Courthouse clocks are easily recognized. Designed to emulate the style of early courthouses which were inspired by Greco–Roman temples, they stand out from other shelf clocks.
As with many other shelf clocks of their time, most courthouse clocks were made for the middle classes. Materials were not always what they appeared to be. A 1902 Sears Roebuck catalogue advertised one such item as follows: “A genuine marbleized case, imitation of Italian green onyx, manufactured by the Waterbury Clock Company”. It sold for $5.80–still a considerable sum for that time.
Several other clock makers are associated with this style of clock: Ansonia Co. made clocks with cast iron, enameled black or painted to look like marble, as well as oak clocks. Sessions Clock Co. also used cast iron in the manufacturing of timepieces, as well as inexpensive woods stained to look like their more costly counterparts. These clocks were very popular with the budget minded. The Adamantine Clock Co. patented colored celluloid which was applied as a veneer to the clock body, and looked very convincingly like marble. Seth Thomas, a prolific clock maker also became known for making clocks of good quality and value. Many other companies offered their versions of this clock, and are listed in any good book on clocks.
Although these clocks are often referred to as shelf clocks, the weight of the cast iron models were more suited to fireplace mantels- for obvious reasons. Shelf clocks as a group were meant to sit on a table, shelf or mantle. They became extremely popular because they could be made much more cheaply than tall clock cases. Certain materials were popular at different times: Walnut was most popular during 1870 – 1900, “blacks” (cast iron, black marble, and black enameled wood) in 1880 – 1918, and oaks in 1890 to 1910. Alarms became common from 1875 on.
Most movements were “eight day movements”, which meant that the clock required rewinding only once in that period of time. Today, “Eight day” clocks that require winding more often usually have had alterations. Sometimes, the spring has been shortened rather than replaced, and in some cases, the entire movement has been replaced with a new, or different one. These types of changes affect pricing. Look for original pendulums. These were often replaced as well, or simply cut down to fit.
Buying clocks that do not work represents real risk. Unless you are very knowledgeable, and can recognize what is required to fix the timepiece, do not pay top dollar. There is no guarantee that the clock can be fixed for any price. Original finishes, especially faux finishes are a bonus–as are the brass or pot metal adornments as long as they are in good condition.
In order to familiarize yourself with what existed in the world of clocks, do some research. Local public libraries, antique shops that sell books on antiques, as well as your local bookstore can help you find the best book for your present level of collecting. Clocks are a fascinating collection– Enjoy them !!