Gustav Becker Clocks

Gustav Becker clocks are fine crafted time pieces well worth the money.

Time marches on and we are almost obsessed with keeping track of its journey. One of the more interesting ways we do that is with our clocks. Clocks are a delightful merger of fine furniture, jewelry and precision machinery. So many intricate crafts rolled into one splendid piece of workmanship. Fine timepieces require fine artisans; the clockmaker is all at once cabinetmaker, machinist and jeweler. Few trades boast mastery in so many complex crafts.

Our earliest, functional clocks date to the 16th century. Clockmakers learned early on that clocks were symbols not only of elapsing time but also of owner's worth. Even timepieces of the simplest exterior boast magically intricate inner workings. It is only recently, within the last 150 years or so, that accurate timepieces have been affordable for the masses. Until then, they were the property of the elite or of those who by trade had to keep accurate time.

All clocks and watches consist of three basic elements, a case, a movement and a dial. For clock and watch enthusiasts, or horologists, the movement is perhaps the most interesting part of the assembly. In antique clocks, there are two basic kinds of movements, the weight driven and the spring driven movements. Clocks older than around 1880 will be weight driven. Spring driven models came around the turn of the 20th century. Weights or springs give the clock the energy to keep time. That energy is governed by an escapement, a part that precisely controls the release of the energy stored in the tightened spring or lifted weight. Older clocks have a less precise verge escapement while clocks from 1650 or so will have an anchor escapement. As the escapement releases the stored energy from the weights or spring, it turns a series of gears that control the hands on the clock, giving us the time.

Clock cases were generally built by cabinetmakers, though some clockmakers surely built their own. Cases generally were kept within the popular furniture style of the day. There are a huge variety of case styles from every furniture period. Grandfather clocks were originally known as longcase or tallcase clocks until the song, "My Grandfather's Clock" popularly labeled these large works Grandfather Clocks. Regulators, wall clocks, anniversary clocks, cuckoo clocks and others each have a case that's befitting of the mechanism and true to the furniture style of the day. Clocks made in the Chippendale period, 18th century, will feature embellishments found in Chippendale furniture and clocks made during the Victorian era will feature motifs common to that furniture style.

The last element of a clock is its dial. These are generally made of metal, all though some early, cheap clocks had wood dials that tended to warp or split. Brass was commonly used and was engraved; brass dials can be much more valuable than other kinds of dials, especially if the brass has been silvered. Often the brass would be enameled and painted with scenes or motifs.

Fine quality clocks from well-known makers are readily available to collectors. One of the better makers from the mid to late 19th century was Gustav Becker. Becker was born in 1819 and trained as a clockmaker in Germany and Austria. He opened his workshops in Freiburg, Silesia, Germany in 1850. Becker struggled with untrained help at first but won a Golden Medal, the Medaille d'or, at the 1852 Silesia Trade Exposition for design. Becker incorporated that first medal and his initials, G.B., into his trademark. This award gave him the recognition that he needed to attract skilled craftsmen to his workshops. Numerous awards and certificates followed, from trade expos as far-flung as Australia and as close to home as Vienna.

Becker clocks are not too difficult to identify. Until 1880 and the introduction of the spring driven mechanism, almost all of Gustav Becker's clocks were weight driven Regulator wall clocks. Becker's clocks bear his trademark and serial number on the dial and weights are usually marked with his initials. Serial numbers reference the year of manufacture, so determining age is made very simple. An excellent resource for this information and more is available in the book "Gustav Becker Story" by Karl Kochmann.

After the introduction of the spring driven mechanism, a whole new variety of clocks was made possible. The Becker workshops at their height produced more than 400 varieties of clocks. The cases of these clocks reflect the furniture trends of the day and range from very simple to elaborately ornate. The casework is extraordinarily well done and often incorporates hand carving. Germany has never lacked for skilled carvers and the talent of the region's artisans is evidenced in the Becker clock cases.

Becker clocks aren't limited to wooden wall clocks, though. Everything from anniversary clocks to wristwatches is available with the Becker trademark.

Gustav Becker clocks are known for their quality workmanship and the Becker name on a clock will make it more valuable than lesser-known maker's clocks of similar quality. These collectible works of art are not as expensive as their furniture counterparts and can range in price from $500 to $5,000 and more. Although Gustav Becker only lived until 1885, clocks bore his trademark until 1935.

When shopping for antique clocks there are some things that you'll want to keep in mind. First of all, as with any valuable investment, know what you're buying. To do this, you'll need to read up on the subject of clocks, cases, mechanisms, makers and marks. An educated buyer will always get a better deal.

An old clock case with a modern clock mechanism will be virtually valueless. Similarly, a clock mechanism that has been heavily repaired and parts replaced will be much less valuable than its original condition counterpart. A damaged dial also devalues a clock. All of the features of a clock contribute significantly to its value, so give every clock you consider for purchase a thorough going over. For Gustav Becker clocks, look for trademark and initials in appropriate places but look at the quality of the work, too. No shoddy work came out of the Becker workshops.

Features such as moving figures or musical chimes and quarter, half and hour gongs add to the value of a clock. Consider also how long it will run on a wind. Those that require winding everyday are not generally as valuable as the 8-day or 30 day clocks. Check to see if finals and crowns are missing from the clock. The loss of these is common, especially in oversized tallcase clocks. It's also not uncommon to find cases that don't match their mechanisms. To judge this, you'll have to have some experience with clocks in general or get an evaluation from an appraiser with experience in clocks.

One last tip; if you start to collect antique clocks with chimes or gongs, be sure to set them each a few minutes apart. If they all strike at precisely the same time, you'll likely have the neighbors complaining!

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