My Grandfather’s (or Grandmother’s) Clock

It may have predated Top 40, but it was still a hit. In 1876 Henry Clay Work would have topped any chart (if they existed) with “My Grandfather’s Clock“, a moving song about a clock that ticks faithfully until the grandfather’s death. So which came first, the clock or the song?

Well, both. The clock, called a long case clock, was first invented in 1680 after Robert Hooke (recognize that name?) and William Clement invented a new type of escapement, called the anchor escapement, in 1670. Before then, clock pendulums had to swing at least 80° out in order to keep accurate time. The invention of the anchor escapement allowed accurate time to be kept with swings as minimal as 4°. The clocks were too heavy to hang on a wall and too tall to put on a shelf, so they typically stood independently. Their pendulums were about 40 inches long, meaning that the clock could easily be 6-7 feet tall. A common misconception is that grandfather clocks are so named because of the obvious reason – that only grandfathers had them. They were expensive and did not use any modern technology, so in the 18th and 19th centuries you were unlikely to find one in a young person’s home.

However the phrase “grandfather clock” didn’t originate until the song by Work debuted in 1876. The sheet music sold prodigiously and the song has been covered hundreds of times around the world. The lyrics are below.

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life’s seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

In watching its pendulum swing to and fro,
Many hours had he spent while a boy;
And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know
And to share both his grief and his joy.
For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door,
With a blooming and beautiful bride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life’s seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found;
For it wasted no time, and had but one desire —
At the close of each week to be wound.
And it kept in its place — not a frown upon its face,
And its hands never hung by its side.
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life’s seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

It rang an alarm in the dead of the night —
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight —
That his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime,
As we silently stood by his side;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),

His life’s seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),

It stopped short — never to go again —

When the old man died.

So grandfather clocks existed long before 1876, but weren’t given the nickname until that song reached popularity. Grandfather clocks are still considered a luxury item since they have to keep very accurate time (most pendulums have a 1 second swing, meaning a 2 second period) and are typically made with high quality materials and held to high standards. A $7,000 modern Howard Miller grandfather clock is shown below.

7kGrandfatherHowardMiller

 

When you want to impress your horologist friends (hint hint), remember, the real name for these clocks is “Long Case Clock” and they’ve existed for hundreds of years. A differently shaped Howard Miller grandfather clock is shown below.

HowardMillerGrandfather

“Grandmother clocks” are a cute name given to clocks that were shorter (4-5 feet rather than 6-7 feet) and lighter than grandfather clocks. They are the same type of clock made to a slightly smaller scale, and somewhere along the way began being called grandmother clocks. For any number of reasons, they tend to be more elaborately decorated while grandfather clocks tend to be fairly sparse. An $11,000 grandmother clock being sold by Scully & Scully is shown below.

fairfield-grandmother-inlaid-clock_lg.jpg

 

2 thoughts on “My Grandfather’s (or Grandmother’s) Clock

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s