The ramblings of an old horologist
 
 

Pay first, and then I’ll post


Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by horologica
 

Wow! That was some storm last month. Fortunately nowhere near as bad as 1987 though.

I’ve been happily helping collectors with clock parts and free advice for some years now and many leave very nice feedback comments without asking on the various online Directories that list me, and on Google+ too. Sometimes, I even post out parts at an agreed price but without charge until they are sure they can use them. Then when they’re happy, they can make PayPal donations or just post a cheque. Only once has anyone tried to beat me down on the cost of something afterwards and I blogged on that occasion (see Joe). But last month there was another hiccup that caused me to think that I should really be getting the funds in before sending the goods out. It’s not the money (usually, it’s too small a sum to worry about) but I give my time and advice freely to help people and I don’t like it when they try to take advantage of me.

A couple of months ago someone emailed me to tell me that he’d damaged his Hermle clock and asking if I could get the parts. What he needed was a suspension spring and I happened to have a new movement of a similar type. It cost me over £200 so I offered him the new spring for £10. That’s great, he said, telling me about some other clocks that he would like me to fix, too. He then asked for a second part for the same clock, which he’d previously tried to solder back together. His description was very vague and by now we’d exchanged a dozen friendly emails so I rang him to clarify what exactly he needed. It turned out to be a pendulum leader and I quoted £30 for a new one as I could take it off the same spare movement. I also said that based on what he had told me a third part (the back cock) did not sound safe as the pendulum hanger, which is riveted in place, was loose and so could drop out. I took this part from the same new Hermle movement and sent him all three items first class the same day, telling him to return anything he didn’t want to keep. With the back cock (£10), the total would come to £50 but I gave him the option of returning anything he couldn’t use and paying me for the rest. Well they fitted and he installed them, so within 48 hours the clock was running perfectly again.

Two weeks later, with no payment or returns, I reminded him and he said he’d since found the parts on eBay and offered me £15. When I suggested he buy those instead and return mine, he explained that he couldn’t as he’d already sprayed them silver to match the clock. So in spite of not paying, he’d treated them as his own. Without my guidance and experience (and free advice) he would not have known what to search eBay for so I was pretty miffed. He then ordered new ones from two different Ebayers in the US and said he would have them sent to me direct. It turned out that with postage, this penny-pincher had saved all of £5 but he had’t considered the imposition of import duty and VAT on arrival (or the collection fees for these taxes, imposed by the international courier). Or indeed that they simply might not turn up. That was eight weeks ago and there’s still no sign of the replacement parts. Maybe the address he gave them was inadequate for delivery to me because as I explain on my website, it’s incomplete and nothing is to be sent without asking me first. It maybe there was Customs duty and VAT to add on import; maybe the US sellers just took his cash and never bothered posting them. I may never know but after providing a first class service, I’m out of pocket.

Frankly life’s too short too become too irritated by toe rags like this – fortunately, he’s only the second in four years or more so I can live with it. I just thank myself lucky that I didn’t accept the other two much bigger projects from him.

I suppose I really should insist on payment upfront in future but I still like to think that on the whole people who share my appreciation of clocks are trustworthy folk. And after all’s said and done, this is only a spare time hobby – if it costs me a few quid now and then, it still a whole lot cheaper than golf membership. I will be a little more cautious next time though. I’m not a religious person but I do believe that what goes around, comes around so I don’t expect to bump into him in the afterlife.

Fireworks have been going off round here for about two weeks now; they’ll be a lull soon and then as Christmas and the New Year approach, they’ll be more.


 
 
 

One year on…


Posted on: October 29th, 2013 by horologica
 

Well, it’s almost a year since I blogged on this site, but what a year it’s been. Another family death, three holidays, two will trusts to administer, renovation work around the house, a serious birthday party; I never seem to have enough time. To anyone who regularly reads these blogs, my apologies.

With antique clocks still enjoying a good following, I had two sad enquiries this month reflecting the current market conditions. Both were from collectors, both were for replacement glass in clocks and both involved antique dial clocks. One was in the UK and another in Belgium. One was 14in diameter and one 10in. What put me on alert immediately is that both said the original glass was bevel-edge. Now if you’ve missed my pages on Dial Clocks and the links in those pages, you may not know that the vast majority of dial clocks had flat plain glass fitted. Some earlier ones had a convex shaped but I’ve not seen one with bevelled glass fitted as standard – that’s not to say they don’t exist (I know a dealer who has one for sale and I would not doubt his integrity) but they are most unusual so I asked a few more questions: On what side of the brass bezel is the hinge?; was anything historic written on the dial to link it to the War Department or the Railways?; are the hands brass or blued steel?

The answers came back and I had to impart the sad news; the clocks were both recent imports from China or India, aged to look antique to fool the casual collector. They were fakes.

If you want to know more about the tide of fake antiques arriving in the UK, use the search bar on my Home page to look for “fake”. And beware; not only of clocks so cheap they seem too good to be true, but of any clock at any price if the seller does not have a good history.

More soon. Meanwhile, watch out for ghouls and ghosts on Hallow’een


 
 
 

Never-ending tragedies, fake Britain and a new book


Posted on: October 23rd, 2012 by horologica
 

The past 12 months have been unprecedented for me. A very close and dear friend died at 62 a year ago this month and then in February my father died. In May my cousin of 58 died and a month later another good friend aged just 50 lost her short battle with liver cancer. Then just last month my wife’s mother died so this month’s blog is dedicated to her, a wonderful, spirited woman – just like her daughter.

So to anyone reading this who left a clock with me earlier this year, I apologise if it’s taking longer than I suggested. On the days when I have had some spare time, I’ve just had more pressing things to deal with.

Earlier this month I had a call from the maker’s of the TV series “Fake Britain”. Researcher Emma called me after reading my articles on fake carriage clocks and fake dial clocks, asking more about them and how they were affecting the trade. She was particularly interested in interviewing one of my customers to find out how they felt on discovering they had bought a fake antique. Seems a rather bizarre interview but the customer agreed so I put them in touch with one another. It’s hard to see how you could make a 30 minute programme from that so my guess is that if it does proceed, all forms of antiques will be included. If it does get aired and you happen to see it, please let me know.

I bought another book this month, actually two books, called “Clock and Watch Companies 1700 to 2000″ by Steven Mallory. A very heavy, two-volume hardback with about 875 pages, it’s incredible value at 100 bucks not just because of the production quality (it’s printed in China) but also because the detail about each maker is very well researched; not surprisingly given that Mallory’s horological hobby spans some 30 years. Reading it, you would think that American makers outnumber the rest of the world (Chas Frodsham doesn’t even get a mention!)  but Mallory’s from California so you can take that with a pinch of salt.

It makes a good companion to the trusty and recently re-published Trademark Index by Karl Kochmann on European makers though. But only if you’re a keen American clock enthusiast and your interest extends beyond Ansonia and Seth Thomas.


 
 
 

Mastering search engine optimisation


Posted on: September 3rd, 2012 by horologica
 

I’m taking a break from horology in this month’s blog. Variety is the spice of life!

When I began writing this site I had no idea what ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO) was. I’d never even heard of it but for the poorly-informed it’s the technique for getting your website in front of as many potentially interested people as possible.

No one helped me when the site was in its infancy. I had to sift through the techniques I found and believe me there’s a whole industry out there ready to take your cash for doing very little. Some want your money for doing nothing at all and make rediculous promises that cannot possibly be achieved since Google began introducing ever-complex algorithms to ensure that sites cannot buy their way up the ranking (unless they pay Google direct of course in terms of advertising and pay-by-click services). On that note a chap phoned me last month from Manchester asking for £230 to renew my annual “Google subscription”. My what? I asked, disbelievingly. He explained to me that if I wanted to remain prominent on the Google search engine, I had to pay the subscription and that if I didn’t renew I would drop off the rankings. What rubbish! I just wonder how many people running a business fall for this scam.

There are many methods of improving a website’s rankings but they all take time to work. Horologica.co.uk now gets around 2,250 new visitors a month and nearly 6,000 page hits. People from the UK make up the lion’s share, which is how I planned the strategy but there are still hundreds of overseas visitors every week from the US, Canada, Australia, India, and all over Europe of course. I’ve even had visitors from New Zealand, Brazil, Vietnam, China, South Africa, Kenya, Argentina, Guatemala, Bolivia, the UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Belarus, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan. It’s not because of secret hidden coding that these visitors found the website out of the many trillions in existence the world over, nor because I’ve paid someone to promote it – in fact, I’ve never paid anyone a penny, ever; it’s way too much fun doing it yourself! No, it’s because the site is genuine, interesting and liked by the people reading it. It meets their needs and expectations.

SEO comprises a great many tools, far more than I’ve discovered and more than I can begin to understand. But once you’ve got to the first page of Google,  it becomes an obsession to try and get to the number one position there. Now, I’ve never been into social networks like Facebook and Twitter at all really (I can’t see why you would want to tell the world all about your day, or why anyone would be interested anyway). But social networking has become a big marketing tool and it’s free so I’ve just  added a Facebook LIKE button to the pages of my site to see what impact it has, if any. There’s one below – if you’re on Facebook yourself, please click on it!

Don’t forget, the clocks go back on 28th October (it’s only in the UK though,  so don’t worry if you happen to be reading this in Seoul!).


 
 
 

Lenny brings me a fake


Posted on: August 7th, 2012 by horologica
 

Well it’s already August and it’s still raining as I write this.

A few years ago I noticed a sharp increase in the number of dial and drop dial clocks appearing on a certain online auction site, all with the same odd features that simply weren’t ‘right’. Hinges on the left, bevelled glass and impressive names on dials were just three common features; I also saw that many were being sold from Lancashire.

I did a bit of research, saved images to make closer comparisons and eventually came to the conclusion that they were all fakes (deliberately aged to deceive). The one thing that left no doubt about this was that they nearly all had the same serial number ‘6472 London’ stamped on the backplate. It all seemed to quieten down after a year or two but a couple of months back I stumbled upon this research again and added a new page to my website  to warn others.

Recently, someone finally brought me a fusee drop dial clock to repair that he bought three years ago for £500 believing it to be an antique, and this enabled me to impress the owner by telling him the serial number before I’d even looked at it. It also allowed me to make a closer study of one of these fakes first hand.

Sure enough, the hinge is on the left, it has bevelled glass and a posh sounding name on the dial (for somewhere that doesn’t exist). This is a drop dial with a large glazed aperture under the dial which was a bit unusual but still very collectible, if genuine, because it has a small 8in dial. However, it has the same movement found in 12in dial clocks so it’s probably in a drop dial case just so that the standard length pendulum has room to swing. It has the ubiquitous 6472 London stamp on the backplate which is such a giveaway that you wonder why the forgers don’t vary it a bit.  I suspect that they made up a single punch so that they would only have to stamp it once instead of using several punches for different numbers as the originals had.

The brasswork is typically poorly cast which helps deceive as it looks (and probably is) hand done, but not by a craftsman. Clearly it was made somewhere where labour is cheap and brass is plentiful. This makes me think of India or China. This particular one has a missing component, the fusee stopwork. And that’s why it failed and ended up with me – the cable had broken when it was overwound.

Now in most fusee dial clock that I have repaired, the cable (or more often the gut) is held in the fusee with a simple knot. But this one had a circular disc (of cast base metal) on the end that was such a tight fit in the hole that I had to drill it out. The cable was thinner than normal and it all reminded me of the inner cable you used to see on a bicycle brake lever. I bet that was the source.

I offered to make up a new fusee stopwork assembly but the owner chose not to go to that expense. I don’t blame hime but the clock is now running again and he’s still pleased with it despite having paid way over the odds for it. So if you’re thinking of getting a dial clock, check out the tell tale signs first, especially the serial number. Then, no matter how cheap it seems, walk away.


 
 
 

Kindred spirits – a dedication


Posted on: July 9th, 2012 by horologica
 

Followers of this blog will have noticed the long absence of any material in recent months. Well, life’s dealt a few bitter blows this year in what has become my annus horribilus, taking my mind off the blogging and indeed clocks generally.

My father’s pendulum stopped swinging in February. He’d been taken ill in early January and was rushed to A&E with stomach pains. As it turned out, it wasn’t that serious an ailment but as a centenerian, he had become a little frail and the upheaval was distressing for him. It was completely alien to him as he was fit enough to mow the lawn every week, paint a neighbour’s fence and even climb over the side wall (which is taller than him) when he locked himself out. He had looked after the house unaided for seven years but after about ten days in Colchester hospital, he was discharged because they needed the bed. He was too unwell to return home to fend for himself so I found him a care home for two weeks expecting him to recover his strength. Sadly, he never improved much at all, refusing food almost every day. Five weeks after his arrival there, he suffered a heart attack and died two days later in hospital so this blog is dedicated to him.

The usual matters of the funeral, execution of the Will, and Probate followed and during this time my own health came under closer scrutiny. I had not been right for months but it was now much worse and despites all manner of scans and blood tests, the different consultants could not reach a diagnosis. It eventually turned out to be an autoimmune disease, and has been brought under control with a cocktail of medication.

Then in May my cousin died unexpectedly, alone at home in his bed. He was just 58, though he had already retired. We had drifted apart since childhood as we made our different ways in life and often joked in recent years that we saw more of each other at funerals these days. But it still came as a shock at what was already a difficult time for me.

Hence, I have spent very little time repairing clocks these past few months and apologise to those whom I have kept waiting as a consequence and to those whom I have refused altogether or put in what must seem like a never-ending queue. I’ve just taken some time off in the sun to recuperate and am now back to deal with the next problem, whatever it might be.

So life’s been like that assorted boxed selection of chocolates just lately; I just don’t know what to expect next*

By the way, has anyone noticed that these blog titles are in alphabetical order?

Monthly blogs will resume next month.

* EDIT – And so it goes on – a lovely local friend lost her short battle with cancer in the early hours of this morning. Julie was just 50 years old. RIP 18/07/2012


 
 
 

Joe, my first dissatisfied clock owner


Posted on: November 11th, 2011 by horologica
 

Firstly, apologies for no blogs in September and October; a very dear friend was gravely ill and my spare time was very limited so very little clock repairing was possible. She passed away a few weeks ago, age 63, after losing a ten year cancer battle.

This month brought my first ever disgruntled clock owner. I thought my website made it very clear that clock repairing is just a hobby, something I do in my spare time, and that if a fast repair is needed it’s best to look elsewhere. In return, I charge almost nothing to save moribund clocks from the graveyard because I enjoy breathing new life into them and seeing the faces of the owners when the get them back afterwards, working properly again. I almost never take anything by way of a deposit, funding all the costs of a repair myself.  Maybe I’m just ‘old school’ but I do helping people without trying to take advantage all the time.

So this grandaughter clock came to me for a repair in February – a three train 1920’s German factory movement; the sort of thing it’s difficult to get too excited about. It had sat somewhere not working for over five years until someone finally decided to get it fixed and as I was cheaper than anyone else they could find, it came to me.

Well it was full of cobwebs, dried up oil and dirt and I have quite a few other clocks to finish first so it sat in the corner for weeks undergoing tests while still in the case to see what adjustments would be required. Eventually I took the movement out and cleaned it and then tested it. After that I updated the owner who suggested I hold onto it for a while longer to make sure it runs to time.

By October I was confident that it would be reliable but it was another month before the owner finally collected it. In an email just before coming he said my charges represented good value but he wanted a discount because it had ‘taken an extraordinary amount of time for the clock to be fixed’.  Well, I don’t do discounts because there’s no profit in this for me to discount. Every penny is spent of cleaning fluids, maintaining the website, replacing and repairing tools, maintaining the lathes and other equipment, and so on. And I don’t do haggling either because my rates are way below anyone else and I don’t need the hassle of dealing with people who are always looking for something for next to nothing.

Given that the clock had sat uncared for for five years or more, hadn’t been serviced for even longer and even sat here for a month waiting to be collected after it was ready, and that the owner knew at the outset that horology is just a spare time hobby, this appeal for a discount all sounded a little disingenuous so I simply suggested he accept it as a gift.

He did. Not even an attempt to make some contribution to my costs when he eventually collected it. No mention of it at all.  Evidently, not everyone went to my ‘old school’.


 
 
 

Inside St Stephen’s Tower hangs Big Ben


Posted on: August 21st, 2011 by horologica
 

I’d been trying to arrange a visit to the Palace of Westminster for four years; applications must be made through your local MP but mine had never replied. This year I tried again and finally got to see inside the clock tower on my birthday. It’s well worth a visit, whether you’re interested in clocks or just London’s colourful history.

There’s a lot of detail and data on my Big Ben page (see the photo link on my Home page) and you can get more from the official Parliament website. But what I want to do here is to explain what you can expect. The tour begins in Portcullis House opposite the tower (nearest tube: Westminster). After the issue of a photo ID card, a bag scan and body search you’ll wait in the foyer surrounded by a good many Police wearing side arms and carrying fully automatic weapons.

The guide then arrives and explains that there are 334 concrete steps to the top and asks about any high blood pressure, pregnancies, surgical operations and other conditions that could restrict you, before crossing under the road to the Tower. The climb then begins and it’s not for the feint-hearted but with a couple of pauses along the way, it’s not too bad and on the way you’ll hear the bells chime the half hour.

At the first resting point, the guide will give a background history for about ten minutes in the unofficial Prison Room used to detain naughty MPs. If you wish, you can leave excess baggage here before continuing upwards until you reach the clock movement where you’ll hear tales of pennies, tragedies, and tireless clock-keepers who still wind the going train by hand three times a week. You’ll also get a glimpse of the dials outside through small windows and watch/hear the clock chime the third quarter. The loud clicking sound afterwards is the fly (air brake) on the chime train slowing down on its ratchet. A ratchet was fitted after it broke and sent the tonne weight to the ground in record time, while causing the wheels to fly across the room in what, at the time, was thought to be an explosion that warranted to attendence of the Bomb Squad.

Further up and you’ll eventually find yourself in the open bell tower where you’ll use ear plugs to control the deafening sound of the five bells as the four quarters sound and the hours are counted on Big Ben itself.  Note that this is BB2 as the first bell never made it to the top because it cracked after testing and was destroyed to make the new lighter bell (which also cracked under test but was repaired). On a good day, the views across London are fantastic; on a bad day, it’s wet and windy so take a jacket.

Then it’s back down to the previous level to walk round (and touch) the insides of the four glass dials when you’ll hear the first quarter chime again before returning to the Prison Room to hear more about the naming of the bell and other historic anecdotes. Finally, you’ll descend to ground level again, the whole tour taking around an hour and a half.

There’s no lift, and there’s no cafe or other place for refreshment in Portcullis House so have something to eat and drink before you arrive. And remember that photography is no longer permitted anywhere during the tour.

To arrange a tour contact your MP via http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/bigben/


 
 
 

Hobson’s choice! Lucky ol’ Faust.


Posted on: August 3rd, 2011 by horologica
 

With apologies for a somewhat late July blog.

This month left me faced with a double-dilemma.

A chap sent me a brass carriage clock with a common enough French movement fitted. The case top was dented, the front and side glasses chipped and a screw had been fitted to the back door to replace the usual turned brass knob that had long since disappeared.

If that wasn’t enough, there was the usual problem – it didn’t work either. Only this time the clock was accompanied by a request is to fit a new quartz movement.

Well, I took a look at the existing movement and the all-important lever escapement looked like it could be persuaded to run so here’s my first dilemma; do I offer to dismantle, service and clean the antique inheritance, or do I simply remove a perfectly restorable antique movement and fit a new battery quartz movement instead?

I trembled at the thought of chucking in a nice plastic box and battery so I asked the owner if he would consider a repair instead. His wife, who inherited the clock from her father apparently liked the sound of getting the original one ticking again, he replied. So that was me out of an horological hole – I am now to restore it and my horological soul remains intact.

But it doesn’t. Soon afterwards the client emailed again to say that he didn’t really want it restored so could I just say it can’t be done and fit the quartz movement anyway. Dilemma number two. Can I come between a man and his wife and join in a conspiracy with one to help deceive the other?

I’d managed to sidestep the risk of selling my soul only to find myself in the worse position of selling my concience instead.

Faust had it easy.


 
 
 

Good tip – but does it work?


Posted on: June 30th, 2011 by horologica
 

Sorry about last month’s omission, followers. I took a breather in May and went on holiday. But I’m back for June.

Now, when I clean a clock movement, I tend to do it the old-fashioned way using a warm, mild ammonia solution. To speed thing up a bit I use ultrasonic tanks which create tiny bubbles that burst when they come into contact with the parts through a process known as cavitation. This action shakes all the dirt loose.

The tanks cost £550 for the smaller one and £1,600 for the big one so I was really surprised to find on a certain online auction site a product that claims to do the same for £15. Just place the special sheet of metal in the bottom of a sink, pour two heaped tablespoons of ordinary washing soda onto it, add very hot water to it to dissolve the soda and then place the tarnished items on top so that they make contact with the metal sheet. Then, hey presto! Fifteen seconds later, remove the item and rinse in soapy water and dry. All the dirt from your clock has magically transferred to the metal plate so just rinse that next with some sudsy water under the hot tap and put it away for next time.

If this works, it’s gonna make ultrasonic tanks look positively slow and sales of Horolene will plummet.

Well, it seems it might actually work! But a bit of Googling reveals that the process is supposed to be for silver items, not brass clock parts. The oxidisation of silver (the tarnish) is black sulphide and all you need is some clean aluminium foil and bicarbonate of soda (common baking powder). If you did chemistry at school, you’ll probably this equation:

2Al(s) + 3Ag2S(s) + 6H2O -> 6Ag(s) + 2Al2(OH)3(s) + 3H2S(aq)

If you don’t remember it, try this: Pour some warm water into a container [6H2O], add a couple of spoonfuls of the baking powder [3Ag2S(s)] and finally in goes the foil [2Al(s)] . Place the silver items into the solution in contact with the foil and then remove after ten or fifteen seconds and rinse it off. Job done!

Now I haven’t tried this yet as all out cutlery is dishwasher-safe stainless steel. But if yours is silver, try it and tell me what you think. But if the spoons dissolve or disintegrate, don’t blame me; blame Wikipedia.

See you in July.