. It represents the last major style of handmade clocks.

At the turn of the 19th century, English clocks dominated the world market. Over the next forty years, manufacturers in other watchmaking countries, including France, Germany and, particularly, America, turned to mass production. England, however, continued to produce handmade clocks. The result was that, by 1842, England had gone from being the world’s major exporter to being the biggest importer of clocks.

As well as cuckoo clocks, many “postman’s alarm” clocks were imported from the Black Forest area. These clocks were made mainly of wood, set in a simple, circular wooden frame and driven by weights.


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