|Two of the unusual clocks on display at the National Watch & Clock Museum are the Morbier, or Comtoise, clocks. I have only recently taken an interest in these large wall or floor clocks, because one of the School of Horology volunteers, Kevin, has also taken an interest in one donated to the School of Horology. He is determined to have it keeping time and striking properly. Thanks, Kevin! In his book Morbier Clocks: History, Identification, and Repair (2009), Lawrence A. Seymour shares a lot of information in this small volume of material compiled from his series of Bulletin articles. He provides valuable insight about this type of clock, but I find it most interesting to understand who used them. Seymour states on page 1 that the French clocks Americans have fallen in love with “were one-of-a-kind masterpieces in which the case was at least as important, if not more so, than the movement and were built for royalty, the nobility, or the wealthy bourgeoisie.” I had never considered that aspect of the French clocks I have seen in various museums, but it does ring true.
Seymour continues, “During the same period that these clocks for the aristocracy were being made in Parisand other major cities, a homely clock ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ was being made in substantial numbers in the then-remote mountain provinces of the Jura.” The Jura region was in eastern France and western Switzerland, a stone’s throw to Geneva (well, kind of). Whereas the fancy French clocks were made of brass and gold, these Morbier clocks were made of iron and steel with a minimum amount of brass.
The bling of the Morbier was the dial surround and pendulum. These parts of the clock were made of a very thin punched or hammered brass sheet. The images on the right show the Morbier clock that volunteer Kevin is working on now. With its striking problem, we removed the dial to closely monitor the strike train. Note the large, fancy pendulum and the surround of the dial. The dial surround shows bundled grains and stalks of wheat. These parts of the clock usually depict agricultural, rural themes. The movement, so Seymour states, is a typical construction with iron or steel support corners and the time-and-strike trains planted in separate vertical steel posts with brass bushings inserted. Quite a clock.
Typical Morbier clocks have no “warning” in the strike train. Clockmakers know the sequence for typical striking clocks: the strike train must go into “Lock.” Then for most clocks there is a “Run-to-Warn,” or “Warning.” This prepares the strike train for striking. There is a “Run” stage when the clock is striking. And then the clock goes back into a “Lock” of the strike train.
Morbier’s clocks typically skip the “Warning” phase of the sequence. Additionally, many Morbier clocks use an “After Strike” or a “Reminder Strike.” Once the clock strikes the hour count at the top of the hour, 1 to 2 (or more) minutes later, the clock will strike the hour again, just in case you missed the count. Very interesting clocks indeed!
The wall-mounted Morbier has the dial surround and pendulum painted with colors to depict the flowers stamped in the brass. The floor clock does not use paint in the ornamentation, but it does show how richly stamped the brass sheet was. “Homely”? Not by a long shot!