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Wag on the Wall Clock: Almost a Grandfather Clock (#024)

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAHave you heard someone refer to a clock as a “Wag on the Wall Clock?”  There’s some prevailing misunderstanding about what is a “wag on the wall” and if it’s a type of clock.
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.
Wag-on-the-Wall Full



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.

Clock Mechanism and Case Marriages. For antique clocks (18th and 19th centuries), it was normal for clock mechanisms and their case to be made by different unassociated makers. Many times the case was made years or a location distant from the mechanism or clockmaker’s location. “Marriages” between a mechanism and case is normal and part of the intrigue and mystery of clock collecting. Therefore, be aware that you may not find consistent markings or case styles to help you identify your 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.

Credit: ConnecticutHistory.org Eight-day weight-powered wood movement, Eli Terry, Plymouth – Connecticut Historical Society

Credit: ConnecticutHistory.org
Eight-day weight-powered wood movement, Eli Terry, Plymouth – Connecticut Historical Society

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.

Credit: Newarkmuseum.org Yankee Peddler, 1858, by John Ehninger. Before the 1830s, most peddlers came from New England (hence the term “Yankee”) and served an important economic function by distributing manufactured urban products to rural areas.

Credit: Newarkmuseum.org
Yankee Peddler, 1858, by John Ehninger. Before the 1830s, most peddlers came from New England (hence the term “Yankee”) and served an important economic function by distributing manufactured urban products to rural areas.

New Britain’s Yankee Peddlers Boost 18th-century Economy
“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.”
http://connecticuthistory.org
20141026 German Clock PeddlerGerman Clock Peddlers
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.”

Modern Wag-on-the-Wall clock

Modern Wag-on-the-Wall clock

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.

French Morbier Clock

French Morbier Clock

French Cased Morbid Clock

French Cased Morbier Clock

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.

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4 Responses to Wag on the Wall Clock: Almost a Grandfather Clock (#024)

  1. Vivian December 5, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    We have an uncased French Morbier that runs well. It does not strike the half hour, but does strike the hour. After a couple of minutes, it will repeat the hourly strike. I have read where someone else had a Morbier and after five minutes of the initial hour strike, it would repeat the hourly strike. Is this common for Morbier clocks or are these two merely oddballs?

    • G.Palos December 5, 2015 at 11:30 am #

      Great question! Yes, it is correct to hear a French Morbier clock repeat the hourly strike a few minutes after the hour.
      This is part of the history of this type of clock. These clocks were typically used in the rural agricultural and industrial areas of France. Labors out in the fields or at work would miss the count for the first sequence of the hourly strike. It was important to for specific routines. To solve this, clockmakers added this feature of a re-strike a few minutes later to allow them to hear the hour count. The first strike sequence was the warning to listen, for the second sequence they were ready to listen.
      Thanks for the question!

  2. Dale November 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

    It is my understanding that the peddlers offered a variety of dials from which the movement purchaser could select. These dials are collectibles in their own right and may have interesting histories. There was a Ward Francillon Symposium a few years ago in Kentucky where this topic was discussed as it applied to the peddling of clocks into Ohio.

    • G.Palos November 12, 2014 at 9:55 am #

      I did find that in my research. These Yankee (and German, which I need to add to this) peddlers were in a sense a traveling “Walmart” selling clock items – including dials – and loads of other things directly from manufactures of the time. On the clock dials, during this period (1780-1830), I understand that most of these dials were actually imported from England, who had the clock dial industry cornered at the time. Since American clock makers focused just on mechanisms they outsourced/purchased the clock cases and clock dials…until Eli Terry started mass producing clocks about 1814. This is why so many clocks of this period have different names on the dial, mechanism and case.