Repairing Wall Clocks from the 1930’s

I repair all types of clock including long case and grandfather clocks, however, Ive been asked to refurbish a few 1930’s clocks recently and I thought I would produce a post about this.

Wall clocks from the 1930s are a delight to restore and repair simply because they are so iconic of their era and are exceptionally pleasant on the eye with thier modernist lines and flowing curves.

A few things to watch…

WOOD!. Most of these clocks are veneered thinly – maybe 1 or 2mm depth becuase of the expense of fine hardwoods at the time of production. This means that you are going to have to get your oil paints and french polishing clobber out at some point to disguise the inevitable flakes and gaps in the veneer.  I use artists oils as they provide a hard finish with thick paint that can be sanded (with wet and dry as opposed to sand paper, and finshed). With a bit of practice (ehem!) its possible to completely mask gaps in wood and veneer wear.


PAINT! The other thing that really need to look out for when repairing or restoring a clock from the 1950’s or earlier is paint solubility. Most clock faces were printed with the silk screen or similar techniques. This is not a problem in itself, however, you will find that most modern solvents are likely to simply wash off the print. This is a disaster if you, by accident, erase the makers monogram from the face as it is extremely hard to replicate these, if not impossible. Use only SOAP and water and elbow grease to get off the years of nicotine that tends to cover the faces and other decorative parts of the clock. Incidentally you may find the more aggressive cleaners like Flash or Detol sprays actaully take the paint off too – just use washing up liquid diluted 20:1. It takes much longer but its the safest way. If you are going to use solvent e.g. acetone / nail varnish remover then use a cotton bud and do not let it come into contact with any of the numbers, letters or other printed writing.

Lastly, be careful with the movment. These tend to be quite complicated. The movement below is typical with a quarter hour chime, two hammer sets, and exposed from face mechanics. Its not a disaster if you move it out of sync, but if your not a clock enthusiast or repairer then leave this element of the clock as you find it i.e. dont move the hands or mechanics when you remove it to restore the case.

If you movement is a quarter chime and the back plate is patterned then you have a good clock. If its just a fairly basic industrial looking movement then look to replace it as part of the refubishment – they are can be bought second hand. The reason I say this is that the cheaper movements were not really designed to run for more that 50 years and often not that well during this period so if you want an accurate as well as a beautiful clock then its time to change that old clunky worn movement.

Dont worry too much about replacing the movement as far as the overall clock values goes – the majority of the value in these clocks comes from the deco design of the case. The more deco it looks, the more it tends to be worth. This is not the rule for all clocks so dont go taking the same advice on your Tompion £2 million clock – just these deco ones from smaller makers. The one below is from a Jeweller in Bologne France. The shop is still there my friend tells me.

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