What is a Mantel Clock?The term mantel clock is used fairly loosely and doesn't appear to have a definite, fixed horological definition.
In essence, a mantel clock is any clock designed to sit on a shelf, mantel, or mantelpiece. Traditionally the clock would be placed on the mantelpiece over the fireplace. Today almost any clock you can buy that can stand on a shelf might be described as a mantel clock.
Although not designed to be portable, mantlel clocks are small enough be moved around and some - especially the later designs - included handles for this purpose.
Antique Mantel ClocksEarly mantel clocks were highly ornate, decorative pieces and were a speciality of France. Production probably begun around the 1750s. A whole team of specialist craftsmen was usually involved rather than a single main clockmaker.
These early French mantel clocks were often made from metal or even marble rather than from wood. Decoration and ornamentation was extreme - some would say excessive - with brass and ormolu being favourite materials. The early French mantel clock was often a work of art first and a timepiece second. That said, they were usually accurate, often with an eight day mechanism.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the excesses of over-design began to fade and many of the examples from this period are very elegant.
Another later trend was the inclusion of garnitures. These were separate side pieces designed to go along with the mantel clock. So, for example, the clock might be flanked by two candelsticks or figurines. It can sometimes be difficult to tell today whether the garnitures with an antique mantel clock are originals or were added later - obviously this fact has an impact on the price and how collectible it might be.