RECONDITIONING AN AMERICAN BLACK CLOCK CASE
This article relates to many American clocks manufactured between 1880’s and 1920’s.
Usually painted black with fancy cast feet, cast columns and pillars also imitation marbling. They were made by Ansonia, Sessions, Gilbert, Ingraham. Welch, Seth Thomas etc. and were mass produced by the thousands. They sold for around $4 - $6 US and could be purchased by mail order throughout America.
PURCHASING A CLOCK ON eBay
If you do not own one of these clocks and are looking to purchase one on eBay, you can get good deals looking at clocks and timepieces world wide and see what is selling in the US. You can quite often purchase a reasonable clock for around $80 US and air post is around the same, so for around $200 AUD you can have a clock which is different to those generally imported into Australia.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
If you are planning to buy the clock from the above scource, make sure it is as complete as possible with all of its decorative parts. That is face, bezel with opening door and glass, 4 fancy feet, end decorations, pillars with top and bottom columns and imitation marbling intact. If there is a photo of the mechanical movement, check that the springs are not broken. These clocks often have pendulum, double ended key, hands, feet etc missing.
I do sell a range of these parts in my eBay store, but there is only a limited choice in design of these parts and they do not always match the original design.
The other point is that buying too many of these replacements will make your clock expensive.
I also have replacement springs for these clocks, but you will need to pull the movement apart to install the new spring, and this is not easy if it is your first time.
STRIPPING DOWN THE CLOCK CASE
In a majority of cases, it is wise to completely strip the clock down into manageable size pieces for working on. Take off all ornaments, usually held in place with brass escutcheon pins or nails. The wooden cabinet was normally nailed together with large flat head nails, and with timber shrinkage over it’s life, they have become loose and the case could be coming apart in several areas. When I reassemble a case, I repace the nails with thin gauge screws, but always use single slotted head screws which would match era of manufacture. (DO NOT USE CROSS HEAD SCREWS) At this stage put all parts aside, including the marbled pieces, and have only the black painted parts to work on. You will find if these parts are in flat panel form, it is much easier to work on. I always respray my clocks with black, so if you do not plan to this, I suggest you polish the surfaces with automotive and reassemble. Before preparing case for painting, repair broken parts and splits in the timber. Rub down all black painted surfaces with medium and then fine paper. I use 320 grit aluminum oxide paper to finish surface. I first use an orbital sander to flatten surface and remove imperfections before fine sanding by hand. Curved surfaces are also sanded by hand. The majority of these clocks had an engraved pattern scribed into the surface of the front panels which was highlighted with another colour usually gold or white. These grooves normally need to be cleaned out or deepened so as to hold a different colour. I use a scriber that I drag carefully through each groove to open up and clean out. It is difficult, and extreme care is required, but it makes a big difference to the finished clock. With each of the black panels sanded, you now need to fill any imperfections in the surface. I use either automotive panel filler, commonly called car bog to fill up deep areas or where chunks of timber are missing. You mix it with hardener supplied, fill hole above surface, allow to harden and then sand down to original surface. Places like Kmart sell small tins of this material. If the blemishes are shallow there is a grey automotive stopping putty in a tube which you apply with a spatula, allow to dry and sand down with 320 grit paper.
PAINTING THE CLOCK BLACK
I spray my clocks with a thinner based clear furniture lacquer which the manufacturer Mirotone adds black stain for me. If you are not set up with a high pressure spray outfit, you need to use another method. Years ago in my trade, we used to mix black lamp powder with shellac to produce black shellac. I do not know if this powder is still available, but if you can find one that dissolves into shellac you can use that. You will need to brush on many coats of this material over a period of time, allowing it to dry and harden before rubbing down between several coats. It could be French polished with a pad and clear shellac to produce a shiny surface. Black enamel paint could also be used allowing 24 hours between coats and rubbing down each time. Brush marks can be a problem, but if you apply 3 – 4 coats with a good bristle brush, you can get good results
HIGHLIGHTING SCRIBED PATTERNS
The patterns scribed into the front surface of the clock can be highlighted with same colour used on original clock – white or gold. You may have to run the scriber through the grooves again to deepen them before colouring. I found it best to use a craft water based colour available in small bottles at Bunnings. Wipe across the surface with a soft rag or finger, allowing it to fill up the groove and then wipe off excess with a damp rag. This should leave a small deposit of colour in the bottom of the groove which will highlight the scribed pattern. Now you can complete assembly of the black clock case.
The imitation marblised parts usually had a patterned colour paper glued to the surface of the wood and clear coated. This paper is not available that I know of unless similar is used for scrap booking? If your original parts are in good condition, maybe maybe there is some crazing on the surface, I carefully rub down to get smooth, maybe touch-up damaged areas with a dark colour paint similar to base coat and then spray clear or apply clear shellac or gloss polyurethane (varnish) If they were crazed on surface, by rubbing down and applying several finishing coats the crazing can disappear. There was a method used many years ago for marbling that I tried with some success but could improve with practice. Drive a nail into the back of each piece of timber so that you can hold it to work on. Paint your parts with a base coat colour – dark green – maroon – etc. allowing it to dry and sanding between coats until you have a smooth surface. In an icecream container, fill with water and float several drops of enamel paint (turps based) on surface. For the maroon base coat I floated white and black paint. Stir it around slowly so you have swirls of paint floating on the surface and then touch your wooden arts or roll them on the surface paint to transfer it to the timber. I had reasonable success but it could be better. Maybe try de-mineralized water. Some of the paint dissolved into the water and sank to the bottom. Maybe the modern turps based paints are not what they used to be. More experimentation is required. If you are successful then coat finished parts with clear finish and install back into clock case.
The decorative parts such as feet, columns, tops and bottoms also end decorations usually
Need cleaning. I use the cloudy ammonia solution described under clock repairs. Allow soaking for 2 – 3 hours, wash in water and clean with steel or brass wire brush or steel wool. Dial bezel without face and glass can also be cleaned this way. The bezel is normally made of brass and when removed from cleaning solution and washed in water, it can be polished with brasso. Wattyl did have a can of clear for brass that you sprayed on to seal the surface and stop oxidation. The rest of the decorations were either gold or bronze finish. I buy a cheap $3 can of gold spray paint and apply two coats. I have a copper colour spray also but so far have not used it. The fluted pillars are often painted green or gold. We have 13mm and 20mm fluted pillar replacements in our store.
All restored parts can now be fixed back onto the clock case with escutcheon pins. If you do not have all the original pins, I found some at Bunnings. I normally use screws to fix the fancy feet back onto the clockcase. The dial quite often used is card material and this can be replace. Check diameter of outside time ring with ones listed in our store. We do have some with manufacturers name printed on the, but if not a plain dial can be used. We also have the brass grommets for the winding holes.
If you have success using other methods of restoration please let me know.
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