Carriage ClocksCarriage clocks are portable timepieces originally designed for travel. First developed in France in the early 19th century, the basic design of these spring-driven clocks has remained largely unchanged over the years.
As the earliest carriage clocks had a military use (the first was famously made by Abraham-Louis Breguet for Napoleon), they are also known as ‘officers' clocks’.
They appeal today, much as they did in the 19th century primarily for their relatively small size and good timekeeping.
Carriage clocks were made in huge quantities between c.1880-1920, especially as the development of rail and road travel gave a spur to the market for portable clocks. While no longer used in a ‘carriage’ they enjoyed great popularity and traditionally, like the pocket watch, were a gift from employers to retiring or long-serving staff.
Their accessible size and decorative quality has meant the modern market for these items remains notably strong, and plenty of carriage clocks are available to view and buy at auctions on thesaleroom.com.
The typical characteristics of a carriage clock include a brass or gilt brass case with a carrying handle. The platform escapement driven by a balance spring distinguishes them from pendulum-driven bracket clocks.
A standard French-made carriage clock is an excellent entry-level purchase for those interested in owning a mechanical antique clock. Most are priced from £50-300. More obviously decorative carriage clocks, for example those embellished with porcelain or enamel plaques, will bring higher prices and so too do clocks with more sophisticated movements.
Collectors will pay a significant premium for clocks with chiming or ‘repeating’ mechanisms, more unusual ‘giant’ carriage clocks, and those by well-known makers, particularly the best London horologists of the late 19th century.
Sought-after names in the market for Victorian carriage clocks include James McCabe – the son of a Belfast clockmaker of the same name who came to London and worked at the Royal Exchange from 1804, and Edward John Dent who set up business as EJ Dent at 82 Strand, London, in 1840.
As well as the reputation of the maker and the rarity of the item itself, another key factor in determining value is condition.
When buying at auction, the lot description will often contain details about condition issues, such as any scratches or repairs and whether it is in working order, but you can also request a condition report from the auctioneer.
What to do next
Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on thesaleroom.com to find carriage clocks coming up for sale.
You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.
To research recent prices at auction to see how much different clocks sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.
If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.