A “Wag on the Wall Clock” is essentially an uncased weight driven mechanical wall clock with an exposed Dial, Pendulum and weights as seen in this picture (below right) of an original Wag on the Wall.
During the late 18th and early 19th century, in the United States, most clockmakers only produced uncased clock mechanisms.
Independent cabinet or furniture makers were normally commissioned to build clock cases for these finished clock mechanisms. This was a typical practice for the Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York clock industry.
Many times the purchaser hung the uncased clock mechanism on the wall until a case could be made. This practice was very popular for poor farmers and others who could not afford the cost of a complete Tall Clock with the custom made case. Their intention was to eventually save the needed funds to complete the clock’s destiny as a Tall or Grandfather clock.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), many of these temporary wall clocks never made it to their full Tall Clock potential; thus ushering the rise of the “Wag on the Wall” clock.
Therefore, the Wag on the Wall clock was never really meant to be a distinct type of wall clock, but was just an uncased clock mechanism of an Tall or Grandfather Clock.
An original antique “Wag on the Wall” (ca 1780-1830) will typically be of a mechanical wooden works, due to their popularity as affordable for farmers and working class. Better quality brass movements were likely purchased for a case, but for some reason did not make it.
In the early 1800s, traveling clock peddlers pushed these uncased mechanisms since small numbers could be carried on horseback or in carriages. The purchaser would be required to hire a local cabinet maker to build a case for a Tall clock or hang it on the wall as a wag-on-the-wall.
“Clockmakers like Eli Terry used peddlers to sell over 4,000 clock movements in 1806, and peddlers also had a hand in the development of the early brass industry.”
During the same period of the Yankee Clock Peddlers, in Germany, the emergence of the Black Forest clock industry also saw a surge in clock peddlers. Black Forest clockmakers would turnout their creations during the winter months. Come spring, and better weather, clock peddlers would take these clocks throughout Europe to sell – including into Russia. But there is no indication that these German clock peddlers sold clocks meant to be married with a tall case.
The clock case is important to protect the clock mechanism, pendulum and weights from dirt and other problems from having the clock workings out in an open environment. The dirt and accidents would inevitably shorten the lifespan of the clock. This was well known by clock and cabinet makers, so it is doubtful that mechanisms were sold with the intent to simply be “Wags on the Wall.”
Regardless, this unintentional wall clock grew in popularity, and their affordability made them pervasive. Unfortunately, because they were uncased and the clock workings had no protection, many original Wag-on-the-Wall clocks have not survived.
Now, “Wag on the Wall” clocks refer to any wall clock which is characterized by an uncased weight driven mechanical wall clock with an exposed Dial, Pendulum and weights. Modern versions may have a case around the mechanism, but they are hidden behind the clock dial and out of sight.
The French Morbier Clock is not considered a “Wag on the wall.” The traditional uncased Morbiers are built with wooden or metal casings just around the clock mechanism. Others with or without this casing can be found in a tall clock case.
Modern spring driven wall clocks (ca 1920-present) with an exposed pendulum and dial are at times referred as wag on the wall clocks. Although this is fine, the spring driven clocks should be referred to as wall clocks to maintain the tradition and history behind the original weight driven Wag on the Walls that were almost Tall Clocks.