What is the Difference Between a Grandmother and Grandfather Clock?

A long clock is a long clock, right? Yes…. and no. While long clocks share many similar characteristics (not to mention a common history), they’re actually known by different names. There’s the grandfather clock, the grandmother clock – there’s even a granddaughter clock.

While telling one from the other can be challenging, there are a few slight differences between each member of the family to watch out for. The rules of what makes one clock a grandfather clock and another a grandmother clock are by no means set in stone, but there are a few key features that most people use to tell them apart. Here, we look at how to tell the difference between a grandmother and grandfather clock.

The Story and History of the Longcase Clock

Whether they’re a grandmother, a grandfather, or even a granddaughter, all longcase clocks share a common history. As hunker.com notes, it all started back in 1582 when Galileo discovered the time-keeping power of pendulums.

In 1657, a 17th-century Dutch astronomer named Christian Huygens introduced Galileo’s discovery into the very first working pendulum clock, a design which would be considered primitive by today’s standards but was revolutionary at the time.

Fast forward to 1670, and an English clockmaker named William Clement decided to take the basics of Huygens’ design and make it bigger, better, and bolder than ever before.

An extra three feet of length was added to the pendulum and elaborate ornamentation was added to the hood. Thus, the first-ever longcase clock was born.

Soon enough, other prominent clockmakers started getting in on the act. Within just a few years, longcase clocks were popping up all across Europe and Asia.

At the start, they were very much the domain of the fabulously wealthy. As Wikipedia notes, the average price for a longcase clock in England in 1690 was £1 10s – roughly the same amount that an average working-class family would pay in rent for an entire year.

By 1800, the price was still the same, but the average wage had increased enough for those from lower middle-class families to start getting in on the action. Until the turn of the 20th century, pendulum clocks like the longcase were considered the most accurate form of timekeeping. In the years since, analog and digital timekeeping have taken over the market, but for over 200 years, longcases ruled the roost.

The Features of a Longcase Clock

Regardless of whether they’re a grandfather, a grandmother, or a granddaughter, all longcase clocks share certain features in common.

Typically, they’ll be long, rectangular, and slim. Supported by a plinth or feet, these freestanding beauties will usually feature gorgeously carved ornamentation on the hood framing the clock face.

Traditionally, all longcase clocks were made with one of two types of movement, an eight-day movement and a one-day (30-hour) movement. Those with eight-day movements required winding once a week, while those with 30-hour movements (which were generally the cheaper of the two) needed to be wound daily.

Clocks with eight-day movements featured two weights, one of which drove the pendulum and the other of which drove the striking mechanism. Clocks with a 20-hour movement featured a single weight to drive both elements.

What is the Difference Between a Grandmother and Grandfather Clock?

And now to the crucial question… what’s the difference between a grandfather and a grandmother clock? They both share the same history and the same basic traits, but surely there must be a difference or two to justify the name change? There is, indeed, and it all comes down to height.

How to Recognize a Grandfather Clock

Grandfather clocks are the tallest of all the longcase clocks. Although their height can vary, most people generally agree that to be awarded the title of ‘grandfather’, a longcase clock must measure at least 6 foot 3 inches tall. Statuesque, imposing, and typically the most expensive of all the longcases, the grandfather clock is the preferred choice in old, stately houses where neither space nor budget is a problem.

How to Recognize a Grandmother Clock

A grandmother clock shares all the same basic characteristics of the grandfather clock, just in a more compact package. Height varies, but providing the clock doesn’t exceed 6 feet 3 inches in height, it’ll earn the status of a grandmother clock. Thanks to its petite frame, grandmother clocks are a popular choice in homes that lack the space for a grandfather, but that could still benefit from the stately appeal of a longcase clock.

What is a Granddaughter Clock?

So, now we know what a grandfather and a grandmother clock is. They’re basically the same, bar a slight difference in height. But what about that other clock in the longcase family? The granddaughter might not be quite so well-known as either the grandfather or the grandmother clock, but you might still have heard mention of it.

Again, the difference between a granddaughter and other members of the longcase family all comes down to size. The granddaughter, as the name suggests, is the most petite of all the longcases. Although sizes vary, most granddaughter clocks come in at between three and five feet tall.

As theclockstore.co.uk notes, the granddaughter is a relatively new addition to the family, having only come into being in the 1930s. Although some very nice examples can be found, granddaughter clocks tend to lack some of the finesse of other longcases.

Whereas grandfather and grandmother clocks are typically carved from a solid piece of wood, granddaughter clocks are usually crafted from plywood, with a mahogany, walnut, or oak veneer. Instead of the engraved face that most grandfather and grandmother clocks boast, granddaughter clocks tend to feature painted numbers and silver electroplated dials.

While grandmother and grandfather clocks traditionally feature heavily elaborate ornamentation, granddaughters are more delicately decorated. Many feature silver electroplated dials and painted numbers instead of an engraved face.

Where Does the Name Come From?

Grandmother and granddaughter clocks are so named because of the relative size difference between them and the original longcase clock, the grandfather.

But where exactly did the name for the grandfather clock come from? According to most sources, the name comes from a popular 1876 song by Henry Clay Work called ‘My Grandfather’s Clock.’ A few years prior, Work had stumbled on a longcase clock while staying at The George Hotel in Piercebridge, County Durham.

After inquiring about the clock with the hotel’s owners, he was informed that it originally had two owners. When the first owner died, the clock became inaccurate. When the second owner died, it stopped working altogether. Inspired by the story, Work wrote the song, little knowing that he’d also be naming the clock in the process.

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