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Sikorski's Attic 8/24/14: Unusual clock features clever self-winding mechanism

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Dear John: I inherited the clock in the enclosed photograph from my dad, who always had it in his home office. The glass cover comes off, but I cannot figure a way to wind it, so I am not sure if it runs and tells time. Do you know of someone who can help me with this? — M.M., Internet 

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Dear M.M.: You have a good looking Atmos mantle clock. It was manufactured by the highly recognized watch and clock maker Jaeger-LeCoultre of Switzerland.

The clock you have is often referred to as a perpetual motion clock or mystery clock. The clock does not need to be manually wound. It gets the energy to run from the expansion and contraction of a small diaphragm filled with chemicals sensitive to temperature and atmospheric pressure changes, compressing and expanding a spiral spring, which in turn winds the mainspring of the clock. 

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Company started production of Atmos clocks in the 1930s. Atmos clocks have been of interest to clock collectors for quite awhile. LeCoultre continues to produce Atmos clocks.

The one you have appears to be in excellent condition. Place the clock in a spot that is good and sturdy. To start the clock simply release the lever at the lower portion of the case. I suspect it will start running. If it does not start then it is likely the chemicals need to be recharged. It would be best to contact the company to have this done. 

Dear John: My wife and I enjoy reading your column in the Chronicle. An elderly friend of ours in Miami has asked for some help about a set of dishes she has. The set was inherited from her grandmother. She said it was called a fish set.

The set has one large platter and twelve plates. The platter and the plates are decorated with fish and seashells. Is this something you know about and if so, how should we proceed? — M.F.F., Internet 

Dear M.F.F.: Porcelain fish sets made specifically to serve fish were popular during the Victorian era. They were manufactured in the United States, England, Europe, and Japan in large quantities. All the famous companies produced them, as well as the not-so-famous.

Some were beautifully hand-painted, but most were transfer printed with hand coloring. Depending on the maker, decorative value, and condition, prices can run from the low hundreds into the $1,000-plus range for a complete set. In order to finish the story, I need photos and whatever marks can be found on the back of the dishes.

Dear John: Here is a photo of my Singer sewing machine operated on a foot treadle; I think they were called treadle sewing machines. As you can see in the first photo, the sewing machine is enclosed in a fancy oak cabinet.

The second photo is the sewing machine showing all the beautiful decoration on it. The cabinet is decorated with seashells and is in good condition. All the how to information is in the drawers along with some kind of parts. 

The sewing machine was passed down in the family. We have lived in three states and it has traveled with us. We have no one in our family who wants it. Now that we live here in Beverly Hills, it would be nice to find an interested collector. What do you think we might get for it? — F.M., Internet

Dear F.M.: Treadle Singer sewing machines were manufactured in massive quantities during the early 20th century. You are correct, the oak cabinet your Singer sits in is good looking and in good condition. However, finding a buyer is not going to be easy except at a recognizably low price. I think if you get between $100 to $200, it will be a lucky day. 

John Sikorski has been a professional in the antiques business for 30 years. He hosts a call-in radio show, Sikorski’s Attic, on WJUF (90.1 FM) Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. Send questions to Sikorski’s Attic, P.O. Box 2513, Ocala, FL 34478 or asksikorski@aol.com.