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The Story of the Moving Moon Dial

One of the most frequently asked questions of new clock owners is: “What is the purpose of the moon dial and what do the pictures or symbols stand for?” The question in itself tells us just how far our world has advanced.

Today it is difficult for us to realize just how important the ever-changing phases of the moon were in the past. In the late 17th century, the moon dial was added to most long case clocks so people could plan ahead when the moon was full and travel at night was not so hazardous. Clock masters endeavored to simulate the appearance of the moon in the sky on the face of clocks.

The arched dial was first used in clocks in the beginning of the 18th century and presented a real challenge to the makers of time clocks. In approximately 1720, moving figures began to appear in this space, figures which moved back and forth with the swing of the pendulum. They used prancing deer, rocking ships, and Father Time with his scythe. At the time there was no practical value of this feature on the clock; it was simply a pleasing way of showing motion and life.

After motion had been added in the arch above the dial, the next step was to reproduce the progress of the moon from phase to phase. The proverbial “Man in the Moon” was used on most dials with a landscape and / or seascape on the other half of the circle – symbols of sea – the rocking ship, and of land – the deer.

In our very modern world today, the moving moon section of the dial is more decorative than useful but it is still a very sought after feature when purchasing a floor clock. While the moon itself has remained a vital part of the dial, we now see other things of our time depicted.

Many beliefs concerning the moon and its effects have been recorded. We have listed just a few of them for you:
Sweep the house in the dark of the moon and you will have neither moths nor spiders.
Trees planted at Full Moon will bear fruit.
Plant peas and potatoes in the increase of the moon.
The meat of animals slaughtered in the increase of the moon will not shrink in the cooking
The number of snows during winter is indicated by the number of days from the first snow in fall to the following full moon.
Shingle the roof in the decrease of the moon (between Full Moon and the next New Moon) so the shingles are put on when the horns of the moon are turned down and they will warp and rise up. The same holds true for boardwalks.

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