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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Ansonia Clocks



By L.W. Slaughter

( Article orginally published December 1961 )

The name "Ansonia" was an important one in the American Clock Industry for a period of roughly 80 years, from its beginning in 1851 to its end in 1930.

The Ansonia Clock Company was formed in 1851 by The Ansonia Brass Company. The purpose was, undoubtedly, to provide a captive market for brass which was the product of its parent company.

Clock movements are composed of brass to the extent of 95 per cent, or more, and a company making clocks in quantities would require large quantities of brass. Ansonia made only brass movements, as one might readily surmise.

As a matter of .fact, this Company experimented with mainsprings made of brass, and used them to some small extent. I have had old clocks with brass mainsprings several times in the past.

The home of the Ansonia Brass Company and the Ansonia Clock Company was Ansonia, Conn., a town named for the founder, Anson G. Phelps. The Clock Company was in operation at this location during the period of 1851 to 1878.

Some of the clocks made in this period bear the name Ansonia Brass And Clock Co. Others are labeled Ansonia Clock Co. I recall at least one with a label bearing the name Ansonia Brass And Copper Co. This was probably made before the formation of the Clock Company in 1851.

Regardless of the Company name, the clocks of this period will bear the address of Ansonia, Conn.

In 1878 the Ansonia Clock Company was moved to a factory in Brooklyn, N.Y. Incidentally, this must have been a severe blow to the good people of Ansonia who had named their town after this industry.

The factory in Brooklyn was completely destroyed by fire in 1879. By 1880, however, the Company was back in business and continued to operate, without interruption, until 1930. After 1878 all clocks made by the Company bore the name Ansonia Clock Company and the address of New York.

In 1930 all of the machinery of the Ansonia Clock Company was sold to Russia and the Company was liquidated. One wonders if the Russians were able to use this machinery to build good clocks. I have never seen a Russian clock. I have, however, seen Russian watches and I doubt that the clocks would be any better.

This brief history of the Company will be of some help in dating Ansonia clocks. Those bearing the location Ansonia, Conn., were made in the period 1851 to 1878, while those bearing the location of New York were made in the period of 1878 to 1930.

Some Ansonia clocks were made before 1851. These are apt to be rather large eight-day, weight-operated clocks. The ones I have seen are rather good, but they are scarce.

Ansonia clocks are usually quite easy to identify. A great many of them will have the Company mark, which is a capital A with a circle around it, somewhere on the dial, and easily seen.

Some of the earlier ones will have a paper label inside the case with the full name and the location. All of them will have the Company name and location stamped on the back movement plate.

The best Ansonia clocks were made in the period from 1851 through the Civil War, and perhaps a couple of years after. The Company never set a trend or created a new design in clocks, but it did make some that are worthy of interest today.

During this period the Ansonia clocks all had brass movements, as noted in the foregoing, and were usually weight-operated. The cases were, for the most part, designed along the contemporary lines of the period. I have, however, come across a clock by Ansonia, of this period, which was a bold departure from the American contemporary scene. This clock is shown as illustration 1.

This fine wall clock is roughly 45 inches high and 18 inches wide. The case is made entirely of red cherry wood, and it is elaborately ornamented with more than 100 cast brass pieces with a bronze finish.

The pendulum bob shows one cherub riding on a lion and several others playing flutes. The large casting in the center of the base is a good "Mother And Child."

The strips above and below the dial are decorative; the one above the dial depicting some of the life of Alexander. The dial is in two tones of copper and silver and the numerals are individual porcelain pieces, after the Continental fashion.

It is a beautiful and unusual clock in every respect. As can be noted, it is powered by two brass-sheathed weights.

A clock somewhat similar to this one, but simpler and less ornamental, was shown in a recent issue of HOBBIES. The article stated that it had been found in storage and restored to the Mormon House in Salt Lake City. I know of only one other exactly like the one I have illustrated.

Although this clock is beautiful, unusual, and interesting, it does not show a great amount of originality on the part of its maker, Ansonia. It is, unmistakably influenced by German clocks of an earlier period.

When I bought it at an auction sale it was very dirty and I could not examine it in minute detail. I was sure that it was German, but, later, I was well pleased to find that it was American and by Ansonia.

In the years after the Civil War, Ansonia made a great many clocks, most of them of period design, in shelf clocks, kitchen clocks, and, occasionally, something a little out of the ordinary.

Shortly after the Civil War, Ansonia fell almost completely under the French influence. During the second half of the 19th century, fine French clocks were imported to this country, in great quantities, and the American clock industry was very much disturbed by this competition.

In fact, the giant of the industry, Seth Thomas, in 1866, set up a subsidiary company in New York to make French tYne clocks. One writer has said that Thomas made French type clocks and made them better than the French.

This is a laudable statement from a 'patriotic standpoint, but anyone who has studied the American imitation in comparison with the real French product would immediately stamp it as the absurdity it is. Seth Thomas did make them cheaper, and that is about as far as one can safely go.

The American clock industry of the period seemed to have grasped the motto: "If You Can't Beat Them - Join Them." There was no attempt made to beat them with originality of design or quality of workmanship. The policy was to try to make clocks that looked like the French clocks, and sell them cheaper. It didn't work very well.

From this point on, Ansonia became the great imitator. The visible escapement, with the escape wheel in front of the dial, was adopted, but with steel pallets instead of the jewelled pallets used by the French.

The mercury pendulum used in many French clocks is the best compensating pendulum ever devised. The American copy used steel rods in the glass tubes oF the pendulum. They were made to look like the French pendulum, but had no compensating qualities whatever.

From this point on the variety in clocks made by Ansonia was endless since they simply copied the endless variety of French styles.

They made many glass-sided clocks, such as the one shown in ilustration 2, in imitation of the French brass and glass clocks. They were usually more ornamental than the originals, but of much poorer quality, the frame and castings being mostly of white metal with a brass finish. The differences in the visible escapement and the faked pendulum have been explained previously.

Ansonia made many figure clocks, in imitation of the fine French figure clocks. Here again the inferiority is obvious at a glance. The castings are of base metal with brass or bronze finish, and sometimes painted.

The imitations of the French marble and onyx clocks are pitiful examples of an industry that merely tried to copy and sell cheap. Some of these clocks are made of iron with a finish of enamel to look something like polished marble. Most of them are of wood with a marbleized finish. They will bring almost nothing at auction sales today.

Ansonia sold a great many chinacased clocks some of which are pretty good and some of which are mediocre. The better ones are in imported cases, especially the cases marked "Royal Bonn." We have one of these which is quite good and we think a lot of it. Some have the visible escapement and some do not.

Ansonia did patent two clocks of somewhat unusual characteristics, the "Bobbing Doll" in 1886 and the "Swinging Doll" in 1889. These are interesting although cheaply made. They were undoubtedly adapted from earlier European novelty clocks.

I must say, however, that the Ansonia Clock Company made very good clock movements, the equal of most any American-made movements.

Yes, there are some very good Ansonia clocks that are worthy of collecting, but there are many others that are of no interest at all.

Ansonia Clocks



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