Q. This clock has been keeping time in our home for 30 years. The year 1883 is stamped into the thin metal frame near the Roman numeral IIII on the clock face. The porcelain face is marked, "Vieille, a la Montagne." The clock strikes the hour on the hour and again two minutes after the hour, and strikes once on the half-hour. Can you give us any information?
A. Your 1883 clock is a Morbier clock, named after the village of Morbier, France, where it was made. Morbier clocks were made from about 1750 to 1900. Some were tall-case clocks and others, like yours, were "wag-on-the-wall" clocks with exposed weights and pendulum. They were often made with a "prayer repeat" chime, like yours. The words on your clock face most likely refer to the retailer who originally sold your clock, not to a clockmaker. Historians have several theories about why many clockmakers used the Roman numeral IIII instead of IV. One theory is that IIII gives more symmetry and balance to the dial; another is that ancient Romans used IIII on their sundials, and clockmakers patterned the clocks after sundials. Morbier clocks the age of yours sell for $500 to $1,000.
For more information on antique clocks, see Miller's Buyer's Guide: Clocks and Barometers by Derek Roberts (Octopus Publishing, c2001) and Antique Clocks: Identification and Price Guide by Jeff Savage and Ryan Polite (CD-ROM and Internet guide, eCollectica Publishing, www.ecollectica.com, c2001).
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