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Floor Clocks

While the names given to types of clocks are quite extensive, with very few exceptions all clocks can be classified as one of three types: floor clocks; table or mantel clocks; and wall clocks. This article, brought to you by Merritt's Clock Shop, explores one of those categories: the floor clock. You may view the other articles here on Merritts.com on the subject of mantel clocks, table clocks, and wall clocks by linking to these articles:
Mantel Clocks
Wall Clocks

Floor clocks were the first step to bringing a clock from the tower of a church or town hall into a castle or home in the middle Ages. While rather cumbersome at the outset, they did provide for both wealthier citizens and Abbeys a means of measuring time inside rather than going to the town square. It also meant on cloudy or rainy days, when the sundial would be useless, the time could be read or heard. In the late 13th and through most of the 14th century there was no way other than the use of weights to power a clock, which gave rise to the rather large floor boxes, which we sometimes today call "Grandfather Clocks" (although that term would not have been known to any clockmaker until popularized by the song, "My Grandfather's Clock", written in 1876 and, hence, making clocks made through the 18th century part of "grandfathers" generation). The basics of these first "mechanical" clocks would not change until the 20th century brought electricity to time-keeping. A detailed description of the operation of the weights and pendulum in a floor clock can be found in the following article here on Merritts.com: Pendulum Clocks. For the moment a brief overview of the operation of a floor clock follows. A series of two or three weights were lifted, either by pulley or chain, and as they dropped back down, power was supplied that moved the face of the clock, the hands, or struck the bell. An escapement provided the measured release of energy from the falling weights to maintain the time keeping, without which the weights would fall much to fast shortening the useful time keeping. Early escapements (called verge) had little accuracy from our perspective, but were an improvement over the existing water and sand "clocks". A case, which could be opened, was built into the floor clock to keep the weights and pulleys from view except when being raised to start another cycle. Blacksmiths who were most familiar with working with wrought iron and metals originally made the clocks. Later, a guild would form of men who specialized in the mechanics of clock making. Carpenters began making cabinets for these clocks, which became more ornate as the years passed until they became almost a decorative piece of furniture instead of just providing the function of telling time. Until the latter part of the 15th century clocks with a hand usually only indicated the hour, with some having small markings at the 15, 30, and 45-minute spot to approximate those segments of the hour. The first recorded minute hand on a floor clock was in 1475, the delay perhaps able to be attributed to adding a supplementary wheel to the mechanism to drive an additional hand. Once that had been accomplished, the number of displays possible on a floor clock were only limited to the imagination of the clockmaker: days were the first supplement beyond the hour, minute, and second hands; then months; signs of the zodiac; phases of the moon; and etc. were added to the face of the clock making them more elaborate. Click here to view some clocks. The invention or, rather, discovery of the physical properties of a pendulum in 1656 revolutionized the accuracy of floor clocks and along with the use a century earlier of spring wound power system meant that clocks could now be made smaller, although the popularity of floor clocks would continue throughout the centuries. Due to the size and weight of the floor clock, they were probably not brought to the United States until the latter part of the 17th century, church steeple and town clocks being the standard as the country grew, much as they were in the beginning in Europe. Guilded horological artisans immigrated from Europe and England to begin a fledgling clock making industry in major cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore. Clock making through the early part of the 19th century was almost exclusively floor clocks. While many other types were brought over from Europe, they were not consistently manufactured in the United States until that time. Through the 19th century, floor clock manufacture began a decline, being supplanted by the smaller and less expensive mantel, table, or wall clocks. There has been lately a resurgence of floor clocks of a much more modern variety, some even with just "decorative" weights and pendulum a spring or quartz actually supplying the power. Most have glass doors replacing the cabinet as contemporary weights and chains and pendulums are much more attractive than the original hammered brass and iron. However, the floor clock as a primary time keeping apparatus in homes has long-since passed.
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