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What is a Grandfather Clock?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A grandfather clock has a clock face, pendulum and weights enclosed in a thin, tall freestanding wooden case. It also been known by the names longcase clock, tall-case clock and floor clock. William Clement, an English clockmaker developed the longcase clock form in 1670. The name for this type of clock is thought to have come from the 1875 song, My Grandfather's Clock, by Henry Clay Work.

The typical grandfather clock is about 6 feet (1.8 m) to 8 feet (2.4 m) high. The wooden part of the clock that encases the clock face is called the bonnet, or hood. Often, the bonnet of a the clock has elaborate carvings such as spindles. Wood types used for these clocks vary, but oak and mahogany are the most popular woods used to make antique ones.

An antique grandfather clock usually has a painted or brass dial, and some have a moon or rocket ship motif. These clocks are striking clocks, as they strike the time each hour or portions of each hour. Chimes ring to announce the time. Only a few antique clocks were made with musical bells or reeds to give them an organ-like sound.

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A grandfather clock may have a moon phase dial marked by two moons painted on the dial. A moon phase dial works the same as clock hands. The minute hand moves one revolution per hour and the hour hand moves one revolution every 12 hours. The moon phase dial moves at one revolution about every 56 days as the moon's cycle is 28 days.

An antique grandfather clock usually has either an eight day or a 30 hour movement. Most eight day clocks are wound with a key and have two winding holes. The weight that makes the clock strike is located on the left of the clock's front, while the weight that keeps the clock moving and telling time is on the right of the clock's front. The weights also give the energy for the clock hands to turn.

The 30 hour movement on some grandfather clocks is wound by a chain or a rope and not a key as with an eight day movement. The 30 hour movement has just the weight that both runs the clock and causes the clock to strike. Usually, the 30 day variety costs less than the 8 day type.

Pendulum clocks such as the grandfather clock were first used in 1656 and were the first clocks to be accurate. The pendulum helps keep clocks running accurately. Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer, suggested in the 1600s that a pendulum could be used to create a more accurate clock. A pendulum in a clock, especially a very large one, may swing once every two seconds, while the pendulum on a wall clock may swing every second and the pendulum on a cuckoo clock may swing twice each second.

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anon161622
Post 8

@Anon112756: My name is Debbie. I was wondering; you said you had purchased the clock from costco. Was it a large clock and was it beige? If so, can you give me the name of the maker and where it was made, and also the name of the clock. Thank you so much.

anon112756
Post 7

My Grandfather clock that I purchased from Costco has the minute had stuck on the six. It seems like it hits against something and the ticking stops and it all becomes still. Any thoughts?

anon53621
Post 6

The chime on my grandfather clock does not chime. Instead, it sounds like somthing may be stuck or slipping, I cannot wind it because it is at the most you can go.

I cannot really give the exact sound it makes but it is not a chime. Has anyone a suggestion?

sdodd
Post 5

I have a 5 year old grandfather clock purchased from clearance at COSTCO'S, with no instructions. It has performed beautifully and I dearly love it and its beautiful chimes, on the hour, quarter hour, and half hour. I have been faithful all these years to pull the chains each week and keep it going until about 3 months ago I let it die down (Not on purpose) and every since then, the weight in the middle goes down much faster than the one on either side and that is most annoying. How do I get the weights balanced again so that they fall at the same pace?

anon19289
Post 4

In response to anon2757.

I had the same problem...about 10 minutes just great and then it stops.

The first part of the fix was to push the clock to the right and then the left...backward and forwards until I found a spot where the tic toc sounded the same. Then I adjusted the feet to that spot. The pendulum still stopped but it sounded correct.

The final fix for me was to use the adjustment nut at the bottom of the pendulum. I screwed it about 20 quarter turns clockwise. That did it. And, I must have hit it just about right on the pendulum because the clock is very accurate.

hafelman
Post 3

I have an Urgos movement grandfather clock with pendulum and weights. The clock runs fast so that it advances 15 minutes during real time 5 minutes. Can this be a verge problem or something more drastic with the gear teeth?

anon3522
Post 2

The pendulum of your clock is attached at the very top to a thing called a "verge." This verge is the horizontal piece that moves back and forth over a gear, releasing one gear-tooth at a time, which is the ticking sound you hear. On most clocks the verge can be adjusted (very carefully!!)to make the tick, or "beat", even. If you can't get it even this way, you could also set the clock at a slight angle sideways to even out the beat. Finally, if the uneven beat isn't so severe that it stops the clock, live with it.

anon2757
Post 1

I have a Grandfather clock, but the pendulum seems to be off balance. The tick is not the same as the tock. I have made sure the clock itself is level, but to no avail. Is there a pendulum adjustment that would correct this problem? The clock only goes for about 10 minutes before it stops.

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