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The Thrall of Time:
A Browse Through White & Day Antiques

By Christie Craig

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The first thing visitors notice about White & Day Antiques isn’t the antiques. It’s the garden. Not a formal garden, sculptured with precision, but a cottage garden, a mixture of bright foliage and flowers that entices guests to take their time as they stroll for the door. In more ways than one, this collage of plant life and the pause-and-enjoy atmosphere is a reflection of what you’ll find once you step inside.

thrall Bright colors in the form of decorative pillows, oil paintings, china, and the shades of fine furniture -- mahogany, oak, and pine -- all glowing with age greets the clientele. As varied as the plant life is in the garden, so are the type and styles of antiques: English, French, American and Italian. From small accessories to fine oak tables that can seat ten, you’ll find a bouquet of merchandise featured in this 5000-square-foot building.

"I guess you could say I specialize in a mix," says Hildie White, owner and entrepreneur. "I buy pieces that my customers will like...pieces that I know will suit their styles." How does Hildie know what suits her customers? Hildie knows because in many ways her customer service reflects back to the days of some of her antiques-- days when house calls weren’t uncommon, when more important than a sale was the happiness of the customer. "Happy customers come back," says Hildie, who sometimes spends as much as two days a week making house calls.

She’s not an interior designer, though her Bachelor Arts degree obviously lends itself to her creative side, but she instills an innate ability of what she calls, "fluffing." A customer will come in, looking for some undetermined piece that will pull a room together. Hildie will listen and try to access the situation but often times it simply requires a look and see. This isn’t a paid service, it’s a courtesy. "If someone is really in the market and I can help them find that perfect piece of furniture or accessory, then that’s just good business." And it is part of the business that Hildie enjoys the most.

How this on-the-go woman manages to buy, sell and "fluff" is a mystery, but with over 25 clocks in-house, one has to guess it has something to do with time management. Hildie’s quest to control time, to use it more to her advantage isn’t new -- it’s old, even older than some of the clocks she has displayed.

However, before the mid-seventeenth century, time management was slightly more difficult. Looking back we find legal documents, such as records of evidence given in court, demonstrate people judged time by generalized periods of the day, such as dawn, midmorning, or dusk, rather than by the hour. It was only with the improvements of timekeeping achieved about c.1675 that clocks began to be accurate enough to measure time itself. As minute and second hands became common and precision was achieved, humans have become caught in the thrall of time.

thrallWhile in the early 1700s the clock was possessed mostly by the leading citizens, it eventually became a standard in the domestic use of commoners. For many years it was one of the few items besides the home and the bed to be mentioned in a will. Even still a clock was, and for some, still is considered a very personal possession.

Because the word clock derives from a French word, Cloche, meaning bell, it seems appropriate that many of these beautiful time pieces in White & Day Antiques are French in origin. Among these French clocks are the large lantern-type clocks, with long pendulums. In France, these distinctive clocks are called Comtoise; however, in the US they are known as Mobier, Morez or French farm clocks. For those of us lacking in "clock" dialect we would be more apt to describe them as grandfather clocks.

The names Morez, Mobier and Comtoise apply to the Gothic-inspired French clocks which were so common in Switzerland and in Eastern France. Usually these clocks struck the hour twice -- counting the hour and calling it again two minutes later. Some say the repetition was for the benefit of those who missed the first call. Others contend that people in the village were supposed to pray every hour on the hour. Accordingly, two minute repeat striking reminded listeners to begin their prayerful duty, then announced when it was time to resume other activities.

Earliest dials on these French farm clocks were pewter, ceramic, or cast brass with oval, round or scroll-like porcelain tablets. Further improved enameling techniques made full porcelain dials possible and popular in France between 1750-1790. Plain white dials had painted or fired minute divisions and roman numerals. On the early 17th and early 18th century clocks, decorative couronnements, (headpieces) were cast or made from hammered brass.

The first wooden cases of mostly pine and oak were built by clockmakers and some individual owners, therefore many were finished very crudely. Later, when local cabinetmakers were called on to make cases, sophistication and quality of workmanship improved and design embellishments were added. Patterns were carved or painted on cases rather than inlaid. Some cases were tall and narrow, while others had semicircular side extensions, to accommodate the pendulum’s swing. In England the mechanisms determined the shape of the clock’s case, but in France, where cabinetmakers ordered movements of standardized types to fit into their own version of cases, these long outer cabinets became singular works of arts. While tall clocks never reached the popularity in France that they enjoyed in other parts of Europe, there was no contemporary furniture more aesthetic than the French clock cases.

In addition to the farm clocks, Hildie has a nice selection of French bracket and mantel clocks. Bracket clocks derive their name from the wall bracket with which some of them were provided. However, most of them stood on pieces of furniture and were known initially as spring clocks. Mantel clocks are generally smaller and shallower. They were first developed in France in the 1750s. Before this date mantels were not made with shelves capable of holding a clock. It is in mantel clocks that the most varied shapes and forms of decoration are found. By the 1830s, the habit of flanking a mantel clock with paired ornaments led to the "garniture de cheminee," a set consisting of a clock and matching sidepieces which enjoyed a vogue in the nineteenth century.

Today, these clocks of the past are making a slow comeback. Perhaps it’s because now more than ever we are consumed by time and our quest to control it. Maybe their popularity returns because these time pieces of old remind us that time will pass whether we chase to control it or slow down long enough to enjoy it.

Any antique lover will tell you that a good way to spend some "down" time is to browse in an antique store. Whether you’re looking for a clock, furniture, or some accessories that are uniquely your own, make time to check out White & Day Antiques. It will be time well spent.

White & Day Antiques, 6711 W. F.M. 1960, Houston Texas 77069, (281) 444-3836

Hildie’s Tips on Fluffing with Antiques:
  • Don’t cater to fads or trends. You have to love it.
  • Throw some life into a room by using accent colors. Decorative pillows can add interest.
  • Don’t fall prey to the matching syndrome. Blend your colors, styles and periods. Don’t match. Too much of one thing, be it the same color or style, is boring.

Money Talk:
Depending on style, age, and condition, a farm clock can sell anywhere from $15 to $28 hundred. Buyers should remember that a clock must be assessed not just as a piece of furniture, although its aesthetic appeal is important, but also as a mechanical device. To put a badly neglected clock back into good condition can be very costly. It is also worth bearing in mind that to repair a cheap clock can be just as expensive as it is to repair a valuable one. Hildie has all her clocks checked out by Village Clocks, who offers the sale of new clocks, antique restoration and service calls, which can include an assessment of a clock’s condition.
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