Facts About Grandfather Clocks

Brenda Jones

The grandfather clock is perhaps one of the most stately and magnificent clocks ever created. Standing over 6 feet tall and encased in fine wood, it adds elegance to any decor. With a rich history, this clock is a phenomenal timekeeper and has many tales to tell.

The First of Many

Facts About Grandfather Clocks
Floor clock

Timekeeping is as old as time itself. With the first timekeepers being hourglasses and later sundials, the idea of clockmaking began. Galileo Galilei discovered in 1582 that a pendulum was the perfect instrument for recording time and with this discovery Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist, invented the first pendulum clock. Later, a longer pendulum was found to keep more precise time and the first floor clock was created by encasing the clockworks in a tall wooden case and standing it upright on the floor.

Prestige and Ownership

During the early years only the nobility owned a grandfather clock. Owning one of these clocks was a sign of wealth and importance. It was not until the nineteenth century that these clocks became available to others. As the clocks became more affordable, many people began to purchase them. They are now passed down through the generations with pride.

Workings of a Grandfather Clock


The time it requires a pendulum to swing back and forth is figured by the length of the pendulum. The back-and-forth movement of the pendulum causes the weights to drop at given paces, which makes the hands move. The combined movement of the pendulum and the weights are what makes a grandfather clock work and keep such precise time.

What's in a Name?

Sheet music

The George Hotel in North Yorkshire, England, was managed by two brothers by the name of Jenkins. In the lobby of this hotel stood a floor clock that had been there for many years. One of the most remarkable traits of this clock was that it always kept perfect time. One of the Jenkins brothers died and shortly thereafter the clock began losing time. At first the clock only lost a few minutes a day but then it began to lose about an hour a day. After repeated attempts to repair the clock, the clocksmiths finally gave up. When the remaining brother died at age 90, the clock stopped altogether. This phenomenon became as much a part of the clock's history as its perfect time before. The new manager of the hotel never had the clock worked on again and it stood stately in the lobby with the time reading the exact time of the second brother's death. An American songwriter by the name of Henry Work stopped over at the George Hotel in 1875. Once he heard the story of the clock and looked upon the magnificent timepiece, he composed a song entitled "My Grandfather's Clock." Thus the name grandfather clock began.

Caring for a Grandfather Clock

Regular dusting and cleaning of a grandfather clock will keep the clock in good shape. However, these clocks should be professionally cleaned and oiled at least every 3 years to ensure a long life.


Battery-operated clock

Everyone loves grandfather clocks but they can be very pricey. Finding a true grandfather clock for under $3000 is unlikely. Fortunately for people who can't afford these original pieces, there are far less expensive clocks that run on batteries but that have the look and some of the charm of the true grandfather clock. These clocks usually sell at around $100 to $400. It's important to remember, however, that although these clocks resemble the originals, their timekeeping capability falls short and the weights and pendulum are only for show.

Making Sure an Antique Grandfather Clock Is Authentic


An antique is most often defined as an object over 100 years old. This is true with grandfather clocks as well. Original glass and the decorative cut of the wood cabinet are important factors and will make an antique grandfather clock more expensive. The signature of the maker or an original label that is intact are the true signs to look for when purchasing an antique clock.