- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Cindy Weller of Edgewater, Md., is reminded of the importance of family every time the grandfather clock in her home chimes. She inherited the 17-year-old timepiece when her husband’s father moved to a new house. Although she is glad the cherry-stained clock stands in her family room, she has fond memories of her children appreciating the 6-foot-tall figure while it was in her father-in-law’s foyer.

“In my father-in-law’s house, each kid had their own way of going to the clock every time it made a noise,” she says. “They could have been anywhere in the house, and they always ran down to see the clock.”

Grandfather clocks often are family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Originally, the timepieces were called “tall-case clocks” or “long-case clocks,” says Robert Capone, president of Hands of Time, a specialty store in Savage, Md. The 1875 song “Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay Work gave the devices a new name.

Legendary singer Johnny Cash helped spread the association when he recorded the tune. The lyrics say, “My grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf/So it stood 90 years on the floor/It was taller by half than the old man himself/But it weighed not a pennyweight more.”

“It’s a charming member of a household,” Mr. Capone says. “When you buy a grandfather clock, it’s not like buying a TV, chair or table. It has a certain sentimental quality that grows over the years. It seems to command a prominent place in the home.”

Although the models range in price, the average grandfather clock costs about $1,200 to $1,400. A quality device will cost a minimum of $795. The styles range, and the clocks can be made from a variety of wood, including cherry, oak, maple and mahogany. Contemporary styles come in black or silver. Some have pinched waists, while others, called hall clocks, have a more rectangular shape. A rounder, Scandinavian look also is popular.

Sometimes shelves enclosed in glass sit on the sides of the clock to display smaller items. Detailed etching usually is part of a clock face, which could show the phases of the moon.

The fronts of the clocks can be either solid wood or glass, which shows the movement of the pendulum. Until the early 1900s, most grandfather clocks had closed cases, hiding the pendulum. After the turn of the century, bigger cases with glass fronts and weights with glass shells became common.

The weight-driven mechanisms, which must be wound every eight days to keep the clock running, distinguish traditional grandfather clocks from other types of time-keeping devices, such as watches, which usually run on springs, Mr. Capone says.

“They use the exact same mechanism as when the clocks were invented in the 15th century,” he says. “The pendulum regulates how fast or slow the clock runs. The shorter the pendulum, the faster it swings, the faster the clock runs.”

The chimes and the hour strikes also depend on the weights. All grandfather clocks have at least one chime, which usually replicates the bells of Westminster Abbey in London. If a clock has more than one chime, which then can be chosen by the owner, it usually also includes the Whittington chime from the Church of St. Mary le Bow in Cheapside in London, and St. Michael’s chime from St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, S.C. The melodies usually can be set to ring every quarter hour.

Some models come with special musical selections, such as “God Bless America” and “Ode to Joy.” They usually can be set to remain silent at night to keep from disturbing the household.

“It reminds you that it’s there every 15 minutes,” Mr. Capone says. “It has a certain mystique about it.”

Angie Walker of Lutherville, Md., likes the cozy feeling her grandfather clock brings to her house. Her husband, Chris, surprised her with it as a Christmas gift. The 84-inch Howard Miller clock in cherry wood sits in their foyer.

“The chimes make you feel like you’re home,” Mrs. Walker says. “We didn’t have one when I was growing up, but in college, I went to a girlfriend’s house, and her mom had one. She left it on all the time. It was the most comforting feeling. I loved her house because of that.”

Craig Garrison of Sykesville, Md., allows his grandfather clock to ring throughout the night. The 82-inch-tall structure, which has a pinched waist, is cherry wood with a matte finish. He anticipates that his daughters, Emily, 19, and Laura, 14, will inherit the item one day. He hopes it inspires them as much as his aunt’s piece did him when he was a child.

“I always thought it was so neat,” he says. “Having one is kind of nostalgic for me. … It’s like an heirloom. It adds a warmth to the house.”

To keep a grandfather clock in tip-top condition, its owner needs to have it cleaned and adjusted at least every five years, says Richard Walker, owner of Antique Pendulum Clock Repair, with offices in Northwest and Riva, Md.

“It’s kind of like tuning up the car and changing the oil,” he says. “The car would keep going, but it would start doing some strange things.”

Depending on the type of repairs, the service could cost between $250 and $500. Mr. Walker makes house calls, but he completes more complicated projects in his home workshop.

People love grandfather clocks and are willing to invest money in them because of their human dimension, Mr. Walker says. In fiction, clocks have been portrayed as human on more than one occasion — Cogsworth from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” for example.

Aside from the size of grandfather clocks, he says, their tick-tock meter is about 60 beats per minute, which is almost the same as a resting heartbeat. People generally are fascinated with time, Mr. Walker adds. While earning a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he wrote his thesis on the topic.

“I’ve actually had people cry when I brought back a fixed clock,” he says. “There’s something living and important about a clock.”

Jay Curley of Silver Spring says his 78-inch-tall grandfather clock, which stands in his formal living room, reminds his wife, Alison, of her parents’ home. The chimes remind her of her formative years. His wife’s sister liked their piece so much that she also bought one.

“There’s something about a grandfather clock,” Mr. Curley says. “Everyone wants one.”

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