Collecting shapely antique Swedish clocks

Whimsically decorated, historically intriguing and emotionally charged, Mora clocks are curving a new niche for themselves, says Virginia Blackburn

From left: 1800s Mora clock, sold for £4,200; 1800s clock, £1,600; 1700s bridal clock, sold for £6,000. All from Gustavian. 1820-1850 trompe‑l’oeil clock, £3,950 from Swedish Interior Design
From left: 1800s Mora clock, sold for £4,200; 1800s clock, £1,600; 1700s bridal clock, sold for £6,000. All from Gustavian. 1820-1850 trompe‑l’oeil clock, £3,950 from Swedish Interior Design

It’s like a guardian angel or earth mother watching over you, and looking at it fills you with satisfaction. It’s interesting and curvy and communicates at an emotional level.” Jo Lee, the owner of Swedish Interior Design, a West Sussex‑based emporium specialising in all items Nordic, sounds like he’s describing a particularly voluptuous piece of statuary but, in fact, the object of his praise is a Swedish Mora clock.

Mora clocks are hugely popular: with their very distinctive shape, accessible entry-level prices (from about £1,000) and attractive rustic designs, they take you straight back to their 18th- and 19th-century Swedish heyday. “The style originated in the town of Mora, in central Dalarna province, in the 17th century, probably developed by farmers when the land became too hard to work,” says Richard Roberts, owner of London-based Gustavian, which sells both antique and modern Swedish furniture. “It became a cottage industry: one person would make the body of the clock and then it would be painted by someone else.” The internal movements were usually very primitive. 

Krång Anders Andersson (1727-1799) of Östnor was the first Mora clockmaker to achieve renown, although his initials, AAS, which adorn some of his clocks, do not necessarily guarantee authenticity as clock owners began to add them in an attempt to increase value. “The term ‘Mora clock’ is rather generic, and has to do with how and where clockworks were made,” says Ulla-Karin Warberg, curator at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm. “In several Swedish regions, including Mora, it was for a long time a secondary occupation to produce clockworks, which were sold at country markets. Buying a long case clock was often a three-step affair: first the clockwork was purchased; then the long case was ordered from a local artisan; and finally the case was decorated by a local or passing painter” – which, because it was the golden age of decorated peasant furniture in Sweden, explains the whimsy and high quality of the painted designs.

The manufacture of these curvaceous clocks spread well beyond Mora and regional variations of design and shape crept in. Particularly striking are the ornate “bride” clocks. “They were given as wedding presents,” says Edie van Breems, co-author of Reflections On Swedish Interiors and co-owner, with Rhonda Eleish, of Connecticut-based dealership Eleish Van Breems, “though they might also be given when someone became a farm owner, or on the birth of a child. And they could be extremely quirky: they were sometimes built into the side of a cupboard or the back of a bench.” Quite rare today, they start from about £2,000 to £4,000. 

Advertisement

The styles of clocks that proliferated in Stockholm reflected the wealth of their often aristocratic owners: “The finer clocks come from there, with much more emphasis on design,” says Helsingborg-based dealer Daniel Larsson, who has one such example for £6,400. “They were statement pieces, found in both grand country homes and big city mansions. They were definitely a luxury item; the nicer the body and painting, the wealthier the original owner.”

Yelena Konnova is a London-based make-up artist who owns four Mora clocks, having bought her first one about 12 years ago in Sweden for £2,000, and subsequently acquired three more from Richard Roberts at Gustavian – one for £6,000. “The shape and lines appeal to me; I find them so feminine and unique,” she says, noting that she looks for clocks with original working mechanisms as well as attractive finials and patterns. “They are interesting pieces with a lot of history.” 

Pine was usually the wood of choice, says Swedish Interior Design’s Lee, though very occasionally oak or other hardwoods were used. And while most of the faces are of metal and enamel with numbers painted on, he highlights that the very earliest clocks have wood faces. “There is a much wider range of colours than you would expect,” Lee adds. “Reds, ochres and yellows with feather and flower decorations, traditional white and grey clocks, and a lot in black and gold” – of which he has a prime example, priced at £3,000, as well as one in white and gold (£3,500) and a cream-based floral design (£3,950). “You also find them in blues and pinks, although often the colour is not original.” 

Gustavian’s Roberts recently sold a rare and brightly coloured bridal clock for £6,000, and an unusual Mora clock from northern Sweden – where most examples were produced in the Hälsingland area and tend to be tall, with unusual carved decorative details – for £4,200. His current stock includes an 1800s clock (£1,600) with its original green paintwork and gold details, and a prime model (£2,400) from Fryksdall in southern Sweden. “The southern clocks have a pinched waist with curly scroll decoration, a wider belly and extravagant hood carvings,” he says. “They come in a variety of whites and greys and would have been made for  or found their way into the homes of the Swedish aristocracy, wealthy merchants and prosperous farmers. They are rarer than ‘country’ Mora clocks.” 

Advertisement

Because these clocks are so defined by their uniqueness, collectors and dealers tend to look for different traits. Daniel Larsson looks first at the shape of the case and harmony between the legs and the head; he also looks for clocks that have not been repainted, or that can be easily restored to their original paintwork. Jo Lee, whose wife is Swedish and who has been dealing for 14 years in the clocks, is happy to consider the myriad designs on offer. “We have six in our home in mixed heights and they add a different character to each room,” he says. “People are crazy about them, especially at the higher end. They may not double in value, but nor is it likely that you will lose money on them. Above all, they give you a sense of pleasure – they are just lovely to be around.”

See also

Advertisement
Loading