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No one knows exactly when the first mechanical clock was made. Some authorities credit Henry de Vick with constructing the first clock in the early 14th century in Germany.

Milan says it had the first public clock in 1335, and recent evidence suggests that there was a mechanical clock at the Dunstable Priory in England as early as 1283.Most authorities maintain that the early clocks were large ones for bell towers. The works were made of wrought iron. The clockmaker was usually a blacksmith who forged the gear blanks, arbors and mounting plates on the anvil with a hammer.

The earliest domestic clocks, introduced by the beginning of the 15th century, were called Gothic wall clocks.

Old clocks like those in flea markets or thrift stores may raise questions about serviceability. Most people, of course, will not be able to carry out professional repairs, but some activities can help.

First, inspect carefully. Look at the case for signs of wear and neglect. If the case is in disrepair, the mechanism is most likely deteriorated.

Try to wind the clock. Most clocks have a square arbor, the winding square, in the face that accepts a winding key. Some clocks may also have a second square to the right of the winding square. It controls the timing mechanism. Most clocks, but not all, are wound clockwise. Turning the key tightens the mainspring. If the key turns freely with little resistance, the mainspring or drivetrain may be broken. If the key will not turn at all, the mainspring may be overwound and the gear mechanism locked. If the key turns with tension but does not hold when released, the ratchet is broken or missing. Those problems may require expensive professional repairs.

If the key turns and holds, the mainspring is probably in good condition. Continue inspecting by turning the clock around and inspecting the works. Look at the metal parts for rust or corrosion. Also look closely at the gears and axle shafts for excessive wear, broken springs and missing parts. Check for dirt or oil accumulations. Heavy oil deposits usually indicate that a novice was tinkering. Worn or missing parts, heavy rust and thick accumulations of oil in the works are serious problems that will probably require major maintenance.

Hook up the pendulum rod, bob and suspension spring, which should already be attached, and start swinging the pendulum. The clock should run and have an even tick. If it runs unevenly, tilting it slightly may help.

Periodic maintenance includes cleaning and oiling, sometimes by professionals. A clock has to be removed from its case for proper cleaning. Remove the hands. They are usually secured to the arbor with tapered pins or S-shape wire clips. Remove the clips. Then lift the hands off the arbor. The hands are fragile, so grip them at the base, not by the shaft.

Four wood screws usually hold the mechanism in place. But remove the pendulum and pendulum bob before unscrewing. The best way to clean the mechanism is by soaking it in a good cleaning fluid without disassembling it.

Most repairmen have favorite solutions. Some recommend one with soap and ammonia. One formula is 72 ounces of distilled water, 8 ounces of acetone, 3 ounces of oleic acid and 8 ounces of ammonia. Submerge the works 24 hours.

The solution may discolor brass without affecting their function, but you can polish with a fine brass brush. Rinse the works with clean water and dry with a hair dryer.

Lubricate the works. It is absolutely essential to use the correct oil - clock oil. Do not try to use a substitute, because those catch dirt and become abrasive or dry into a gummy residue. Even lightweight sewing-machine oil can damage clocks. Repair shops usually have bottles for sale.

Apply the oil in minute quantities with a piece of bent wire. Lubricate the pivot points around the axles - most clocks have small sinkholes - the mainspring and the striking mechanism. Do not lubricate the gear teeth.

With the mechanism cleaned and lubricated, return it to the case and replace the mounting screws. Remount the hands, and replace the pendulum and pendulum bob. Wind the clock and start the pendulum. If the ticks are not even you can usually adjust the pendulum by slightly bending the crutch that supports the pendulum spring.