The market for mechanical clocks is frequently described as polarised. Far removed from the white-hot demand for vintage wristwatches fuelled by a truly global audience, prices for standard 18th and 19th century longcase clocks appealing to the English-speaking nations have fallen markedly in the past decade – victims of the movement away from traditional furnishings and the popularity of smaller living spaces. Demand has also softened for all but the best of the ostensibly ‘decorative’ ormolu clocks from the 19th century. Bargains abound.
However, this pendulum swing in taste can be contrasted with a widening buying base for clocks by the best so-called Golden Age makers (from the embryonic period 1665-1725) and the sophisticated precision timepieces that followed in the later 18th and 19th centuries. It is typically these scientifically interesting clocks, that help tell the compelling story of the British clockmaking, that now dominate the collecting marketplace. Regency and Victorian regulators, small portable bracket clocks and fusee wall clocks, that combine sophisticated horology with relatively restrained case design, are also popular while an increasingly visible development is the interest in early electric master clocks from the turn of the 20th century.
Barometers have followed a similar collection journey. Prices for routine ‘stick’ or ‘banjo’ examples have softened (many pieces now provide superb value for money at £100-500) but others by leading makers or made to unusual configurations have held their value and are still capable of impressive sums.
As they are deemed ‘wasting assets’ mechanical clocks, barometers and watches are exempt from capital gains tax in the UK.
Tim is an auctioneer and valuer with more than 30 years experience in the antiques and auction profession. He has been with Sworders for 27 years. He has also been a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors for 20 years.
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