Styles of Vienna Regulators

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Although we consider the Vienna regulator a form of art, clock making was a business and the clocks had to fit into the furniture style popular at the time of manufacture. Also keep in mind that there were many wars during the 19th century in Europe. As many of the wood veneers used were from outside Europe, materials were often hard to get and expensive. This may explain the considerable use of faux wood graining on many of the clocks.

The Vienna regulator was created about the turn of the 19th century. The earliest dating to about 1790. At this time Austria was aligned with France, and Napoleon had declared himself Emperor of the Roman Catholic Empire. The Empire style architecture and furnishings were in style. We call this the Empire period (about 1800-1835). Architecture displayed straight sided structures with pointed “roofs” (Dach). The laterndluhr and dachluhr style Vienna regulators are generally considered to be from the Empire period, although dachluhrs were made well into the biedermeier period.

The clocks made before 1850 tended to be simpler than the clocks produced later. The lines of the clocks were finer, casework was narrower, and in general the clocks were more rectilinear than the later, often very ornate styles.

Vienna Regulators

The earliest Vienna Regulators were literally three boxes stacked on each other–a large square on a narrower rectangle, on a larger square. These are the Laterndluhr clocks from the Empire period.

Biedermeier and Piecrust – 1815 to 1848

After the defeat of Napoleon, the middle class (bourgeoisie) started replacing the aristocracy in the civil service and Vienna settled into the biedermeier period (1835-1848) where the bourgeoisie tried to imitate the traits of the aristocracy. The biedermeier period was a time of oppression and censorship. The Austrian Emperor decided that outside influences such as from France were detrimental to the country (and Monarchy). There were no outstanding Viennese writers during this period, and Vienna focused it’s creativity in the arts, including music, and craftsmanship. The revolution of 1848 resulted in an elected parliament and somewhat more freedom.

The shape of the Laterndluhr was simplified in the Biedermeier period such that the clock resembled more of a square stacked on a rectangle (Dachluhr). Later still, from about the middle of the Biedermeier to the end of the period, the clocks gained a bit of ornament on the top, and lost the division between the top square and the bottom rectangle.
Biedermeier-period clocks make up for their simple cases with the engine turned (early) or piecrust bezels that typically adorned the clocks. Most of the Biedermeier and earlier style cases had lighter colored “satin bandings” around the glass and in other areas that accented the case. Other Biedermeier characteristics include pendulum bobs that are brass on both sides (later ones are zinc on the back), steel (earlier) or wood pendulum rods, wooden seat boards that slide into wooden supports mounted to the backboard, very simple hands, and one (earlier) or two piece dials.

Serpentine 1850 to 1885

After the revolution of 1848, more business, military, government clerical, and professional people became successful and started to make enough money to buy the things that had formerly been made only for the Gentry (like Vienna regulators). The new middle class was swept along by the wave of neo-Greek, neo-Renaissance, and neo-Gothic styles of the buildings of the period. The style of Vienna regulator started to transition towards the heavily decorated architecture of this period. (Serpentine & Transitional 1850-1875).

These clocks departed from the straight lines of the Biedermeier by adding grace and style with their flowing, “serpentine” lines. The serpentines and the “transitional” clocks smoothed the shift from the simplicity of the Biedermeier styles to the elaborate and ornamental Alt Deutsch and Baroque styles.
Most serpentine-style Vienna Regulators have wooden pendulum rods, brass bobs with zinc backs (though steel backs could be seen in the later clocks), and spun-brass bezels. Finishes are typically ebonized or faux (false-grained), although a limited number are made with mahogany and rosewood veneer.

Four-posted keyhole mounts were common throughout the serpentine period. Many of the early (pre 1860) serpentines had movements mounted to wooden platforms that slide into wooden supports that are mounted to the backboard. Most dials are two-piece porcelain.

Hand styles trend from the simple designs of the Biedermeier period to the elaborate styles of the Alt Deutsch.

Transitional 1850 to 1875

In 1857 the Emporer decided to tear down the ancient wall of fortifications surrounding the city and set up a competiton for rebuilding the state property. The “Ringtstrasse” began to be built using the neoclassical designs mentioned above. Walls, ceilings, reception rooms were covered with plaster work and frescoes as in the periods of great ostentation in the past. The Vienna regulator evolved to fit in with this style of decor and transitioned into the Altdeutsch style (1870-1895). This style dominated until nearly the turn of the 20th century. Concurrently, some second baroque style Vienna regulators were also made (1875-1895).

The transitional clocks can be viewed as either simple Alt Deutsch, or ornate Biedermeier clocks. As the name suggests, transitional clocks form the link between the simplicity of the earlier styles and the extravagance of the latter. Where the earlier pieces rarely have columns on the side of the door, the transitional clocks have either broken columns (tops and bottoms of columns with hanging finials) or slender, elegant columns. In comparison, the hallmarks of the Alt Deutsch clocks were full, and typically fluted columns with Corinthian pediments and rectangular panels at the base.
As with the serpentines, pre-1860 clocks often had movements mounted to wooden platforms that slide into wooden supports that are mounted to the backboard. The four-posted keyhole mounts were common throughout the transitional period. Most dials are two-piece porcelain with spun-brass bezels.

Transitional Vienna Regulators typically have wooden pendulum rods and brass bobs with zinc backs. Unlike the serpentines, the cases were typically made with walnut, cherry and other fruit wood veneers. There are not as many ebonized or faux (false-grained) finishes in the transitional style cases.

Hand styles trend from the simple designs of the Biedermeier period to the elaborate styles of the Alt Deutsch.

Alt Deutsch – 1870 to 1895

By far the most abundant style of Vienna Regulator, the Alt Deutsch clocks stand out with their ornate and beautifully made cases. For many people, this is the style that epitomizes Vienna Regulators. It is almost unbelievable that they derived from the simple lines of the earlier Empire and Biedermeier periods.

The hallmark of the Alt Deutsch clocks is their use of Corinthian Columns on the doors. Typically these are full columns with fluting, though the Austrians, and the German factory of Lenzkirch used some broken columns with hanging finials.

Pendulums are zinc-backed in the earlier clocks and steel backed in the later. Nearly all pendulum rods are made of wood, though some elaborate metal rods were seen later on.

While the dial bezels were typically spun brass, the dials were porcelain, brass or a combination with a porcelain chapter ring and a brass dial center. Dial centers were often engraved or embossed–often with matching weights and pendulums. These clocks typically have very elaborate hands.

Baroque – 1875 to 1895

The Baroque, or more correctly Second Baroque style clocks reflect the highly ornate styles of the Baroque period (1550 to 1700). Generally, if a clock has Corinthian columns it is Alt Deutsch, if it has asymmetrical carvings on the headpiece and tail it is a Baroque piece. Both styles are very ornate, but the Alt Deutsch is symmetrical, with rectangular detail accompanying the classical columns, while the Baroque clocks are lavishly carved, with elaborate, asymmetrical head and tail pieces. Baroque cases were made with walnut, cherry and mahogany veneers.

Pendulums are zinc-backed in the earlier clocks, and steel backed in the later. Nearly all pendulum rods are made of wood, though some elaborate metal rods were seen later on. While the dial bezels are typically spun brass, the dial centers were often engraved or embossed brass–often with matching weights and pendulums. These clocks typically have very elaborate hands.

Jugendstil – 1890 to 1920

Right around the turn of the 20th century, the architectural styles in Vienna changed dramatically. The new architects rejected the non-functional decorations of the earlier periods for an efficient functional design. The clocks followed suite. Unnecessary decoration was eliminated, but craftsmanship was not diluted. The Jugendstil style of Vienna regulator became popular.

The Jugendstil style reminds us of the adage – from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Early Vienna Regulators were simple, boxy, austere designs. These developed to the elaborate reality of the Alt Deutsch and the Baroque, and then returned to the very simple box clocks of the last period of Vienna Regulators, the Jugendstil style. This period corresponds to the German Art Nouveau furniture period. Jugendstil cases were made of maple, walnut, and various fruit woods. Many are solid wood (i.e. not veneered) cases, although these may well be faux grained.
The Jugendstil cases are plain, rectangular with a simple flat design. What they lack in case style they make up with the use of beveled and leaded glass in the doors, and often ornately engraved or embossed dials, weights and bobs. You have to see a Jugendstil clock running to truly appreciate how visually striking the pendulum is, swinging behind the leaded and beveled glass windows.

These clocks tend to have steel-backed pendulum bobs, wood pendulum rods, spun-brass bezels, fairly elaborate dial centers and hands, and often very well-made cases.

By World War I, the beautiful Vienna regulators had virtually ceased to be manufactured in favor of the cheaper “Box” clocks.