September 26, 2021

Antiques & Collecting: Mystery clock

You probably have seen a “swinger” clock, but never guessed how it worked. Most are small metal statues standing on a base while holding a long baseball bat, pendulum or other long, thin rod that is topped by a clock or a globe. It keeps time and the pendulum keeps swinging, but there is no sign of an electric plug or other power source.

The first “mystery clock” was made by a French magician, Jean Robert-Houdin, in 1845. Many other versions followed. Junghans, a German clock factory, made most of those seen today. Ansonia, an American clock company, also made these unusual clocks. The secret clock parts that kept the hands moving were even patented.

The trick is that part of the base moves around slightly, keeping the pendulum swinging and moving the clock’s hands. Another type of mystery clock was made with two clear crystal disks with a clock hand painted on each. The disks turned with power from the base.

Many copies of antique mystery clocks have been made. One model with an elephant swinging the clock is a favorite that was original ly made by Junghans, but has been cop ied in China. Surprisingly, the original had an elephant made of white metal, while the copies made before 1930 were bronze. Watch out. There are many copies sold today, and it is very difficult to tell old from new. There are swinger clocks with figures such as a boy with a bat, the Statue of Liberty, Diana, a cherub and even a kangaroo. Neal Auction Company recently sold a metal swinging elephant clock made about 1900, probably by Junghans, for $576. It had a bronze patina.

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I sold Avon products. When the second anniversary of my being a salesperson rolled around, I received a plate called “The Avon Doorknocker.” I still have the original box and it’s in good condition. I’m trying to determine the value. Where should I to go to sell it?

Avon started as the California Perfume Company in 1886. The name of the company was changed to Avon in 1939. It might sell at a garage sale, but it’s easier just to donate it to a charity. Most Avon Doorknocker plates sell online for as little as $3.

Current Prices

Game, Bambino Baseball, field with target holes at bases and outfield positions, tin lithograph, wooden ball & bat, Mansfield Products, 1946, box, 12 x 20 inches, $155.

Eskimo snowshoes, Bear Paw, natural bent wood, animal hide weaving, c. 1925, 36 x 18 inches, pair, $250.

Garden patio lounge chair, Radar, cast iron mesh, black, rounded form, leg rest, 6 legs, M. Tempestini, Salterini, 28 x 30 inches, $375.

World War II parachute, Air Force, folded into backpack, canvas & leather straps, label, Reliance Mfg. Co., June 22, 1943, $705.

Tip: A paste of baking soda and water can be used to clean old enameled cast-iron pots.

Terry and Kim Kovel

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