by Jessica Kosinski
Human beings have been interested in time for centuries, but keeping track of how time passes has changed a lot throughout different cultures and time periods. One of the most notable advancements was the invention of the carriage clock. In order to understand why some carriage clocks are still highly collectible today we have to first take a peek at how and why they were invented.
Tracking the Passage of Time
Think about all the things you couldn’t do as easily if you didn’t have a clock or watch to tell you what time it was. Well, early humans didn’t have that luxury. They had to improvise other methods of marking the day. Namely, they followed the sun’s travel across the sky, creating early sundials. Later cultures developed hourglasses, but even those weren’t always convenient.
Around the turn of the 15th century the first actual clock was invented. From that point onward clocks began to pop up in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but they still weren’t portable. Many of them were large, ornate, and somewhat temperamental in that they could quickly malfunction if they were moved or jostled around too much. Most of the early clocks also had pendulums, which were easily damaged when the clocks were moved.
There is some debate over when the first carriage clock was invented, but most agree that the most notable carriage clocks were made in the 1800s. Around that time horse-drawn carriages were widely used. It was important for people to be able to tell time on the go. Therefore, they needed clocks that met two criteria. First, they had to be portable. Second, their mechanisms had to be able to stand up to the lumps and bumps of riding in horse-drawn carriages. That led to them being known as ìcarriage clocks.î
As their usage began to expand in the 1800s, carriage clocks also became status symbols. They were especially popular among wealthy Europeans, often as a sign of status. For example, some early clocks only displayed the time, yet others could also indicate the temperature. Also, although many of them had brass casings, others had porcelain or painted enamel panels.
The “First” French Carriage Clock
Abraham-Louis Breguet is commonly thought to be the creator of the first French carriage clock as we know them today, although there are earlier instances of similar clocks being made. Breguet was even thought to have made his first carriage clock for Emperor Napoleon, but that isn’t entirely historically proven. What we do know is that he made some beautiful carriage clocks in the 1800s, which are still highly collectible today.
Carriage Clocks by Armand Couaillet
Armand Couaillet, who was based in Saint-Nicolas d’Aliermont France, was another of the most famous carriage clock makers in France in the 1800s. However, he didn’t come along until well after Breguet. Couaillet’s factory operated from 1880 to 1920, and his clocks reflected the changing styles around the turn of that century. Several of them had more stylistic panels with elaborate scroll work or patterns surrounding the clock face. As a result, they became quite popular, and they are still popular with today’s carriage clock enthusiasts as well.
American Carriage Clocks
The French had many other popular makers of carriage clocks as well, including Drocourt, Jacot, and Garnier. However, the Americans soon jumped on the carriage clock bandwagon. The Gilbert Clock Company, which opened its doors in 1828, made some fantastic American clocks, including carriage clocks. American carriage clocks made by companies including Miller, Ingraham, and Welch are also quite collectible today. Although, it’s the early French models that tend to carry some of the higher price tags.
Tips for Dating and Purchasing Carriage Clocks
If you want to collect or resell carriage clocks should look out for several things. Obviously the maker is important. Different companies used different systems to date their clocks. For example, Elias Ingraham clocks typically have serial numbers to indicate when they were made. Meanwhile, the Gilbert Company changed names slightly several times over the years, and they also changed label styles. Knowing that information can help you to easily date a Gilbert clock.
Brass-framed carriage clocks are also typical of the early period. Although carriage clocks are still sometimes produced today, they use different materials, mechanisms, and styles. Any educated collector can easily tell a new clock from one with some age to it.
Another common indicator of an older carriage clock is an 8-day spring-wound mechanism. That is a feature that newer clocks don’t have, thanks to technological advancements such as batteries and quartz-based timing mechanisms.
Purchasing carriage clocks can be somewhat tricky. The prices vary greatly depending on the maker, when the clock was made, the type of mechanism it uses, the general style of the paneling and face, and of course whether or not the clock still runs properly. For that reason, there are plenty of inexpensive clocks out there for casual collectors, but there are also some carriage clocks that cost quite a bit of money. It’s not uncommon for carriage clocks from prominent makers to sell for upwards of several hundred to several thousand dollars, if they are in proper working order.
Whether you choose to buy one carriage clock or collect several, you will be investing in a part of history. Obviously, carriage clocks do not have as much of a practical purpose today as they used to, but they are still amazing reminders of time periods that shouldn’t be forgotten.