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An Introduction To Antique Napoleon Hat Clocks

The ‘Napoleon Hat’, or more correctly, Tambour, mechanical mantel clock was first created in the early 1900s. So called because the shape of the case looks a little like the hat Napoleon Bonaparte famously wore, they were made in vast numbers until the 1950s, with a few still being made until the late 1960s. Typically, the case was of oak or sometimes mahogany veneer on thin ply, stained to various natural wood shades. The wood may be finished either with a varnish or a natural wax. Usually the dial was of silvered brass, with either Arabic or Roman numerals, surrounded by a bezel made of brass, but later clocks had chrome bezels. The mechanical movements were mainly of German manufacture, with a small number being made in England. Miniature versions are also available and these are often made from a solid block of timber, carved and drilled to accept a much smaller, round clockwork.

The full size clocks may be between 16 – 22 inches wide, with a height up to 13 inches, so they can make a very imposing display on your sideboard or mantel. They vary in style from quite plain to very ornate. There are three varieties of clockwork too, easily identified by the number of keyholes in the dial. The basic timepiece clockwork does not sound the hours, and has only one keyhole. The STRIKING clocks have two keyholes, and sound every hour and half hour on a coiled gong. The CHIMING clocks have three keyholes, and sound every hour and quarter hour on metal rods. Chiming clocks most often play the Westminster chime (that is, the same melody as Big Ben in Westminster, London) on 4 or 5 chime rods. More complex versions can be made to play the Whittington and St. Michael chimes, which require up to 9 chime rods. Note that a clock which does not gong or chime is properly called a TIMEPIECE, to distinguish it from a CLOCK, which commonly both tells the time, and announces the hours on a gong or chime. Commonly, these old clocks will use a pendulum to regulate the speed of the clockwork, but later models may use a balance wheel which, similar to the movement in a wristwatch, features a small escapement wheel which ‘ticks’ very fast. The original pendulum clocks have a heavy bob weight which oscillates at around 1 ‘tick-tock’ per second – very pleasing to the ear!

The miniature clockworks are wound from the back by means of a folding handle. Simply turn the handle clockwise until it will not turn any more. If the clock is in good order, it will now run for up to 36 hours. A full size Napoleon Hat clock in good running order will run for up to 8 days between winds. To wind the full size clocks, you must swing the hinged glass and bezel open to access the keyholes and insert the key into each keyhole in turn, turning clockwise until it will turn no more. The springs in these clocks are powerful, and will take a fair bit of effort to wind fully. The springs are designed to be wound completely on each occasion. Bear in mind that there is no such thing as an ‘overwound’ clock – THIS IS A MYTH. If a fully-wound clock does not run, then it is either broken, not set up properly, or in need of a service.

Although these Napoleon Hat clocks were made in huge numbers many have been lost over the years, so that they each have some rarity value. If you are lucky enough to own any one of these fine pieces, you can be sure that it will be a treasure to behold in future times!

Source by Don Brooks

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