The origins of the longcase clock are somewhat confused but it seems that they originated from the lantern clock. This type of clock had evolved from having a balance wheel escapement to the anchor escapement with a long pendulum and weights hanging underneath. When the anchor escapement was invented it was found to be a much better time keeper but due to the longer pendulum being exposed to the elements the idea of enclosing the movement, weights and pendulum inside a wooden case was thought of.
The 17th Century...
Almost all of these early clocks were of 30 hour duration but the 8 day and month duration longcase clocks followed very closely. There were even some made that were of year duration. These clocks are very rare and were made by the famous makers of the time such as Quare and Tompion who were working from the 1680’s. A number of longcase clocks by these makers are in the Royal collection.The first designs were very basic and were made for a purpose and not to be decorative in any way. Over time the designs evolved and the first recognisable longcase clocks were being made by makers like Edward East and Fromanteel during the 1670s. These cases were very slender in design, made principally of oak or pine and veneered in fruitwood which was then ebonised to create a black polished finish.
The first type of dial used for the longcase clock was the square brass dial (separate chapter ring and brass spandrels to the corners) used approximately between the 1670s to 1730. As more features were required the dials were made with an arch to the top (shallow at first) which would contain features such as strike/silent, phases of the moon, date and time regulation. Sometimes just the name of the maker was shown. The wood being used at this period was mainly walnut veneered oak, ebonised and marquetry.
The 18th Century...
During the 18th century the longcase clock became very popular not only in London but in the provincial areas. This resulted in many different kinds of styles and wood being used all over the country. Each area had their own case style which stayed with them into the 19th century. As the style of the cases progressed so did the dials and movements. Certain features on the dials were lost such as the half hour markings on the chapter ring, ringed winding holes etc. Around the 1740’s the use of mahogany started to become popular for use on longcase clock cases. Firstly it was made in the same way as the walnut case (the veneers and mouldings were crossbanded) but after time this was phased out. Mahogany virtually took over completely during the 1760s. Lacquered cases were also very popular throughout the 18th century. This was essentially an oak carcass painted with Oriental designs.
Around 1770 the first painted dial was introduced...
This became far more popular than the brass dial and by the early 1800s the painted dials had replaced the brass dial.
They principally followed the same format as the brass dial (Roman hours and Arabic minutes), but as time went by the Arabic minutes were reduced to only being used on the quarters and then by the 1840s only the Roman hours remained. Arabic hours were also used in the period 1790 to 1820.
Painted dials continued to be made in the arch and square format but there was also the addition of the round dial which was extensively used in Scotland and London. Towards the end of the 18th century there was a revival of the square dial being used in London by such makers as Vulliamy and Benjamin Gray. It seems that the square dial was used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in the provincial areas but for some unknown reason it was rarely used in London for a period of about 50 years during the 18th century.
We have therefore a period from approximately 1670 to 1870 when the longcase clock evolved. After this period longcase clocks were still manufactured but the style that was used was a reproduction of styles used in the previous 200 years.
There are many styles of longcase clocks that were used throughout this period in the United Kingdom.