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The Story Of Clocks And Watches - Part 4

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

( Originally Published 1963 )

The tall-case clock that can be authenticated as having been made by one of the Willards, David Rittenhouse or Edward Duffield of Philadelphia, or Martin Shreiner of Lancaster is the one whose sale price starts in the hundreds of dollars and may go into the thousands. Any Rittenhouse clock, if one were to be found, probably would sell for no less than $2,000 and perhaps much more than that. If a New England clock has a case that was made by a cabinetmaker such as John Goddard, that fact is enough to raise its selling price.

The condition, the existence of the maker's paper, the original painting on the glass door, original parts, and the various other requirements of collectors determine the price of a mantel or shelf clock. This may be anywhere from a few dollars to $50 or $75. A steeple clock, for example, made by Gilbert B. Owen in Winsted, Connecticut, in 1870 may sell for no more than $20 even if the case is well-proportioned and not overornamented. On the other hand, a steeple clock with a mahogany or rosewood case made in New England in 1850 may be priced fairly at $50.

A mantel or shelf clock that still has a paper identifying it as having come from the shop of Seth Thomas, Eli Terry, or Chauncey Jerome usually can be priced higher than one from a less famous maker. A Terry pillar-andscroll mantel clock from the early 1800's might be valued at $200 or more. But a Terry clock with the halfround pilasters or ogec molding of the American Empire period may sell for no more than $100 or as little as $50 (Empire currently is not fashionable).

The late Victorian clocks with china or glass cases sell for $10 to $50 or so, more if the glass is authenticated Sandwich glass. A clock of Haviland china with gold trim and an American movement is probably priced fairly at $65 or thereabouts. Oddities may appeal to some people, but are not likely to sell for much money. Frankly, it's hard even to give away some of the Victorian marble and bronze clocks, and probably no one except an enthusiastic collector would pay more than a couple of dollars for a wall clock in a cast-iron frame.

The owning of a watch was as much a sign that a man was prosperous in business as was the tall-case clock in his house. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and many others who helped to establish the United States owned watches. In fact, in 1683, only one year after William Penn founded Philadelphia, a watchmaker and repairer was working there.

Watches or portable timepieces date from about 1500. They were made first in Germany and originally were small clocks with mainsprings enclosed in boxes. These were much too large to carry in a pocket, and may have hung from the girdle around the waist. Many of the earliest watches were encased in odd shapes, and all of them were handsomely decorated and jeweled.

Many problems had to be overcome in the making of a satisfactory watch. The invention of the chronometer in the early years of the nineteenth century ended the search for a watch that would keep accurate time yet withstand the rocking motion of a ship. In fact, improvements in watches had been stimulated by the need of a timepiece for finding longitudes at sea.

Like clocks, watches were made by hand for centuries. It was 1838 before the first factory for watchmaking was opened in Hartford, Connecticut, and approximately 1850 before watches were being made in quantity and brought within the price range of any but well-to-do people.

There are many important dates in watchmaking. Keyless watches appeared about 1700. Watches with a second hand were new about 1780. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries watches usually had a double case; that is, they were set in a protective case attached to an outer, decorative one. Open-face watches did not appear until about 1890. However, the radium dial is far from modern, for it was seen first about 1896. Wristwatches, first worn generally by men, did not become popular until the time of World War I or about 1918 in this country.

Long before wristwatches became fashionable, ladies wore either chatelaine or pin-on watches. Both styles became a vogue in late Victorian days. A watch was only one of the things that might be suspended from the group of short chains known as a chatelaine. From other chains might hang keys, a needlecase, small scissors, penknife, or the like. Around 1900, a lady might wear her gold watch, about 13/$ inches in diameter, on a long gold chain with a jeweled slide and either tuck the watch into her belt or fasten it to her bodice with a pin to which the watch could be hooked. This, technically, was not a chatelaine watch, and it was only a step to the pin-on watch that was worn without a chain.

Pins designed to be fastened to a lady's shirtwaist had hooks on which a watch could be suspended. These pins were plain gold bowknots or twists or some other simple form set modestly with stones. Pin-on watches usually had a closed case, one side of which could be snapped open to see the face of the watch; the other side was either monogrammed or had a design, carried out with precious stones, depicting, perhaps, a butterfly. After 1900, fewer lady's watches had closed cases.

Most men's watches during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were silver, and silver pocket watches were commonly carried through the nineteenth century too, at least for everyday and to work. The double case that was common throughout the eighteenth century covered a watch that was round and thick and usually required a key for winding. But before 1800, watches in Europe, if not here, became thinner and often were made in fancy shapes such as a cross or a seashell.

Stopwatches are not a recent invention. And novelties of the past included also calendar, chiming, and repeater watches. A calendar watch was one that could record the day of the week, the month, and the year by somewhat the same means as a moon progressed through its phases on a tallcase clock. Calendar watches have never been rated as the most accurate sort. Some watches in the past chimed the hours, the half- and quarter-hours, and some occasionally contained a small music box. Repeater watches were prized before the days of friction matches, for they enabled the owner to learn the time after dark. A repeater watch could be made to strike the hours and either the quarters or the minutes by pressing a handle to wind up a striking mechanism.

Grandpa's or Great-grandpa's "turnip" pocket watch was not inexpensive. The name, of course, was descriptive of the fat, round shape of the watch. Equally unmistakable with its clear face was the pocket watch railroad trainmen used to carry.

Mass production of cheap pocket watches began in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1897, and these first ones were often called "Waterbury watches." Although a great many were manufactured, the venture was comparatively short-lived and it was not until Robert Ingersoll came along that enormous production and vast merchandising brought the heyday of the "dollar watch."

Watches, even cheap ones, have steadily become smaller and thinner. For the most part, their cases are plainer too. The single-case and opencase watches of the 1880's and 1890's often had elaborately engraved designs or insignia on the back. A deer, a horse, or a detailed locomotive with smoke trailing over the train of cars behind it were among the popular decorations on men's pocket watches. Or an initial or a monogram might be engraved at the center of an elaborately scrolled design almost covering the back of the watch.

Watches have been owned so generally for 75 to 100 years that old ones are quite plentiful. But, fortunately, there are collectors who are interested in buying a watch merely because of its double case, because of the engraved decoration, because of the person who originally owned it, or simply because their own collection lacks one of the type offered for sale. Hence, it is usually possible to sell one or more old watches, if you are willing to do so for a modest price.

A stem-winding pocket watch with a closed case of silver made in the 1880's probably cannot be sold for more than $20, and perhaps for less. Most of the men's watches carried after 1880 sell for $10 to $20 or $25. A lady's gold watch may sell simply for the value of its old gold, or for $20 to $50 if the watch runs and the case is extremely ornamental. However, if you want to keep an old watch, you can make effective and decorative use of it by hooking it under a glass dome that fits on a wooden stand. It will make an unusual small table clock.

The value of a late-eighteenth- or earlynineteenth-century watch may increase if the ownership is known. If its history has been interesting or the original owner was a famous person, the selling price goes up automatically. Ownership can do more for the selling price of a watch than the maker or firm name.

The price of a double-case watch goes up, too, if one or more watch papers are still in place. These were small circles of paper, silk, muslin, or other fabric that were set between the two cases to keep the outer case closed firmly and to protect the works from gathering dust. The first ones were homemade by the ladies, often as gifts for relatives or friends. Some were cut in elaborate designs; others were handpainted or, if made of fabric, embroidered with silk or with human hair. If the watch papers were a Valentine gift, this was apparent in their decoration.

Watchmakers saw an advantage to themselves in watch papers, as well as to the watches. Soon these papers were being printed, engraved, and lithographed. Some stated simply the name and address of the watchmaker or repairer. Others in addition had a decorative design, the head of a public character, or a motto. Watchmakers inserted their own papers whenever a watch was brought in to be cleaned, regulated, or repaired. Some of them wrote the date the work was done and the charge for it on the back of the paper. Old watches with double cases have been found with as many as three or four watch papers. There are collectors who specialize in these papers, and if you fall heir to a collection of them, it can undoubtedly be sold as such. Probably the most sensible way to go about this would be to write to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (whose most recent address can be obtained from your local library) and to advertise in publications aimed specifically at such collectors as well as those of more general hobby interests.

Devices for marking rather than telling time, such as sandglasses and sundials, have a much longer history than clocks and watches. Any sandglass or hourglass made of unusual materials or with an interesting history certainly is salable.

Most of the sundials being made today are simple copies of quite old ones. Since the eighteenth century, when the clock and watch began to supplant it, the sundial has been chiefly a garden ornament. In this case, it is a fixed dial carefully attached to a pedestal or set on a low wall. At one time sundials were put on the side of the church tower or the wall of a house so that all who passed could note the approximate time on a sunny day. A number of these are known to have marked the sun's passage over old houses in this country. More common, even into the days when most houses had clocks, were the windowsills that had numbers cut into them to act as a sundial.

Pocket dials were small, portable sundials. One type, which became popular during the seventeenth century, was made in the shape of a ring with a hook so that it could be held in the hand to tell the approximate time.

Other pocket dials were flat. If you find and recognize a pocket sundial, you may be able to sell it for $75 to $95, depending on the materials of which it was made, the maker, and its age. Before trying to sell a fixed sundial that has stood in a garden for years, it is advisable to check in all possible ways to determine its age and history. It may not be as old as you think it is.

Horology is a word seldom heard any more. It means the science of measuring time and the art of constructing, regulating, and testing sundials, clocks, watches, and other instruments for indicating the divisions of time. A maker or vendor of clocks and watches once was known as a horologer, and anv sort of timepiece as a horologe.

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