A Closer Look at Timepieces & Clocks

What’s the difference between a clock and a timepiece?

Don’t get suspicious…this isn’t another one of our trick questions. There really is legitimate difference between the two.

When Brian tried to figure this out, his first guess was that a timepiece was older (Sorry, Brian, that’s a “no”). Then he was stumped because he could only figure out what made them alike….the fact that they both tell time. Maybe the “hint” that helped him will help you: A timepiece is known as a “T”, but a clock is known as a “T” and “S”.

The “T” stands for “Time” and the “S” stands for “Strike.” So the difference is that a timepiece tells time, but a clock tells time AND strikes the hour…or half-hour…or quarter-hour.

A sundial is a timepiece…although you probably wouldn’t want to strap one on your wrist. An hourglass is a timepiece. So is an egg timer. They are all used to measure the passage of time.

A clock is like the 2.0 version of a timepiece. As well as keeping track of the hours and minutes as they go by, this timepiece offers the added bonus of an audible striking mechanism that gongs, rings, or chimes.


The Granddaddy of them All

How do YOU ring in the New Year? One of the best ways we know is with a chiming grandfather clock. When does a clock deserve to be called a grandfather?

A grandfather has a face (but not wrinkles) and a pendulum enclosed in a wooden case. The cases were usually made of walnut, mahogany, oak, maple, cherry or elm. Like most grandfathers, these clocks were originally known by another name…a “tall case clock.”

The ‘big boys’ stood between 6 and 9 feet tall. They had to. There needed to be enough room for the long, swinging pendulum and the weights.

So, where did the term ‘grandfather clock’ come from? Around 1875, the song “My Grandfather’s Clock” became popular, and soon the tall clocks were given a new nickname.

Some qualities that make grandfather clocks valuable are decorated faces, the maker’s name or label somewhere on the clock, inlaid cases and an unusual top with added finials. What does a good grandfather cost these days? A clock made before 1840 in America sells for about $5,000-10,000, or more. But here’s a surprise: a new grandfather clock can cost almost as much!

Timely Tid-Bit: A tall case clock that’s not so tall – less than 6 feet – has another name. It is appropriately referred to as a “grandmother” clock…after the “little woman.”

Time on the Move

Have you ever seen a carriage clock? No! Not a little LED display you put in a baby’s stroller! A carriage clock...the 19th century equivalent of a traveling alarm clock.

Carriage clocks were all the rage in the 1800’s. While a few were manufactured in England, nearly all carriage clocks were made in France until the early 20th century. Simple and functional, there were made of either brass or bronze. The clocks stood from 4-7″ high and had a small handle so that they could be carried easily. And they usually had white faces and black numerals so they could be read by moonlight (how clever!).

Clocks with subsidiary dials were especially desirable. In addition to the hours and minutes, these clocks could also show the days of the week or sound an alarm. The most elegant carriage clocks had cloisonne or porcelain cases. Others had leather cases. Through the years, those cases have been lost and only the clocks remain.

Engraved-case carriage clocks are more valuable than plain ones. The most valuable have elaborate, detailed decorations that cover as much of the case as possible.

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