Why am I buying non-functional clocks?

Folks following my twitters, which appear conveniently on the left side of my web page, will possibly have noted that I mentioned buying some “broken” clocks.

I’ve won two of the “broken clock” ebay auctions I’ve bid on: I may live to regret this…

I’ve actually won five out of five auctions, achieving my objective of establishing a collection of various abused antique timepieces. Why would any sane person want broken clocks? Your first mistake is use of the word “sane” in reference to me. But I’ll try my best to explain what is going on here, since there is some logic to what I’m doing.

As I said some time ago in my post about the Atmos clock I had acquired, I like old-style mechanical clocks and watches. I’m not fascinated by their value, or their age, or even the materials they are made out of, although all of these things are factors in my interest. No, what really gets me going are the mechanisms themselves. How do they work? What makes them go, and what keeps them going? How can something made without benefit of computers and advanced engineering keep accurate time over days or weeks? And when they stop working, what is happening inside to cause the malfunction?

In a lot of ways, my interest in clocks is very similar to my interest in computers. I like the detail and precision, the raw logic of the mechanism, coupled with the craft involved in the process. Yes, there is craft involved in computer support: my hackles rise whenever some ivory tower pundit claims computing science is pure “math”. I may not understand it now, but I know it *can* be understood, and to varying degrees mastered. With a clock mechanism, unlike with computers, there is something much more physical and real. What really matters is more clear: does the clock work? Will it continue to work, and work well, for an extended time? I think it is that physicality which appeals to me now in my middle age, as my work with computers becomes more about politics and perception than about reality.

I had a lot of fun figuring out how to get my antique clock running after shipment. That wasn’t “repair”, but it did introduce me to some of the concepts involved in pendulum clocks, and I found I wanted to know more. And I really feel a sense of satisfaction every time the clock (correctly!) rings the hour, knowing that it does so because of work I performed. So I did some research, learned a bit about formal training, and decided I’d like to start with some self-directed education. I then found a reasonable (I think) “how to repair” course on DVD- but it seemed to me I should probably have a few clocks to work on while I complete that course.

That all leads to my current situation, wherein I have successfully bid on five old/antique clocks in various states of disrepair on eBay. If I wanted to be truly “economical”, I would be shopping at estate sales and auctions: I suspect I’m paying a 50-100% premium through eBay. However, my average expenditure per dysfunctional time piece comes in at about $150, which is within the budgetary realm I set. The advantage to eBay is that I can (and did) get five clocks picked out in one day: I’d spend weeks at auctions trying to accomplish the same thing.

Why five clocks and not three, or twelve? Well, it seemed like a reasonable number: I’m expecting each clock will occupy me for one to two months as I figure it out. Five is enough that I might reasonably expect the better part of a year worth of “fun” out of the investment, and is also enough that if one or two turn out to be beyond my capability, I still have a couple of others to work on. They are all mantle clocks, and four of the five are pendulum clocks from the 1870-1930 era. The collection includes two Ingraham, one Junghans, and one Ansonia: all of these are makers I’ve heard of and which should be reasonably easy for me to source parts for if required. The fifth clock is a cast iron oddity that I *think* is of a more recent vintage, but I’ll find out once I get a better look at it. I don’t expect to actually start receiving shipments until the end of the month.

My intent is to learn now to disassemble, clean, and re-assemble each clock. At least one of the clocks has some case (wood) finish related problems I want to overcome- specifically, removing gold spray paint slathered on a 100 year old walnut-cased Ingraham. That same clock also has a broken pendulum suspension, which I’m looking forward to figuring out. None of the clocks are so far gone as to be “impossible” (I hope): at least one of the clocks supposedly still runs. But all of them are bad enough off and common enough (i.e.: not some extremely rare museum piece) that I don’t feel like I’m certain to be making them worse.

Once I’m done and they are working, my intent is to re-auction them with the objective of selling them for the same price as I bought them for. I’m not going to lie about how they were restored, nor am I trying to make a “profit” (although of course that would be nice). This is an educational exercise, partly to see if my interest in clock repair holds out through several cycles- I expect the process to cost some money. If my interest holds out over time I’ll repeat the exercise, hopefully having learned enough to make more intelligent choices in the future.

And if I *really* like clock repair, I might one day take some formal training- maybe when I retire, since it takes a year (two if you want training on watches as well), requires travel to the U.S., and costs several tens of thousands of dollars. In the mean time, I’m really not spending much more than someone might on a hobby like rug hooking or photography.

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