Astrid Donnellan

21 Mast Hill Road, Hingham, MA  02043 


Clock Dials  Ltd.

​​​Ornamental Artist  
  Specializing in Preservation, Restoration and Reproduction

Webster’s dictionary defines “preservation” as a state of well being, to protect and save, to prevent decomposition, and “restoration” as putting back into nearly the original form, to return to good health, to bring back to dignity. Taking part in the restoration of white clock dials is not only rewarding and challenging, it is a chance to learn a little of the history of the japanned white clock dial.
Since the invention of the white clock dial around 1770 in the Midlands of England, the environment, the passage of time, use and mishandling, have all contributed to the deterioration of these clock dials. Japanned white clock dials were manufactured during the period when England was enjoying tremendous growth in the ornamental arts, 1750 to 1860.

The surface of japanned sheet iron, be it a tea tray or a clock dial, can fall victim to rust and surface deterioration from moisture and mishandling. Left untreated, rust will travel under the japanned layer and soon the surface paint will lift and fall off.
Extreme heat, maybe in an attic, can cause the clock dial plate to expand creating fine cracks which dampness can then get into, starting the rust process. Care must be given to these clock dials. Strange as it may seem, spIndrels may be intact while the entire clock dial center is lifting and flaking. The center (inside chapter ring) must be removed and the rust treated before the center can be primed and returned to the level of the existing spandrels.
Each clock dial received for restoration has to be analyzed. Photography plays a major role in the restoration process. A good knowledge of the techniques used in the period, and knowing what to do with treating a rusted surface, assures a quality restoration of the clock dial.

Amateurish attempts at restoration present still another problem. Some well-meaning, do-it-yourself artists overpaint decorative artwork, completely covering the original clock dial, using contemporary products such as acrylic paints, coarse brushes, spray colors and varnishes. I have seen roman numerals redone with felt-tip markers.
When restoring, one must take care to use products and art techniques as close to the original as possible. Gesso is handmade using the old time recipe. Real gold leaf is used when called for. No varnish is used over the gesso and gold leaf, as real gold leaf has a permanency of its own and needs no protection. Oil paints and fine proper brushes are a must. Partial restoration of a clock dial is discouraged. Do the job correctly or simply don’t do it at all. A restored clock dial shouldn’t look as though it was painted yesterday. Fine restoration takes time; it’s a process that can’t be rushed.

NAWCC April 1997

Clock Dial Restoration

clock dial painting,  painted dial restoration, clock dial restoration, dial restoration, antique clock dial restoration

Restoration Of Japanned White Clock Dials
by Astrid C. Donnellan