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The Story Of Clocks And Watches - Part 2

[Clocks And Watches - Part 1]  [Clocks And Watches - Part 2]  [Clocks And Watches - Part 3]  [Clocks And Watches - Part 4] 

( Originally Published 1963 )



Many clockmakers who had served their apprenticeship in Philadelphia moved on to other parts of the country. Lancaster and various towns south and west of Philadelphia also produced some fine clockmakers. Martin Shreiner, who conducted his business from 1790 to 1830, was one of the best of Lancaster's many excellent clockmakers.

John Wright in New York City and James Jacks in Charleston, South Carolina, were other noted clockmakers of the 1700's. The Willard family of Roxbury, Massachusetts, made their name one of the most honored in early clockmaking in New England, as we have already mentioned. There were four Willard brothers - Benjamin, Aaron, Ephraim, and Simon - who engaged in clockmaking from the 1760's to the early 1800's. Simon became the most famous, not only for his magnificent tall-case clocks but also as the originator of two new styles of clocks-the lighthouse and the banjo.

Simon Willard probably was the foremost clockmaker of his time in New England. However, there were other notable ones. Thomas Harland was almost as influential in Connecticut as Simon Willard was in Massachusetts. Joshua Wilder in Hingham, Massachusetts, David Wood in Newburyport, James Dakin and Daniel Munroe in Boston, and B. C. Gilman in Exeter, New Hampshire, were only a few who were active around 1800 and who left splendid examples of clocks that still keep accurate time.

Half-high or grandmother's clocks were small ones, about 4 feet tall, made along the lines of the tall-case clock. These smaller versions appeared in the late 1700's and were made to about 1820. They are much rarer now than tall-case clocks.

In many respects, the hanging wall clock was a miniature of the tall-case clock. It, as well as the bracket, or shelf or mantel, clock, was made in America from about 1780. In England, bracket clocks had been made almost as early as tall-case clocks. There, as well as in this country, a wooden support or bracket to attach to the wall often was made especially to display this good-sized clock.

The first bracket or shelf clocks were not only large but also owed a great deal to the tall-case clock. They were more squat in their proportions, but were much larger than the shelf or mantel clock that became popular after 1830. Two feet or a little more was probably the average height. Most of the early ones had a cupboard underneath with a door that could be opened to get at the works. Fine cabinetwork was evident in most of the cases, and the faces on the whole were simpler than those of the tall-case clocks.

Probably Simon Willard's famous lighthouse clock, which he patented and made between 1810 and 1820, could be classed as a bracket clock. The works were encased in a graduated two-section base of wood, and the clock face was covered with a large glass dome. The clock did indeed resemble a miniature lighthouse. Lighthouse clocks are rare.

The earliest of the hanging wall clocks also were close to two feet long. AIthough they, too, had some resemblance to the tall-case clock, they were not nearly so handsome. Most famous of the hanging wall clocks-and much easier to find than older styles-is the banjo clock. As made by Simon Willard, who patented it in 1802, the case called to mind the musical instrument of that name. It averaged three feet or a little less in length. The round face at the top was surmounted by an eagle or simpler finial. The tapering case ended in a rectangular box (the length was needed to house the pendulum). The banjo clock was copied widely by other clockmakers. Many of them followed Willard's style quite closely, but banjo clocks made in Connecticut had a square top enclosing the face.

The dials of banjo clocks were quite simple and very clear, as a rule. Some few had plain all-wood cases. More of them had glass panels on the two lower sections, and these were painted. The lowest rectangular part often displayed a scene or perhaps an eagle framed with a garland.

From the banjo clock came the girandole. This was an ornate case design based on the shape of the banjo clock. The frame of a girandole clock was not only elaborately decorated but also usually covered with gold leaf. The girandole was perhaps the most elegant of all American clocks; certainly it was the fanciest.

Whether or not New England produced more tall-ease clocks than Pennsylvania or any other state may be questionable. However, there is no doubt but that New England became the leader in shelf and mantel clocks. Clockmaking is not only one of New England's oldest industries but, because of Yankee ingenuity, remains a leading one to the present day.

Until about 1830, any kind of clock continued to be made by hand in New England. Eli Terry, a Connecticut Yankee, gets credit for introducing assembly-line methods for the manufacture of clocks. He began making clocks in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1793, and in 1797 was granted a patent for an equation clock. At first Terry and his helpers would make a few dozen clocks by hand, and then Terry would set out with clocks hanging from his saddle, and sell them. As orders began to increase, Terry installed machinery, and became the first clockmaker to do so. One of his mechanics was Seth Thomas, who soon went into business for himself and made a name that is still honored.

Another Connecticut Yankee, Chauncey Jerome, figured out the advantages of brass over wooden parts. Dampness could halt wooden parts, the teeth of gears broke easily, and skilled hands were needed to put the wooden movements together. If pieces were brass, they could be made by machine, assembled more easily, and also be interchangeable from one clock to another. At first, in 1837, Jerome is said to have produced 200 brass clocks a day. This number grew in a short time to 600 per day.

Although there was an economic depression throughout this country in 1837, Jerome's ideas kept the clock industry humming. Furthermore, he helped allied industries such as brass stamping and woodworking. Terry's revolutionary assembly-line methods had produced a shelf clock that could be sold for as little as $40, but Jerome's innovations brought the price of similar clocks down to about $12. Later, a fairly reliable brass-movement clock could be bought for $6 or less.

Both Terry and Jerome produced clocks that were smaller and less cumbersome than heretofore. In addition, they kept accurate time yet had interchangeable parts. Because they were smaller and could be carried in greater numbers by the omnipresent nineteenth-century peddlers, distribution multiplied. Shelf clocks with brass movements also could be carried more safely than those with wooden works. So successful were they in this country that Jerome began exporting his inexpensive clocks to England.

The cases for Chauncey Jerome's first inexpensive clocks with brass works were quite simple, although decorative, wooden ones. After 1837, mantel or shelf clocks were produced not only in quantity but also in a great diversity of cases. Many of them were roughly 11 to 19 inches high by 7 to 10 inches wide. By the 1870's, much taller and heavier-looking cases were being made. All of these mantel clocks struck the hours, and a few of them had alarms that could be set. More rarely, at least when they first became generally available, did they chime.

The dials of shelf or mantel clocks were simple, with Roman or Arabic numerals. Only an occasional dial had painted decoration. The cases were made of good woods such as walnut, mahogany, rosewood, cherry, and maple. The glass door, more often than not, had the lower panel painted so that the pendulum was not visible. 'This custom of painting the lower part of the glass door was, in fact, popular for many styles of clocks throughout the 1800's. It had started early, with the pillar-and-scroll case, but was not necessarily characteristic of that or any other later styles. Scenes, ships, horses, and birds were common subjects. Often a medallion would be painted in colors or in metallic paints against a black background.

The pillar-and-scroll shelf clock got its name from the woodworking of its case. This was an Eli Terry style of the early 1800's. In a way, it was an adaptation of a tall clock case to a mantel clock. The top was scrolled and had three finials; the skirt was also scrolled, and usually there were columns along the sides, and bracket feet. This style of case was used by other clockmakers too. Some of the pillar-and-scroll clocks that still tick have wood movements.

Many of Jerome's first inexpensive clocks had simple rectangular cases. Up until about 1845, some of them were enhanced with ogee molding. The half-round pilasters on clock cases were copied, of course, from those on American Empire chests and bureaus.

Sometimes these columns were burnished or stenciled with metallic paint. After 1850, Doric columns sometimes set off a rosewood or mahogany case.



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