Caring for an Antique Clock

True antiques are best left in the hands of expert conservators. September 16, 2008

How do you maintain antique furniture (1600's) like a grandfather clock that is finished with wax? Do you just wax on wax off, or is it more complicated than that? Would you use a buffer on a waxed dining table? Is Briwax suitable (contains toluene) or is there something better?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor P:
Personally, the value on an English long case clock from the 1600's could be such that I'd want it inspected by a conservator and would pay them to maintain it. If it's an American clock, it could be considerably more valuable. I don't imagine the finish needs any more maintenance than an occasional dusting. I can't imagine using a power buffer on an antique table would be a good idea.

From contributor C:
There were no clock companies in the American colonies from the early 1600's to the early 1700's. Any clocks present at that time were most likely brought to the New World by a few wealthy colonizers. They were probably clocks made in England, France, or Germany and would be lantern clocks or smaller, shelf type clocks. Tall clocks first started showing up in the colonies a little before 1700. Records have been found that show that Boston had a town clock by 1668, but it was most likely brought from England and installed there. In the late 1600's to the early 1700's, there were people calling themselves clockmakers, but there are no existing clocks that substantiate this claim, so my position on the subject is that they were clock repairman that worked on imported clocks that were brought here by the wealthy.

If the clock really is finished in wax and not varnish/shelac/sandrac/or other, it would be proper to do little to it - preservation techniques only and would be best accomplished by a conservator or C. technician. It may need wax but even if it does, your choice would most likely be limited to bee's wax or a conservatory wax such as a microcrystalline petroleum wax such as renaissance wax.

It sounds like your question is more of a what if than that you have such a clock in your possession? Electric/air buffer's are out of the question. On antique's it would be too easy for the heat to loosen veneer's/moldings/etc. Items such as you mention are handled with extreme delicacy. I'm hoping that your question is just one of curiosity and not one of having work needed of a customer's, as I have seen too many finisher's ruin .

From contributor P:

It's true that clock mechanisms were not made in America until sometime in the 1700's but there were several people making cases and using European mechanisms somewhere from the late 1680's to 1690's. A quick Google search will find that in 1685 long case clocks were imported from Europe and in 1695 there were several established clockmakers in New England.