The most timeless of antique clocks: meet the enchanting Mora
Vinterior partners with vintage and antique specialists across the globe and today we are hearing from one who has become a leading expert in Sweden’s beautiful antique Mora clocks. Akin to the traditional grandfather clock more commonly seen in the UK, the curving Mora model is a highly unique design with a huge tradition of local craftsmanship behind it. We were intrigued to learn more about this enchanting area of Swedish design history and sat down with Jo Lee who told us just about everything you could wish to know – from the people who first made the Mora to what we should look for when buying one today.
Hi Jo! Can you tell us about the Mora clock?
Mora clocks were made mostly between 1790 to around 1880, initially around the area of Mora in Sweden. The geographic name has become synonymous with the clock shape as they began to be made all over Sweden. They were only ever created by individual craftsman, which is why you can never find two Mora clocks that are exactly the same. The appearance of the clock was down to the artist’s vision on the day of making or according to a specific commission.
What makes the antique Mora clock so timeless?
The iconic antique Swedish Mora clock has been part of the design firmament for more than 200 years but, over the last 50, they have become sought after by both the design cognoscenti and collectors alike.
They exude a wonderful sense of peace as they watch over your home. Mora clocks draw your eye with their innate grandeur, while the simplicity of the decorative features mean they suit a range of interior styles from antique to minimalist.
While their unusual, hourglass shape makes them not only fun to collect but, strangely, lend a strong sense of personality to the timepieces. The fact that no two clocks are the same means that you can easily have four to five models in different rooms creating a unique feel in each space.
Moras exude a wonderful sense of peace as they watch over your home – antique Mora clocks just draw your eye and give a great sense of satisfaction. This is in all of the details – the curve of the belly, the way the clock stands so graceful and tall, the innate grandeur or simplicity of the decorative features and the numbering of the face.
How to identify an original Mora clock
You will find the clocks are usually made of pine, or occasionally oak, with the various components made by different craftsmen where clocks were produced in a cooperative. The decorative embellishments can be made of gesso on more expensive clocks or carved wood and again you find lots of hand painted detail. The country style Mora Clock is much more simple in execution while clocks made for wealthier patrons were far more extravagant with exaggerated detailing, carved embellishments, ornate crowns and gilt painted designs.
The back panel would generally run the full height of the clock made up from pine planks glued together and the sides would be bent into place to create the wonderful curvaceous shape for which Mora clocks are renowned. The door on the body front was either hinged, or in the case of country clocks, held in place by two small wooden pins and may or may not have contained a glass window. The clock hood glasses can be flat or convex as can the pendulum belly windows. You will find that country clocks often do not have a pendulum or even a viewing window as glass was very expensive in the 1800s.
The Bentwood hood usually had a hinged ring containing the glass but occasionally the glass face was set straight into the wood of the hood. The hood itself often had ornamentation on the top and sometimes even side glass so you can see the inner workings of the mechanism.
The bottom plinth panel would be glued or pinned to the front and sides at the bottom of the clock. The waist skirting and also the skirt detail under the edge of the hood would be pinned in place – so NEVER lift a Mora clock by any of its skirts!
The pine was usually painted or wood stained but very rarely do we see a mora clock constructed from other woods including oak and birch. The most unusual clock we ever had was one where the body was a one piece log that had been hollowed out so you could see the curve of the wood inside and the adz marks from where it was hollowed out.
Look out for initials!
Many clocks carry the maker’s name or initials such as AAS or CE Rydberg but you will find that initials have been added at a later date – so unless there is written provenance, you should not pay too much attention to the maker’s name, unless it was a small unknown one. Clock faces marked with “AAS ” bear the initials of Krång Anders Andersson (1727-1799) of Östnor, who is traditionally thought to be one of the first clockmakers in Mora area.
A joint effort between locals
Mora clocks began as the product of a cooperative effort to support the income of farming families in the Mora region. Many had been hit by poor harvests and each cooperative member would specialise in making a clock part – the hood, case, door, plinths etc.
This is why every clock you find is so unique – it is the result of several artistic visions all working together. At the height of their manufacture, we believe that in total around 40,000 Mora clocks may have been made. As long-case clocks were very popular during that period in Sweden, most Swedish houses would have had them especially when they were given as wedding presents in poorer families. You will often find that clocks are also incorporated into other furniture such as cupboards, drawers, chiffoniers, armoires and even beds!
Originally developed from the French Rococo and early Baroque styles current in France, the Mora clock shape with its classic Earth Goddess ‘pregnant belly’ really caught on and as clocks began to be made across Sweden, the name ‘Mora Clock’ became synonymous with the shape (as opposed to just the region from which the earliest examples originated).
They were decorated in a variety of colours from the traditional reds, ochres and yellows of the kurbits tradition through plain whites and greys to very ornate trompe l’oeil painted scenes and decoration.
What drew you towards dealing in Mora clocks?
We have always loved the shape and feel of the Mora clock. Madeleine Lee is half Swedish and we saw Mora clocks every time we visited this beautiful country. We have five clocks in our own home from the early 1800s and they stand guard over us like guardian angels. You never feel alone with a Mora clock in the house and they bring pleasure every time you look at them (or talk to them!). They do so much to bring a space to life and make a great focal point.
Since 2005, we have been sourcing and collating Europe’s best selection of antique Mora clocks for customers worldwide, taking only the best examples of the genre and becoming the leading experts within this area of clock design.
What kind of setting do they normally go into?
Kitchen, hallway, turn of the stairs, bedroom, living room, dining room, conservatory – the Mora clock is a great piece to turn an empty corner or piece of wall into beautiful design setting The models are slender and do not take up too much space, yet visually have a strong impact within a space.
As the fashion for the Mora clocks spread throughout Sweden, they began to be created by individual craftsman, usually to order, which is why you can never find two that are exactly alike. Where you want to put your clock is one factor in deciding the style you opt for, with a simpler country style suiting the kitchen, while a highly-carved, more flamboyant piece is perfect for more formal rooms.
Who is your typical customer?
Our clients come from all parts of the globe – many go to the USA and the UK, with clients also in France, Spain, Australia, Dubai, the Far East, Canada, New Zealand, Poland and even Sweden.
The customer is usually design savvy and appreciates high quality pieces and will have a strong sense of taste – they tend to be 30+ and enjoy the Mora clock as a prize possession.
What sets Mora clocks apart from other clock designs?
The romantic history, the Earth goddess shape, the unusual handmade construction and earthy feel. Mora clocks are much more rustic in execution than the equivalent European clocks of this period that tend to have a more ornate aesthetic and therefore can feel much more sombre.
There are many different subsets of Mora clock styles from different areas of Sweden:
- The Dalarna region produced classic country-style clocks decorated with a hand painted Kurbits design with its roots in Swedish folk art. Feathers were a common theme.
- Southern Fryksdall clocks were painted in grey and white with an exaggerated ‘pregnant belly’ decorated with carved swags at the waist below the hood.
- Angermanland and Jamtland produced wildly decorative folk art bridal clocks, with carvings that included flowers, leaves and even bridal crowns.
Typically, the simpler versions were given as wedding presents, with the newlyweds receiving a clock, bed and cupboard to start their married life. The date of the ceremony is hand-painted on the front.
Describe the Mora clock in three words.
Elegance, spiritual, earthy.
Celebrate the quirks and weathered quality of antique Mora clocks
One thing to remember is that all Mora clocks have had a life and will to some extent have undergone some marking and general wear and tear – this only adds to their beauty but also you should expect to see some wood movement, distressed paint, old repairs. Often, a small hole in the backboard has been drilled in the backboard which was done to allow Mora clocks to be bolted to the wall when standing on the uneven floors of old houses. So if your chosen clock has none of these signs, you ought to wonder whether it is real or not.
People’s expectations of Mora clocks can be somewhat strange. We had a recent visitor who clearly needed a reproduction clock rather than an antique Mora clock based both on price expectations and how she wanted it to look. What is the point in having a clock that looks brand new and is completely perfect? The whole charm of an antique Mora clock lies in its imperfections and the life it has lived. It is a badge of honour that this history has been written into their skin, so to speak. The antique Mora clocks we sell are always structurally sound and usually exhibit some wood movement from temperature and humidity changes over the years, opening slightly at the seams and the paint work is often fairly cracked and distressed – which looks great. Of course we can repaint a clock and fill the gaps (if you want it to look pristine!) but we prefer to draw a line at completely renovating a clock as you will erase its history presence and personality.
Intrigued? To enjoy the full collection of Mora clocks on Vinterior, click here.
Got questions? Get in touch with us on [email protected].
Title image: littlefarmstead.blogspot.com