Restoring a Georgian Wall Mounting Cartel Clock by Dennis Radage
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As the title states, the article focuses on the restoration of an English Georgian wall mounting Cartel Clock. I use the term restoration loosely, knowing that there are those out there who will either agree, accept, or quite definitely disagree with what is being done. Restoration is indeed a controversial subject, and each person has his or her own opinion. Are we fixing, repairing, jobbing, bodging, restoring, conserving or doing something “sympathetically”. Well, you can be the judge.
Just a note on Cartel Clocks. When discussing this form of clock, it is natural to first think of the French Cartel Clock. These French clocks came in all sizes and are usually characterized by their gilt on brass or bronze (ormolu) decorative cases. These often have scrolls, flowers, leaves, cherubs or other decorative additions to the case. The clocks are spring driven and often have a white enamel dial of 5” to7” in diameter. The case often being 15” to 24” in height. Of course though, there are always exceptions to any of these details.
Cartel Clocks were also made, somewhat later, in England, Sweden and America. The English and Swedish clock cases were usually of carved wood and then gilded. The English Cartel Clock was often the largest of the Cartel Clocks. From the book English Dial Clocks by Ronald Rose, he states that the English Cartel Clock is indeed quite rare. They first appeared in the homes of the wealthy about 1730 and that they are an almost direct copy of the French Cartel Clock but with a case constructed of wood rather than being of gilt brass or bronze as their French counter parts are. The design however turned out to be too flamboyant for the English tastes, so this form of clock had a production life span of just 40 or 50 years. The English Cartel Clock was the immediate predecessor of the very popular English Dial Clock.
Some years back, a Cartel Clock was illustrated on the front cover of a major east coast auction house. Immediately I saw it I knew that I had to have it. I gained very little knowledge from the requested condition report, and not much more from a phone conversation with the department’s manager. The auction and the clock were several thousand miles away, so bidding was based on pure instinct, some knowledge and a lot of wishful thinking.
The traditional English Cartel Clock has a gilt carved wood case and is about 30” in height. It has a 9” engraved and silvered brass dial and is usually just a timepiece having an 8-day spring driven fusee movement. Striking Cartel Clocks are known though.
The clock that I had just purchased was different. The clock is large, being 41 ½” high, 28” wide and 8” deep. It has a 14” glazed brass bezel over a 13 ½” engraved and silvered brass dial. It has a five pillar two train rack striking movement, twin fusees with chain drive and anchor escapement. The main dial has Roman hour chapters, a double minute ring and Arabic minute numbers every five minutes. There are three subsidiary dials for Strike/Silent, Fast/Slow (raising) regulation and a Date Dial. Subsidiary dials on Cartel Clocks are very rare. This dial is engraved “Andrews, Dover” across its centre. The dial is also decoratively engraved with scrolls, floral designs and a pagoda under the XII hour chapter.
A little research shows that this clock was made by Thomas Andrews of Dover. Brian Loomes in his book Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World, Part II, lists Andrews as working between 1773 and 1802. From the book Kent Clocks and Clockmakers by Pearson, Andrews is listed as a Watch and Clockmaker. He opened a shop on Market Street in Dover in 1773 and then moved to the Quay at the Pier in July 1775. He was also a Silversmith and is known to have made a verge Dial clock and three Longcase clocks, all with single sheet silvered dials that are said to be well engraved. Andrews had a son named Richard and on 26th February 1780 he placed an advertisement in the Kentish Gazette.
The clock arrived securely packed in a wooden crate. Inside there were several smaller boxes, some with broken parts, and others with parts of parts. The clock case was quite distressed. What is interesting and quite unusual about this clock case is that the main body is built up of wooden blocks, glued together in “brick” form. The clock case was then shaped and carved. The traditional English Cartel Clock case has a single piece body that is shaped and carved in one piece. The case is gilded in the traditional manner, its form contains “C” scrolls, flowers and leaves, and a bird with outstretched wings is perched on the top.
I removed the movement, which seemed to be quite complete, with the exception of the pendulum. Looking at the condition of the case and the general state of the dial I believe that this clock had not been in operation for quite some time. Maybe not even in the 20th century. More likely it had been left in an attic until the owners died or moved.
The movement was dismantled and each part examined. A number of problems were found; the rack tail was loose on the rack arm and the first two teeth of the rack were broken. Certainly striking would have been a problem as the clock would have continue to strike until the spring wound down. The last two teeth of the rack could not be engaged nor gathered. Further inspection found that the rack post was a screw, not a post, and it was also quite loose in its mounting.
The rise and fall post had also broken loose and the lever arm was fractured.
The warning flag had at some point broken and had been re-soldered on, however, about 0.020” short of being able to arrest the pin on the locking wheel.
The anchor pallets had a little wear, worth polishing, but not really significant. Based on the crude repairs it was obvious that someone in the past had been messing with the movement, but fortunately had given up before any irreparable damage had been caused.
The front plate was removed revealing the two spring barrels, two fusees and the chain drive. The heavy movement plates were held together using five plate pillars. The movement was quite dirty, dull and tarnished. Fortunately all parts seem to be original to the clock, the wheels and wheel collets all being of a similar style. The pivots and holes were in remarkably good condition, supporting the assumption that the clock had not run for quite some time. The lubricant was black and had solidified.
The movement was then cleaned. I used a five-minute ammonia free ultrasonic bath, then simply brush all parts with a brass bristled brush to remove any remaining oxides and to brighten up the parts. The parts were then rinsed in warm water several times, the final rinse being in quite hot water to aid in fast drying. I remove surface moisture and trapped water with paper towels and compressed air. All parts were then placed in an oven at 160°F for an hour. The springs, that I had previously removed from the barrels, were cleaned, greased and replaced in the now cleaned barrels.
To repair the damaged rack teeth I first cut out then silver soldered a steel wedge in place, then cut new teeth to match the existing ones. The screw post was removed and a correct post was fitted. All pivot holes were pegged out then the cleaned parts were reassembled into the plates.
The fusee drive chains were also cleaned then re-lubricated. The rack tail was positioned and re-riveted. A new pendulum assembly was made and fitted. Here I used what I considered to be a contemporary pendulum that had been removed from an old discarded movement. The rise and fall mechanism was repaired and the pallets were polished.
This is the point where I switch to cotton gloves since my hands are usually quite tacky. There’s nothing worse than a nice bright finish spoilt by corrosive finger marks.
The movement was now re-assembled, lubricated and put on the test stand. It performed well – with energy and vigor. These old English fusee movements are very substantial, they are nice to work on and this one will likely give another 200 years of good service.
The next phase of the project was to restore the dial. The dial was in a very poor shape, surely this clock has not been operating for some considerable time. It was likely stored, in a box, in the attic, for many years. It certainly has possibilities. It is a single sheet dial, fully engraved and silvered all over. The silver had tarnished quite badly, but the dial was otherwise undamaged. Close examination illustrates the poor condition of the existing waxing. It had dried out, cracked and was flaking loose. Re-waxing was necessary.
First, all of the existing wax was carefully removed using dental tools. Fortunately the engraving is quite deep. It is important to proceed slowly, in a calm mood. No slips are allowed, otherwise we might end up with unwanted engraving. The dial looks quite different with all of the wax removed. Immediately before re-waxing I use a fine draftsman's glass fiber pencil brush to clean the engraved area. This I believe gives a better bond of the wax to the brass.
I use a somewhat traditional approach to waxing. I built a supporting frame using wooden 2x4’s over a gas burner in my laboratory, it’s interesting since my wife has an alternate name for my Lab, she calls it her kitchen! The gas is turned on at low heat. It is important not to get the plate too hot and to heat only a portion of the dial at a time, just until the wax melts into the engraving, then, using stiff cards, remove any surplus wax. It is important not to leave too much surplus wax on the dial since it dries very hard and needs to be removed with an abrasive compound. I use 400 grit wet and dry paper over a cork block, and liberal amounts of water. I usually finish with 600 grit paper. It is important to get the grain right and very even. For chapter rings, the grain must be circular, round the ring. However, for a single sheet dial, the grain needs to be vertical, top to bottom. To maintain evenness, I built a jig to guide my strokes. The final strokes are somewhat lighter and extend well beyond the top and bottom of the dial to prevent the unevenness that is usually associated with the start and end of each stroke. By this time, all of the surplus wax has been removed and the dial plate already looks impressive. It must be remembered that every time the dial is waxed or silvered, the cleaning process removes just a little more brass leaving the engraving just a little shallower. Waxing and silvering therefore needs great care and an absolute minimum of abrasive cleaning.
It’s now back to the lab for silvering. I will usually remove any surplus wax, then silver then lacquer, all in one continuous operation. I have made a 5/8” thick plywood jig for cleaning and silvering. The wax cleaning process also serves a really good conditioning for silvering. As soon as the last of the surplus wax has been removed I will rinse the dial. The brass must be clean and free of any form of contaminants for silvering. Since the silver chloride process is quite poisonous, plastic sheets and newspapers are laid over all of the lab benches, and rubber gloves are also a good idea. From the rinse stage I will place the dial back on the jig for secure holding. I will sprinkle the silver chloride onto the wet dial and using a 2” diameter cotton swab, will rub the silver chloride into the brass plate with circular motions. These cotton swabs are readily available from most spouses make up bags. This is a big dial, so I will use several swabs. I will continue the process until the entire dial has become silvered. More often than not, I will go over the dial a second time to ensure an even well silvered dial.
It is now rinsing time again. The dial is rinsed several times in cold water. Again, while still wet I finish the dial with Potassium Bitartrate (Cream of Tarter) powder sprinkled over the dial and also rubbed into the surface as I did with the silver chloride. The Cream of Tarter brightens up the silvered dial.
Now I use a much longer rinse, increasing the water temperature until quite warm, so as to warm the dial. This helps drying. Paper towels remove most of the water, and the latent heat helps to dry the dial quickly.
Since silver oxidizes, I lacquer immediately. I use an alcohol based lacquer which unfortunately dries very rapidly, within about 20 seconds. This means that you have just one shot to get it right. You cannot go over any area twice. If you fail first time, you will need to clean off all of the lacquer, and then start over again.
My process is to fill a saucer with lacquer, totally saturate a piece of lint free cotton cloth, about 9” by 9’’ in size. Position the dial at an angle of about 20 to 30 degrees with XII at the highest point. The saturated cloth must carry sufficient lacquer to do the job in one go, no refills. Starting at XII, I ski the lacquered cloth up and down the slope in slightly overlapping motions right to the bottom, making sure that the cloth goes slightly over the edge on each turn around, both at the start (top) and at the bottom bottom.
It’s done! The surface is very tacky within 10 to 15 seconds, and quite dry to the touch within minutes. Now it is time to inspect for missed parts, hairs, dust or dirt particles and so on. If any are present, you clean and start again.
Now I could see what Thomas Andrews was trying to achieve with this dial. What an impressive fine dial.
Next, the minute and hour hands are examined. There were three breaks in the delicately pierced hands which I silver soldered. The hands are then polished and blued. I use a relatively small 3” deep steel cooking tray filled with fine sand. It is placed over the same gas ring with the hands buried just below the surface of the sand. The sand ensures an even temperature over the full length of the hands, all parts being heated and blued evenly. It is necessary to inspect the hands to follow the bluing process. The color needs to be deep blue. Once this level has been reached, the hands are quickly removed and quenched in cold water. I dry the hands then apply a thin coating of oil or grease to prevent rusting. It is also possible to lacquer the hands, but I tend not too. All of the hands including the hour, minute, and the three matching subsidiary dial hands, are believed to be original to the clock. They are certainly contemporary in style and date to the clock.
Having completed the dial it is fitted to the movement and then left running on the test stand. The performance is very well indeed.
The case was restored in the Vancouver workshops of Brian Dedora, a colleague and gilder who trained at the Isaac Galleries in Toronto under the direction of William Kurulek, a prominent artist, gilder and frame maker. My contribution here was to provide some supporting clock history and a few books illustrating cartel clocks. I also photographed and discussed the various stages of the restoration process.
The following summary and restoration process was provided by Brian:
“All restorations have their own rhythms, their own set of problems and their own solutions if one looks and observes closely enough. All restorations also contain what I have come to call crossroads. These are those places in the ongoing process of any project that demands a decision about what direction to follow in terms of the piece itself. What is dealt to the restorer by the object, i.e. previous restorations, repairs and touch-ups, plus outside considerations such as material supply, budget, and knowledge through experience. The restoration of this particular clock case has been a delight in both its demands and our ability to meet those demands with skill and ingenuity”.
The case had an overall brown washed appearance, many areas of desiccated gesso were showing white and exposed. Previous cracks had been badly and over generously in-filled. The surface was badly cracked between the central drum and the outer scroll work. The top mounted bird had broken off, most of the head was missing as well as part of one wing.
The main body which was made up from blocks of wood, built up in layers like bricks, was surprisingly very sound and showing no great warpage or movement.
A heavy brass wire and linen had been used, over earlier gilding, to reinforce and strengthen the case. This earlier restoration had been instrumental to the structural longevity of the case. The wire was held in place by glue soaked linen. Since there was gold under the linen, this reinforcement was certainly a later addition.
Cleaning small test areas with cotton swabs indicated that the brown wash was removable with water. Water however had no effect on the gilded areas, suggesting that the clock case had previously been oil gilded. Alcohol and lacquer reducer had no effect on the wash. The entire case was therefore washed down with distilled water.
The drum shaped body built of blocks, was glued together with hoof glue. While the main body was sound, there had been slight movement causing hollows between the blocks and the gesso. This was easily detectable with slight tapping with an agate burnisher. At the top of each hollow a 1/16” hole was drilled and hot rabbit-skin glue was injected using a syringe until the glue bled through to the interior.
This process was continued for more than a week, allowing for drying time in between. Drying was controlled to a slow rate by keeping the temperature just below room temperature. Totally, 12 ounces of stock rabbit-skin glue solution was absorbed into the hollows.
Organic glues retain the properties from which they were derived. Hard and durable with hoof glue, and, expandable and elastic with skin glue. Rabbit-skin glue was chosen for the hollows so as to allow some small future movement.
The cracks on the outer drum were cleaned of previous in-filling. The cracks were then in-filled with gesso paste and smoothed to the existing plane. Chips and the loose and desiccated gesso was taken down to the bare wood round the foliate and scroll work. Where there were joints, these were wrapped in glue soaked filter paper for reinforcement. All was then in-filled with gesso paste and smoothed. Where necessary, some re-carving was needed to conform to the surrounding patterns.
The lower scrolls had previously been in-filled to such an extent that any trace of previous carving was almost lost, they were lumpy and ungraceful. Removing the in-filling revealed both the original carving, and the heavy brass wire wrapped and stapled to the back of the outer scroll-work. All areas of repair were now painted with four coats of traditional rabbit-skin gesso and smoothed again.
The bird was missing most of its head and part of one wing. A new piece of wood was glued into place where the head should be. This was carved using illustrations from several books on the subject. Similarly, the missing part of the wing was carved and glued into place. The bird assembly was then re-attached to the case using the same glue, filter paper and gesso paste.
The head was fashioned by following the remains of the right hand wattle which gave the line to follow from the base of the bird. It was also realized that by looking at the head from the side, the overall design from the upturned crest to the down turned beak was essentially the “line of beauty”.
The areas of the new white gesso were covered with ochre bole and then dry smoothed with horse hair cloth. At this point we had a decision to make. Clocks of this period were usually water gilded. In earlier work, red bole was uncovered leading to the belief that the original clock was indeed water gilded over red bole as per tradition. However, the last restoration was re-laid with gesso over the original gilding, then laid with ochre bole and oil gilded.
Water gilding was both unadvisable, since the danger of warping was too great, and essentially impossible since to be able to water gild, the entire case would need to be stripped back to a continuously porous gesso surface. Oil gilding was decided.
To achieve as close a color match as possible to the original clock, Goldbeaters in the UK were contacted. Given its age and the clock’s description, a 23 ½ Karat gold was recommended as being the most appropriate. Since old gold leaf was thicker than today’s standard, triple weight gold was purchased.
The entire case was hand dragged with 4lb orange shellac, cut with alcohol and buffed. This will seal the underlying gesso and provide a surface for the application of 15 hour gold size. This was done three times. The case was divided into four sections, the drum, the foliate work, the scroll work and the bird. The procedure in each section was to apply size, wipe it down, then lay the loose leaf gold after allowing the size to set for 15 hours. The gold was tamped down at the time of laying, then buffed the following day. More than 400 sheets of gold were needed to complete this clock case.
The case was now allowed to dry over a period of five days before the application of a sealer and toner. The case was hung and spotlighted by removing toner so as to add highlights where it would normally be handled and dusted. The case restoration was now complete.
The movement and case were finally re-united then hung on our library wall. The restoration process had taken several months to complete. I do hope you agree that the results were well worth the effort, and that the restoration methods that were used were appropriate and sound.