Sunday, February 01, 2015


I went to an auction yesterday. The star attraction for me was a stunning French Comtoise longcase clock. I was really hoping I'd be able to take it home. Sadly, I was outbid on it, but I still wanted to share some of the auction items, and my two purchases.

First off, the star of the show, and the only reason that I dragged myself out of bed at 7am on a Saturday, the longcase. This is a French longcase clock along with its original grain-painted case. The clock dates from around 1860-1870, and it was in fairly decent condition.

The case on it was pretty warped, very flimsy, and thin, but I've been told that they are all made this way. It's sort of like a fragile house of cards holding up a 30Lb movement. The grain painting and surface decorations were absolutely wonderful, and in excellent shape. The dial and pendulum were also beautifully painted (in the original paint) and in great shape. These are just thin stamped brass, and they get damaged very easily.

Some of the problems with the clock, however, were not going to be easy fixes. One of the major problems was that the original hinges of the trunk door were broken away. This means that there are chunks of wood missing from the door, and that some of the original hardware is now missing. The way these hinges work was basically just an eye bolt, with "L" shaped bent wires sticking out of the case body. These are very simple hinges, and you can just lift-off the doors if you need to.

Other small issues were that some of the boards on it were severely warped, like the left upper panel shown above. There was also a deep crack through the right side of the case which would have been impossible to repair. The clock also has no key, which is usually a very large crank. You can buy new ones, but old original keys are always much better.

I was willing to pay quite a bit for this clock, but nothing crazy. I had told myself 600$ max, but when it came up for sale, I bid up to 650$, and lost to a bidder who got it for 700$. I was pretty bummed out after that.

The last detail I'll mention about the clock before I move on, is that it was much taller in person than I had expected. I'm 6' tall, and I think the dial bottom was at about my height. The clock was probably a little over 7 feet tall.

At the auction there was also another longcase clock, an Art Deco style German one probably from around 1900-1930.

I wasn't really interested in this one, because I'm not a super big fan of Art Deco, and I don't think I'd like having this huge piece of furniture that I didn't absolutely love. It sold pretty cheap at 130$ to an antiques reseller (I spoke to him later on). It wasn't until after the auction was over that I truly realized how terrible the condition of this clock was. The man who bought it was trying to move it onto a dolly, and the entire top part of it was loose and broken from the rest. You could see screws into the wood that had been added (and that weren't holding it together anymore). I also noticed that the top door hinge had broken right through the wood side of the door and it had been very poorly reglued, and there was also a break in the wood case behind the hood door. On top of all this, I also saw that the two lock plates on the case looked like they were missing, so even though the locks and key were still there, you couldn't keep the doors shut. It also had just general problems visible from the start, like the chipped upper crown, and loose mouldings everywhere. Besides all this, the veneer on this clock was ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. I'm not even sure if it was burled walnut, or some other burled wood, but it was some of the nicest cuts I've seen on any similar clock (which is saying a lot). Even the sides were just as nice as the front (a lot of clocks and veneered furniture use cheaper or plainer veneers on the sides).

There were several other mantle clocks at the sale, but only two were worth photographing. This first one was a mint condition Seth Thomas "Black Mantle Clock". I don't know what model it was, but it had a Seth Thomas label on the back, and the plates were stamped ST, so it was all original. A lot of these clocks have been heavily refinished, so it's always nice to see original ones like this in good shape. I bid on it, but I wasn't willing to go over 100$ on it. Some are selling for much, much less on eBay these days. I think it sold for 120$ or 130$.

Another Art Deco piece. This one was a Perivale Westminster chime clock, from the UK. I'm told that it's not the best brand to look for if you want a Westminster clock. I think it sold for 75$. IT was in very good shape, and it ran, because it started up during the auction and kept ringing during the day. So did the Seth Thomas, actually.

Some of the furniture went for absolutely nothing. A lot of items went for very low prices, while others went for way too much. This gorgeous Victorian settee went for only 50$.

This painted cupboard was one of the few items that actually went for a semi-decent price. The auctioneer started at 1200$, but it ended up selling for only 500$ and no one else bidding. It was a really beautiful piece. From the photo I had thought it might be a fake, but I opened it up to look at it, and it was the real thing.

This was another item that almost had me in tears for what it brought. A gorgeous pine bonnet chest, roughly 1850s, old crackle paint, but rotted/broken front feet (not hard to replace). Dovetailed drawers. Gorgeous piece of furniture. 50$. If I'd have had a truck, or a place to put it, I'd have bought it.

This piece was interesting. There was a bunch of stuff on it, so I couldn't open it to look inside, but it looked a lot like a VERY old Quebec blanket chest. Some of these are as old as the 1700s, but again, it's hard to say for sure. I think it had missing mouldings around the top. It sold for 75$.

The last piece that almost had me crying was this MASSIVE bookcase unit.

According to the auctioneer, one of the people there said they knew where this cabinet came from. Somewhere local and it was either a built-in or from a store display. In either case, the piece was probably close to 10 feet wide, and it had been propped up on an odd looking base. I would have taken that off, and put 6 bun feet under it as a low bookcase cabinet. All it needed was a few new pieces of glass. It sold for only 150$. Just for comparison, it would probably cost 200-400$ just to build a copy of ONE of those doors.

So finally we come to my purchases. I was so bummed that I hadn't managed to buy the clock or anything else (and I wasted the entire day there: 9am-4pm) that when the auction was close to wrapping up, they asked the rest of us if there were any specific items they wanted us to bring up. I had been waiting for 2 specific oil lamps, so I got one of the guys to bring them out.

The first one, and the one I wanted the most, as a black marble 1860s coal oil lamp with a wheel cut font. I had one other bidder against me but I got it for 45$ (less than what I've paid for some of my other lamps).

The other one was this early 1850s flint glass "bulb" or ringed/beehive lamp.

I got it for 30$. Note that the burner and chimney that are on it are NOT original. They are much too "top heavy" for the lamp, since the lamp was meant for whale oil.

Both lamps were FILTHY, especially the black marble one. It still had coal oil in it (which smells like roofing tar), and I think it has never been cleaned. The patina on the brass is some of the heaviest I've ever seen (which is nice - and very difficult to fake, btw). All of the engraving was also deeply embedded with grime.

Both lamps after cleaning, and the short lamp with the correct burner.

I spent about half an hour cleaning this lamp. I did not polish any of the brass on it (because it looks amazing like this), but I did wash it. I actually took the entire lamp apart to clean it. The entire bottom is held together with a bolt in the marble base. I scrubbed all the nooks and crannies in the engravings with Comet and an old toothbrush. The inside was also a bit of a challenge to clean. I had to use the toothbrush, a paintbrush, and my fingers to reach all the spots, but now it's spotlessly clean.

The engravings show up especially well when it's backlit.

The last thing I want to mention, is that the incorrect burner and chimney from the bulb lamp were a perfect fit for my white marble lamp that was missing these parts. I had been looking on eBay for a burner and chimney, but it would have cost a lot more than the 30$ I paid for the bulb lamp, so really, it was almost free.