West Coast Clock and Watch Museum




Ed Pasahow

Eureka Clock Posterized

Technology motivates innovative people to develop novel applications and solutions.  At the beginning of the 20th Century, newly available electrical energy created an opportunity for clock makers to replace the weights and mainsprings previously used to power their products.  These inventors hoped their conceptual breakthroughs would generate new market demand making their efforts successful and them wealthy.  The availability of dry cell batteries, in particular, attracted a number of inventors.  Motors of that period were not precise enough to accurately turn the clock hands, so completely new and unexpected power mechanisms evolved.  The WCCWM collection contains two electrically powered clocks that took unexpected routes for driving the time telling.  Another clock in the museum provided crucial timekeeping during wartime maneuvers and has a curious connection with the Nobel Prize.  Finally, we’ll investigate a clock that offered class and style to its owner’s home or office shortly after the United States became a nation.

Eureka Clock
Eureka clock   Eureka clock backside

        Eureka clock rearview

Timothy Bernard Powers’ application of the electric dry cell battery to clock making was so advanced that it surprises us even today.  If it showed up on the Amazon website as a steampunk instrument, it would probably attract many buyers.  Powers patented various versions of his clock during the first and second decades of the new century.  The one in front of us was patented in 1906.  Powers turned production over to the Kutnow Brothers who manufactured about 10,000 of the clocks, mostly in England, over five years.  Consumers evidently found the clock as inviting then as we would today and bought them all.

The porcelain clock dial is clearly printed with Arabic numerals for the hours and a tick-marked minute chapter ring.  Blue steel, spade shaped hands mark the hours and minutes.  The mechanism below the dial, however, detracts the viewer’s attention from reading the time.  What is that?

A balance-wheel motor moves the hands.  The heavy oscillating balance wheel, which resembles a watch balance wheel on steroids, provides motive power.  Centered in the balance is a spiral balance spring (hairspring), again like in a watch but much bigger.  Let’s look into how this works.

Powers Patent

The balance wheel, with a diameter just under 3 inches, weighs about 12 ounces.  A sandwich of brass and steel forms wheel rim.  Called a bimetallic rim, it reduces distortions in the wheel resulting from changing temperatures.  Any changes in the wheel’s shape would change its momentum, which in turn yields inaccurate time. 

Close examination shows that the wheel is cut dividing it in two sectors near the junction with the center spoke of the wheel. When temperature rises, brass on the outside of the rim expands more than steel on the inside causing the ends of each sector to curl inward reducing the balance wheel inertia.  Conversely, falling temperatures expand the steel more than the brass so that the rim ends curl outward increasing the inertia.  (This action can be compared to an ice skater executing a pirouette.  A skater bringing the arms into the torso spins faster and extending the arms spins slower.)  These inertial changes, coupled with the temperature response of other components such as the balance spring, tend to keep the wheel oscillation period constant.  This rotational regularity is called isochronous movement; that is each rotation of the balance takes the same period of time.

Moving the rim screws inward or outward also adjusts the mass of the rim to compensate for some temperature changes and to insure that the center of gravity of the balance is the center for rotation.  This process, called poising, is done using a poising tool, which resembles a miniature vise.  The tool must be perfectly flat before starting the delicate poising operation.  The balance wheel pivots rest on knife-edges of the tool jaws so the wheel can turn freely.  The wheel is repeatedly spun before each screw adjustment until the wheel is equally likely to stop with any point on the rim uppermost.

Returning to the clock operation, the balance wheel pivots run in ball bearings to reduce friction.  A wire coil is wound on the iron spoke running through the center of the balance creating an electromagnet when the battery in the clock base is energized.  Current is supplied to the electromagnet only at the appropriate time to be attracted to the iron plate at the bottom of the clock.  Knurled brass screws at each end support the iron plate.

Nudging the balance starts it swinging.  Viewed from the front, when the balance oscillates counterclockwise, the electromagnet should not be energized on the upward swing because that would retard the motion.  Carried by inertia, the balance reaches its maximum point of rotation and fully winds the balance spring.  The energy stored in the spring then starts the balance rotating in the opposite direction.  As the electromagnet approaches the iron plate, a contact closes the circuit producing an attraction and boosting the energy in the rotating balance.  The balance continues in a clockwise direction until it reaches maximum again and the spring starts it back in the counterclockwise direction.  Then the cycle repeats.

The clock has a timing chain of gears much like any other clock.  An eccentric on the balance arbor (axle) contacts a roller, which in turn is mounted on a pivoting lever driving this gear chain.  A ratchet mechanism on the lever moves the first gear in the timing chain forward one tooth on each balance rotation, which takes one second.  As a result, the timing gears that move the clock hands have moved forward by one second.

Despite the care exercised in reducing the effects of temperature on the movement, the clock may still run fast or slow. Falling battery voltage, as the battery discharges, produces less attraction between the electromagnet and the iron plate affecting the rate as well.  These and other factors necessitate regulating the clock.  A star-shaped dial at the bottom of the clock allows the user to regulate the clock by changing the length of the balance spring.  A longer spring reacts more slowly than a shorter spring.

  The Eureka clock attracted a lot of attention when it first sold.  Unfortunately, the manufacturer did not provide training materials for clock repairers, and repair parts were no longer available after production stopped.  Consequently, many of the clocks were damaged by clock repairers who did not know how to make them work, so few of the clocks survive today in operating condition.  User frustration with this inadequate maintenance doomed the Eureka clock to an early demise after just a few years.  The working example in the WCCWM is an exception that deserves our appreciation.

Gregory Wall Clock
Gregory Clock

This next clock owes its existence to the worldwide demand for Pacific Northwest timber during the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Sawmills opened in many places in response to the robust market for timber.  Port
Gamble, WA was one of the mill locations.  Port Gamble is an unincorporated community on the Kitsap Peninsula and was ideally located between woodlands and a bay leading to the Pacific Ocean.  Sawmills continued operating there through 1995.  Closing of the mills left the town dependent on tourist dollars, and in 2010, the population was 916.  Today Port Gamble is recognized as a US National Historic Landmark for being one of the best-preserved western lumber centers.

Gregory clock carving detail

In its heyday, however, Port Gamble attracted well-to-do timber merchants who needed a place to stay.  Opulent hotels sprang up to service these visitors.   One of these hotels, established around 1895, was known for its elaborate hand-carved furnishings.  This landmark building became the hub of civilized culture in those days.  A wall clock, hand-carved to match the other furniture, was ordered from the F.L. Gregory Company of New York.  This was the first battery electric clock to make the sea voyage from New York around Cape Horn to Washington.

Gregory clock weight down                       Gregory clock weight up
Gregory clock weight down  Gregory clock weight up

Not much is known about the history of F.L. Gregory nor his clocks, but we can note the patent dates of July 7, 1881 and January 2, 1894 on the movement.  Cherry wood encases the clock.  A transparent dial allows viewers to appreciate the fine details of the movement.  Roman numerals mark the hours and a railroad chapter ring the minutes.  A seconds subdial is just below 12:00.  Brass, spade-shaped hands indicate the time.  A brass pendulum regulates the clock, but how is it powered? 

Barely noticeable in the elaborate construction of the clock, between 8:00 and 9:00, a small cylindrical weight on a lever provides the driving force for the clock.  A battery behind the clock energizes a motor when the weight reaches its lowest point lifting it to the top again.  Electrical wiring attached to brass connectors is visible at 4:00 and 8:00.  Here too, we see a completely new way for electrifying timekeeping.

In the early 1980s, the hotel underwent renovation and all of the furnishings were moved to storage. Tragically, an arsonist caused fired destroyed the hotel.  As a result, all of the furnishings, including this clock, were sold at auction.

Waltham Civil Date Indicator Aeronautical (CDIA)
Waltham Civil Date Indicator Aeronautical (CDIA)
This clock shows ample evidence of its arduous life.  Built tough to go to war, this clock and many like it provided vital time reference to pilots during WW II.  The aluminum case, secured by a four-screw bezel, holds a 37 size, eight-day, double barrel, 15-jewel movement.  (The barrels contain the mainsprings, and two were required to provide power for the entire eight-day power reserve.) 

The 2 -inch dial had to be very legible under combat conditions in an aircraft, so the 24-hour black metal dial was painted with radium yellow fluorescent indexes and numerals comprising large even-hour Arabic numerals, small odd-hour numerals, and minute indexes in five-minute increments.  The civil date (which is military speak for the calendar date) numerals and indexes are painted Munsell green.  The time setting and winding knob is located at 15:00 on the bezel.  Just above the knob is the push-button for setting the date.

Waltham produced approximately 134,000 CDIA clocks during the war.  These timepieces appeared in the cockpits of such aircraft as the F6F Hellcat and B24 Liberator.  The clocks were invaluable to the flyers who depended on them for timing course changes and movement coordination.  There is, however, a tragic untold story behind these clocks.

The radium that excites the glowing indicators (for nighttime reading) is element 88 in the Periodic Table and it emits radiation – primarily in the form of alpha rays but also beta and gamma rays.   The luminous paint is a mixture containing various ratios of radium, phosphorus, and zinc sulfide.  Even after the dials no longer produce light because the zinc sulfide is exhausted, these dials are still radioactive because the half-life of radium is 1600 years. 

Radium was used in dials until the 1960s.  As long as the clock remains closed there is little hazard to the user.  A person wearing a radium dial wristwatch continuously over a year receives a dose of 24 milisieverts (mSv).  Exposure to 100 mSv a year is the lowest level at which any increase in cancer risk is evident.  A cumulative dose of 1,000 mSv would probably cause a fatal cancer years later in five out of every hundred people exposed to it.  However, if the clock case is opened, flaking radium paint is a health hazard.  Inhaling or ingesting particles may deposit a high local dose leading to lung or gastrointestinal cancer.  Commonsense in handling these clocks is essential. 

The tragic part of this story involves the female factory workers who painted dials beginning in 1917 at facilities in Orange, NJ, Ottawa, IL, and Waterbury, CT.  These women were told the paint was harmless and instructed to place their brushes in their mouths in order to give them a fine point. They were further told that attempting to point the brushes with rags or a water rinse wasted too much time and material.  Of course, the plant owners and scientists familiar with the effects of radium avoided exposing themselves.  The women were paid about 1 cent for each dial they painted.

The outcome was that many of these women experienced anemia, bone fractures, and jaw necrosis -- a condition known today as “radium jaw.”  The contractors, in order to avoid paying damages, started a fake news campaign hiding the health hazards and instructed doctors and dentists who examined the women not to release their data.  After extensive court cases, in 1928, these “radium girls” or their families finally received settlements of $10,000 plus $600 annually and coverage of their medical and legal costs.  Following this lawsuit, radium dial painters received instruction in proper safety precautions and protective work clothing throughout the rest of the radium dial era.

So what’s the Nobel Prize connection?  Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for her work in radioactivity – including the discovery of radium.  She died in 1934 of aplastic anemia caused by radiation exposure.

Hutchins Tall Case Clock
Levi Abel Hutchins tall case clock

The museum’s Hutchins tall case clock dates from about 1790.  The case is simple, yet elegant, Colonial style.  That this clock was even manufactured is remarkable because its creators only stayed together a few years.  Two brothers were the producers.  Levi was born in Harvard, MA in 1761 to Gordon and Holly Hutchins.  His brother, Abel, came along in 1763.  The two boys led active lives.  Levi served in the American Revolution playing the fife in his father’s command.  Levi was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill, but not as a participant because he was too young.  Instead, he observed the battle from a safe distance.

In 1777, the brothers entered into a three-year apprenticeship with Simon Willard of Grafton, MA.  Willard was a gifted clockmaker whose inventions provided the basis for many competitors to copy his creations illegally.  (Willard’s biography appeared in the February-March 2017 issue of The Ignitor.)  Levi learned much from his training and called Willard “ingenious.”  Willard must have felt similar admiration for the Hutchins boys because, at the completion of their apprenticeship, he gave them a tall case clock they had built under his supervision.  Levi followed this training with an additional eight-month watch repair apprenticeship in Abington, CT.

Levi was also a timepiece inventor.  He is credited with constructing the first American alarm clock in 1787.  This was not, however, the first alarm clock in the world because such clocks were frequently made elsewhere.  Levi’s alarm was a large brass clock in a pine cabinet that was permanently set to ring only at 4:00 AM.  It could be neither reset nor turned off.  The minute hand of the clock triggered a bell to ring.  The next morning your alarm clock jars you awake, try to think kindly of Levi.

The two brothers established a clock shop in Concord, NH on Main Street in 1786.  They later moved the company to a farm about three miles away.  The Hutchins was the first New Hampshire clockmakers to use brass in the wheels and other components of their products.  Most other clockmakers based their designs on wooden parts because brass in Colonial America was heavily taxed, if it was available at all.  Their enterprise must have been contentious.  By 1803, the only thing they could mutually agree upon is that they never wanted to mutually produce clocks again and dissolved the partnership.

In the split-up, Abel retained the house and clock shop.  Levi established a new shop on Main Street opposite Gale’s Tavern and continued making clocks until around 1838.  A story that illustrates Levi’s character and may offer insights into why the brothers ended their business relationship involves a clock that he sold to a buyer from Vermont.  The clock stopped working and returned for repair.   Levi billed the buyer $2, but the owner refused to pay and sued Levi in court.  Levy lost and was penalized $100, but he could not afford to pay.  Instead, he counter-offered the customer an equivalent value in clocks that he had made.  The owner turned down the offer, so Levi went to jail for 30 days rather than paying the debt.  Actually, going to jail in those days was not so bad.  It just meant boarding with a nice family in Hopkinton, NH.  While in jail, Levi worked daily on his clocks and even kept the customer’s clock.  The brothers’ died peaceably – Abel in 1853 and Levi in 1855.  Both had enjoyed long, prosperous lives.

Levi Abel Hutchins detail  Levi Abel Hutchins dial

Now let’s return to the clock.  Simple fretwork surmounts the hood of the clock.  Three conical finals –two on each side and one in the center are notes of interest.  They may, however, not be original.  Straight pillars with brass bases and Doric capitals flank the dial.  The dial is engraved on two sheets of solid silver riveted together.  The upper arch contains the Hutchins brothers’ signature and the company location.  Roman numerals designate the hours with only dots representing the minute chapter ring.  Arabic numerals designate 15-minute intervals.  A subdial at 12:00 reports the seconds and an aperture at 6:00 the date.  Hand-cut cathedral style hands mark the passage of time.

Levi Abel Hutchins movement Levi Abel Hutchins weights and pendulum

The finely made movement is held between two solid brass plates that are supported by massive pillars at the corners.  Winding holes on the dial provide power to the time keeping on the right and strike on the left.  The clock runs for eight days after being fully wound.  The hours are loudly struck on the substantial bell.  Opening the case reveals the pendulum, which regulates the beat of the clock, and two weight canisters.  Traditionally, clock owners would fill the weight canisters with molten lead.  At this perilous time in the young nation’s history, American patriots preferred to restrict their lead supply to making shot for their rifles and other munitions.  Their prudence was amply justified by the soon to arrive War of 1812.  In place of lead the Hutchins clock relied on sand for power.  This prestigious clock most likely graced the home or office of a newly minted American citizen.

The clocks and watches in the WCCWM collection are not merely mechanical marvels for telling time.  They also represent the stories of their creators and the times in which they were made and used.  When you visit, ask the museum docents to share some of these stories with you.

I wish to thank Bob Peischl for suggesting the Hutchins clock and WCCWM curator Ernie Lopez for his knowledgeable assistance in preparing this article.


Ed Pasahow

The West Coast Clock and Watch Museum has successfully completed its move to Vista, CA and has been attracting a number of visitors.  The museum display at the recent regional meet in Del Mar, CA brought out-of-town NAWCC members to view the collection.  This update describes the evolution of the museum, current status and plans for the future.
Insert Museum fisheye panorama wccwm

The Northwest Coast Council of Chapters and Pacific Northwest NAWCC members founded the museum in September 2000.  The museum was originally located on the third floor of the Bellingham, WA Old City Hall.  The city offered free rent and offered staffing and funds to get the museum started.  The exhibit comprised less than 150 square feet and was designed as three department store windows.  The museum stayed in this location for 15 years.  Then Bellingham city government informed the museum that earthquake refitting and pressing funding shortfalls required that the city hall be closed for more than a year.

Museum officers started a search for a new home and made a national appeal for funds to finance the move in 2014.  In the spring of 2015, Rod Groenwold, director of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum (http://agsem.com), offered to collaborate with the WCCWM and to house the museum in Vista.  Board members investigated the AGSEM site and agreed to relocation.

Moving required packing all of the clocks, watches, and museum materials into a U-Haul truck and making the 1300-mile trip south.  Only a single casualty from the effort demonstrates the care taken in packing, driving, and unpacking—a small porcelain figure was damaged.  The space the WCCWM occupies was constructed and equipped with satellite partitions for display.  All of the 400 timepieces were installed in only three days.  The grand opening was on June 18, 2016 in the AGSEM Assembly Building.

Members of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Association Chapter 180, Friends of the West Coast Clock and Watch Museum, serve as museum docents, maintain the clock and watches, and continue to raise funds for a standalone home for the museum on the AGSEM grounds.  Focus will remain on the collection as additional resources become available.  Among immediate needs are space for two donated collections that will be displayed in the future and secure long-term storage for items not on display.

The museum vision is for a building with a four-dial clock tower, more display space, administrative and work areas, and storage.  A substantial amount exceeding tens of thousands of dollars has been received, which is a start toward the total amount needed.  The museum is a tax-deductible 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its donors.  Additional information about the museum can be found at www.wccwm.org.
Clock Maker Bench

The collection features a variety of clocks and watches from US and European makers.  An early clockmaker’s bench displays an experimental S. B. Terry Company eight-day time-only marine-lever movement, ca. 1850, mounted on a Tweed of Boston mid-19th Century test stand along with other fixtures and components.  An Aaron Willard Massachusetts Shelf Clock and an Aaron Willard Banjo Clock

Little Egypt Clock and Side Pieces

are among the early clocks.  A clock inspired by the dancer, Little Egypt who introduced America to belly dancing at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, is especially eye catching with its burly guards as sidepieces.  Other notable clocks include tall case clocks from the early 18th Century, two tower clocks, an entire menagerie of novelty animal clocks, and early Henry J. Davies Crystal Palace shelf clocks.  Should you travels take you to Southern California a stop at the museum would be worthy of your time.  The museum is open daily.



Ed Pasahow

WCCWM features two remarkable clocks from the earliest days of the US as a nation.  Developed just after the American Revolution, these clocks represent not only the independent spirit of the new nation but also the inventive genius of their creator.  These clocks appeared at a time when US clocks were individually handcrafted by artisans scattered across the country.  Costs were high because of the limited supply and quality varied considerably depending on who made them.  All clockmakers of that time produced a locally made timekeeper that had the appearance of European clocks, especially those made in England. 

Consequently, customers who could afford a luxury priced clock had their choice of any type they wanted—as long as it was a tall case clock, which we today call a grandfather clock.  However, this name for the tall clocks did not become popular until 1876 when Henry Clay Work published a song called (you guessed it) “The Grandfather’s Clock.”  His song never became trending on Facebook, but Work is better known for his Civil War ditty “Marching through Georgia.”

Willard Shelf ClockWillard Banjo Clock

The clocks of interest include a shelf clock and an “Improved Timepiece.”  Before delving into the details of the clocks, we need to divert our attention to the Willard family.  Benjamin and Sarah Willard produced a robust family of twelve children in Grafton, MA, which is about 35 miles west of Boston.  Four boys named Benjamin, Simon, Ephraim, and Aaron became clockmakers.  Benjamin, the oldest brother, established his clock shop on the family homestead in 1766.  He started a tradition for each older boy to teach his younger brothers fundamentals of the trade.

Simon, born the second of the four in 1753, was the innovator of several entirely new clock configurations.  Simon fought in the American Revolution in 1775, but after only one week, he decided that the infantry was not for him.  In those days, one could be excused from serving in the military if you could pay an acceptable substitute to take your place.  Simon found one, but he preferred the cavalry to the infantry, if Simon would lend him a horse.  He promised to return the horse at the end of his enlistment.  The recruiting officer accepted the substitution, but Simon never heard from the man again.  When people asked him about his horse, Simon would reply, “I suppose he is riding yet.”

In 1784, Simon opened his own business in Roxbury, MA.  He built tall case clocks initially, but soon he started experimenting on new designs.  His ideas were so novel that they can be considered a second American revolution, this time in industrial design.  He explained his motivation for these horological explorations in one of his patent applications when he wrote, “…from earliest life he has devoted his whole time to the pursuit of such inventions and discoveries as, he humbly hoped, would be both honorable and advantageous to his Country.”

European clockmakers of that time successfully produced smaller, more economical clocks powered by steel mainsprings.  However, having lost the war to the Americans, England was not eager to export its latest technology in high strength steel springs to the rebels, so Simon was left with having to design his clocks using the same methods used in tall case clocks.  He had to use weight driven movements, but in compressed size.  He realized that smaller clocks would fit more easily into homes of the time with their low ceilings and would be less costly.  Consequently, potential customer demand should be much higher.

Simon began his work on reduced-size wall clocks but soon extended the design to shelf clocks.  The shelf clocks were more versatile in that they could be put on any convenient supporting surface and were more portable than clocks attached to a wall.  Now known as the Massachusetts Shelf Clock, Simon’s innovation blended the top and bottom sections of the clock together.  Details of this clock are provided below.

Simon’s inquisitive mind could not stop there.  He took those ideas and developed them further into his masterpiece, the “Improved Timepiece.”  This clock was such a brilliant concept that Simon was granted at US patent for it, signed by President Thomas Jefferson, on February 8, 1802.  The patent granted him exclusive rights to produce the clock for 14 years.  Although customers did not line up overnight as they now do for the latest iPhone, his design became so popular that manufacturers have continued making it for over two centuries.  Simon sold this clock for about $35, and he made about 4,000 of them between 1802 and 1840.  Now these same clocks sell at auction in the four to five digits.  More on this clock also appears below.

Simon allowed his brothers and friends freely to copy his patent without paying royalties, but soon competitors were building unauthorized clocks.  These inferior copies particularly distressed Simon when disgruntled customers would bring their malfunctioning counterfeits to him for repair.  In 1821, Simon issued an advertisement warning consumers and denouncing “spurious Patent Timepieces.”  During his lifetime, Simon produced about 5,000 clocks of all types, but he was such a poor businessman that after 70 years of working in the profession his net worth was only $500.  He spent his last years living with relatives and died in his son-in-law’s home at age 95.

Next, we turn our attention to Simon’s younger brother, Aaron.  Aaron Willard established a clock factory in Boston in 1792.  In contrast to his brother, he was highly successful, employing twenty to thirty workers in his later years.  He built a luxurious home in front of the factory.  He made the shelf clock in great quantities in a style that Simon had abandoned in 1780.  Many of Aaron’s clock cases were solid mahogany with inlays.  The glass fronts on the clocks copied Simon’s design.  After 1802, Aaron quit shelf clock manufacturing and switched to the Improved Timepiece because demand for it was so great.  One change that Aaron made to the clock was to produce a cheaper, less elaborate model than Simon did.  His fortune made by 1823, Aaron retired, and his son, Aaron Willard Jr., took over the business.

Aaron Willard Massachusetts Shelf Clock
Shelf Clock Profile

Simon’s design for the shelf clock is an extension of his 30-hour Grafton wall clock.  When Simon and Aaron worked together in Grafton, their shelf clocks were identical.  Glass panels front the upper section with the dial and movement and the lower section with space for the pendulum to swing and weight to fall.  The glassmaking skills of that period were limited often resulting in fragile glass panels.  The cracking of the upper panel on the museum clock is unfortunately typical of that quality glass. 

The movement is mounted to the case on a seat board and the rear plate supports the pendulum—just as on a tall case clock.  Decorative paintings on the top and bottom tablets are done on the reverse side of the glass.  This technique adds sparkle to the painting and protects it from the elements.  A clear circle is left in the top tablet so the dial can be seen.  The case dimensions are about 30 inches high and 13 inches wide. 

The museum clock, made around 1810, runs for eight days between windings.  Half-round cross-grain mahogany frames the front, while quarter-sawn oak forms the sides.  The concave painted iron dial is called a “dish” dial.  A “railroad track “ minute chapter ring, with darker lines marking five-minute intervals, surrounds the Roman numerals marking the hours.  Cross spear-shape hands indicate the time.

A scrolled fret borders the rectangular chimney on top, which is surmounted by a gilded wooden acorn finial.  The lower tablet depicts Father Time with his globe, dial, and scythe outlined in gold leaf and a floral pattern.  The signature on the upper tablet reads, “Aaron Willard, Boston.”

Aaron Willard Improved Timepiece
Banjo dial

Simon’s design for this clock did not become popularly known as a banjo clock until early in the 20th Century.  The distinctive design hardly looks like the musical instrument, but the name has hung on.  The museum clock is weight driven and runs eight days between winding.  The care exercised by Aaron in building this clock is evident from the finely finished plates, gears, and arbors (axles to which the gears are mounted).

Starting from the top is a finial, in this example a gilt eagle with spread wings, perched on the chimney.  The Willards rarely used an eagle finial on their clocks.  They preferred the gilded acorn similar to that on the museum shelf clock.  Possibly the eagle finial here is a later modification.

A hinged brass bezel, about 8 inch in diameter, holds the protective glass crystal in place and surrounds the cylindrical clock head.  The trapezoidal neck or throat provides space for the pendulum to swing and weight to drop in the center portion of the clock.  Cast brass side arms, each consisting of two serpentine rails with diamond-shaped separators, flank the throat.  The rectangular pendulum box provides additional space for the pendulum and weight.  A simulated wall bracket sit below the pendulum box.  This bracket recalls the separate support that earlier European bracket clocks resided upon, but in the banjo clock, it is purely decorative because the clock attaches to the wall by a metal loop at the top.

The gold painted clock front is framed in gilded rope molding—the most popular style of Willard clock.  The molding is made by feeding thin wooden dowels through a threading machine, which creates the look of braided rope.  The case is made of mahogany and is about 28 inches high, not including the chimney and finial.  The convex painted iron dial marks the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes with a “railroad track” chapter ring.  The hole for inserting the winding key is near 2:00.  The hands are barbed arrow shaped and have been given a blue color with heat treatment.  The bluing looks attractive, makes the time easy to read, and protects the iron hands from rusting.  The dial is signed “A. Willard, Boston.”

The neck has a glass tablet featuring reverse painting of a floral and leaf pattern with an urn.   Gold leaf and a note of the Willard patent complete the design.  The pendulum box panel is reversed painted in a manner similar to the shelf clock, showing Father Time with globe, dial, and scythe again.  The Willards did not paint the dials themselves but used a small group of local artists to do the work.  The artists reused the same motif on many clock panels. 

Insert Banjo

The Willard banjo clock movement illustrates a clock-making breakthrough.  Instead of following the typical layout used in almost all previous tall case and small clocks, Simon inverted the component order.  He placed the driving weight at the rear of the movement, just inside the back of the case.  Then he moved the pendulum to the front of the movement, just behind the dial.  This rearrangement allowed him to use a thinner case, giving the clock a sleeker look.  Along with this advantage, moving the pendulum forward came with a major disadvantage.  An arbor extends from the movement through the dial in order to turn the hour and minute hand.  The pendulum swinging back and forth across the front of the movement would obviously be stopped by the arbor. 

Here is where Simon came up with an elegant solution.  Just below the pendulum suspension point on the movement front plate, he inserted a transition piece.  This piece was an open keystone-shaped cast brass frame.  It was just big enough to straddle the arbor when the pendulum swings.  The transition piece attaches on top to the pendulum suspension spring and at the bottom to the round threaded pendulum rod that descends to the pendulum bob in the pendulum box.  Simon also designed the movement going gear train so that the bob would not hit the sides of the case.

Many imitators of Simon’s design stuck in a kludge instead of using the expensive transition piece.  They just bent the pendulum rod into a C-shape to clear the arbor or else mounted the pendulum off center.  Neither substitution added to the time keeping accuracy of the clock.

The photo of the pendulum box shows the bright brass bob with the tapered bread loaf shaped weight behind it.  The lead weight has an iron hook on top for attachment to the movement suspension cord.  The Willard hook is shaped like a question mark with the open end bent upward, so it became known as the “duck bill hook.”  Glue blocks on all the box joints add to its strength.

Two brass straps run across the box, preventing the pendulum from interfering with the weight as it falls.  The lower strap has a hole drilled in the middle, which allows a cord to be fastened to the pendulum preventing damage when the clock is moved.  The museum clock is missing a thin sheet iron baffle that keeps the two elements apart when the weight descends into the pendulum box.  The nut on the end of the threaded pendulum rod adjusts the bob position to regulate time.  Move the bob up and the clock runs faster and down and the clock runs slower.
The opportunity is view two clocks that were so important to the American clock making industry is a rare treat.  When you visit the WCCWM next be sure to ask a docent to point out the clocks.  Then you can examine for yourself a couple of fine samples of horological art and history.

I wish to thank WCCWM docent John Ginzler for his knowledgeable assistance in preparing this article.


Ed Pasahow

The rich and varied collection can overwhelm visitors to the WCCWM.  One way to gain a perspective of the many timekeeping devices is to examine the ambit of the displays from largest to smallest.  Topping the collection in size and weight are the tower clocks.  Even the largest pocket watches at the other end of the spectrum seem dainty in comparison.

Tower clocks were often the first timekeepers used by citizens of a community.  The cost of producing clocks in the Middle Ages deterred people from buying one for their homes, but as the need for knowing the time for commercial and personal purposes grew, towns and cities would pool resources to install a clock in a church steeple or clock tower.  Early tower clocks, typically powered by the pull of gravity on heavy weights, resided in tall structures to allow ample distance for the weights to fall.  For example, the clock popularly known as “Big Ben” resides in the Westminster Palace tower, which is 316 feet tall.  Even with this height, the going train, which controls the time, must be wound three times a week.

Norwegian Church Clock

The first tower clock on display in our museum is a Norwegian clock built around 1850.  Originally installed in a church, it strikes the hour on a bell in addition to driving the hour and minute hands.  Limited metallurgy technology of the day dictated the shape of the iron elements that form the frame.  This type of frame is called a side-by-side birdcage.  Wrought iron cage-like straps support the clock movement consisting of two main gear trains.  On the right is the going train for telling the time and on the left is the strike train for ringing the bell.  The trains are positioned side by side.  The framing elements are just flat iron straps held together with pins at the joints.  This type of clock construction, developed around 1670, was used until metal foundries learned to make cast iron.

Norwegian Church Clock MovementNorwegian Clock Bell

The clock movement is mounted on a wooden frame for museum display.  The weights hanging below power the clock—the one on the right for the going train and the one on the left for the strike train.  The other hanging element is the pendulum, which maintains a regular beat for the clock. 

In 1602, Galileo observed the swinging of a chandelier in the Pisa cathedral.  He noted that the length of time required to move from the left swing to the right swing (called the period) was largely independent of the width of the swing and only depended on the length of the pendulum.  This property is used in clocks to keep the interval between the tick-tocks uniform.  The pendulum regulates energy to the going train by permitting the escapement to release only one tooth of the escape wheel at a time (at the extreme points of the pendulum swing).  As the tooth releases, it also gives the pendulum a nudge, which keeps the pendulum swinging.

The controlling mechanism used in this clock is a recoil escapement.  As the tooth on the escape wheel releases, the escape wheel is moved backward or “recoils.”  The recoil escapement has the advantages of being cheap to build, reliable in operation, and easy to maintain.  The disadvantage is that timekeeping accuracy may suffer from the large amount of friction generated.  Even so, typical accuracy is within two minutes a week.

John Ginzler with Tower Clock

The Seth Thomas tower clock is a more modern implementation of this type of clock.  Our clock is dated 1928 and was built by Seth Thomas & Sons of Thomaston, CT.  Seth Thomas, the founder, was an early American clock maker who learned his trade from Eli Terry, known for being one of the first American manufacturers of wooden movement clocks.  Thomas established his own clock factory in 1817, but he did not incorporate as the Seth Thomas Clock Co. until 1853 when he was 67.  He then continued to run the company for five more years before turning it over to Aaron, his youngest son. 

The company began manufacturing tower clock in 1872.  One of their largest clocks was installed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA in 1876.  The company stopped manufacturing tower clocks in 1929, but enough inventory existed to permit them to install their last tower clock in Lebanon, CT in 1942.  Throughout tower clock production, Seth Thomas won a number of international awards based on the quality of its productions.

Considerable improvements in metallurgy and clock design were available when the Seth Thomas clock was made.  Precision iron casting and machining permitted the entire frame to be produced in a compact frame and spacer design.  The relatively small size of the clock mechanism can be judged in comparison to WCCWM docent John Ginzler’s height in the photo.  The movement, with the frame bed, is 57 inches tall and 28 inches wide.  Seth Thomas called this model No. 5.  The pendulum is 4 feet long and the ball at the end weighs 75 pounds.  In its shipping crate at the factory, the entire assembly weighed 500 pounds.

After widespread availability of electric power, Seth Thomas could sell tower clocks that automatically wound the weights.  This feature eliminated the need for massive weights and long drops, along with the drudgery of winding the clock manually.  The museum clocks weights are to the rear of the frame bed and look like the components from a Nautilus weight machine at a gym.  Seth Thomas stated in the catalog, “This type has all the advantages of the purely electric clock but at the same time depends on the motive power of the force of gravity, the most constant power known.”  The power of the clock movement was transferred to the hands on from one to four dials by long rods attached to the top of the clock (not included on our museum clock).  The dials were usually installed in the tower one story above the clock movement.  This clock can drive either one dial, up to 8 feet in diameter, or four dials, each up to 5 feet in diameter.

Seth Thomas MovementSeth Thomas Clock Escapement

This clock movement also uses a higher quality escapement than the Norwegian clock.  Here, the clock is equipped with a deadbeat escapement.  When the pendulum reaches the end of its swing, one of the anchor-shaped pallets release a single escape wheel tooth.  The escape wheel advances then stops “dead” without any recoil.  The deadbeat escapement requires precision machining of the pallets.  The improved action can increase the timing accuracy to about one second daily.  The main drawback is that if the clock is allowed to run down, the sharp edge of the pallet may damage the escape wheel.

Elgin Hunter Pocket Watch Case

Now let’s focus our attention on a timepiece at the smallest end of the size spectrum.  A 14Kt gold hunter case encloses this Elgin pocket watch.  Hunter cases provided a metal cover over the dial; however, reading the time required the user to release a catch to reveal the dial.  The heavily engraved watchcase depicts floral patterns and birds in flight on the front and back.  Only the best watch grades were equipped with gold cases of this quality.

The Elgin National Watch Co. manufactured timepieces at its Elgin, IL complex for nearly a century.  Founded in 1864, the factory became the largest watchmaker in the world for most of that time.  Seven artisans from the Waltham Watch Co. in Massachusetts were convinced to switch allegiance and enabled Elgin to start production in 1867.  The company remained in business until 1964 after producing half of the total pocket watches made in the US (excluding the cheap “dollar watches).

Elgin Pocket Watch DialElgin Hunter Pocket Watch Dust Cover

The dial is made of porcelain with roman numerals designating the hours.  The outer circle, called the minute chapter ring, marks off each minute.  This chapter ring, together with the clearly ruled seconds register at the 6 o’clock position, makes it easy for the user precisely to read the time.  Opening the rear case cover reveals the dust cover, which helps keep foreign matter away from the movement.  The dust cover also provides a perfect place for an elaborate inscription.  The inscription reads, “Presented to Byron J. Eaton By The Business Men of Inwood, IA, Mar 25th 1903.”  Underneath the first inscription in slightly different font is, “Glen B. Eaton, Apr. 25 1915.”  Presumably, Byron passed the watch on to his son Glen twelve years after receiving it.

Elgin Hunter Pocket Watch Movement

Raising the dust cover shows the magnificently decorated movement.  This is a 17-jewel movement equipped with a safety pinon.  A pinion is a small gear attached to the same watch shaft as a larger wheel.  The safety pinion is designed to unscrew if the watch mainspring breaks, preventing the going train gears from stripping from the mainspring’s sudden release of energy.  The watch serial number indicates production between 1901 and 1902.  The “Adjusted” notation refers to efforts made during the testing process to decrease or eliminate temperature, positional or beat errors.  The user can further adjust the rate of the beat by moving the pointer toward the Fast or Slow positions as appropriate.  The elaborate ornamental machining, called Damascene, was a special feature of the most expensive watches.  This certainly is a watch the owner would proudly own and display each time the case is opened to read the time.

These are only three examples from the museum collection.  By sure to drop by to view these and much more.  Docents are always available to explain the nature and operation of the clocks and watches on display.  An interactive computer display provides more details for many of the items in the museum.  Furthermore, when you examine the tower clocks, you need not fear bats in the belfry.

I wish to thank WCCWM docent John Ginzler for his knowledgeable assistance in preparing this article.

Notorious and Melodious at the West Coast Clock and Watch Museum

Ed Pasahow

Clockmakers have applied their artistry and intellect to convert utilitarian timekeepers into devices that can delight and amaze our senses.  They exerted themselves in this way not only for personal satisfaction but also to gain one-up on the competition.  Being trendy was just as important in the 19th century as it is today.  Because they did not have access to Facebook accounts, these entrepreneurs had to produce a better product to convince consumers to buy from them.  Let’s look at a few examples of the clocks we are fortunate to have in our collection.

First the Notoriety
Little Egypt Clock
The World’s Columbian Exposition celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World in 1893.  The fair raised Chicago’s prestige in social and cultural standing by introducing the latest in industrial creativity.  Among these mechanical innovations was the original Ferris wheel.  Another not forgotten feature was the “Street in Cairo,” home of Little Egypt.  Fahreda Spyropoulos, known by the stage name Little Egypt, brought the belly dance to America.  The dance created a stir and her audience quickly dubbed it the “Hoochee-Coochee”.  Her impact on society can be judged by the fact that while watching the dancer perform a few years later, Mark Twain had a near-fatal heart attack.

The uproar over Little Egypt’s dancing could easily be compared to the combined effect that Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga have today.  Her videos would have instantly gone viral on You Tube had the application been available then.  Not having access to such technology, however, clockmakers of the day immortalized Little Egypt with a fabulous clock.

The arabesque clock consists of the central timepiece surrounded by two sidepieces.  The French company Japy Freres et Cie (Japy Brothers and Company) made this unique clock for the Smoking Room at the exposition.  Japy was founded in 1749 by Fredric Japy, a watchmaker and inventor of fixtures and machinery for the clock and watch trade.  Japy’s company was highly influential in the development of mass produced clocks and watches.  Consequently, the company thrived.  Adolphe Japy was running the company at the time this clock was made. He was so well thought of that he became the mayor of the town of Beaucourt several times and was knighted and made a member of the French Legion of Honor.  Japy’s clock movements, according to Karl Kochmans, author of the Clock and Watch Trademark Index, are considered the best original French clock making.

Little Egypt Clock

The clock’s ornamentation consists of intertwined flowing lines reminiscent of Moorish decoration.  The scrolling, line work, and interlacing create a rhythmic expression accented by crescent moons.  The clock dial is brass with inlays of twelve teardrop-shaped enamel inserts with red numerals denoting the hours.  The dial is mounted on double columns with an elaborate finial on top.

Little Egypt emerges dressed in harem pants, two fringed sashes, intricately figured blouse, and a draping shawl.  She wears a bejeweled headdress and satin slippers.  In her performances, she was more scantily clad, however.  Two humidors for storage of smoking paraphernalia flank the dancer.

Little Egypt Candelabra

One of her guards is bearded and stands with crossed arms.  He wears a robe, cloak, sandals, and a close fitting cap.  The other, more formidable, guard stands bearded and mustachioed with crossed arms.  This burly fellow holds a flintlock musket.  His attire consists of a robe secured with a sash and a clasp at the neck.  A necklace, turban, and sandals complete the attire.  Collared ostriches stand behind each of the guards.  Three-candle candelabras intertwine around their heads and beaks.
Little Egypt Miniature

This fantastic clock must have had almost a great an impact on the smokers as the dancer did.  This unforgettable sight could be remembered with the purchase of a souvenir supplied by shrewd vendors.  Fair goers could return from the big city with a miniature version of the clock manufactured by the Ansonia Clock Company of New York to impress their small town neighbors.  The WCCWM collection also contains one of these keepsake clocks for our admiration.

Now on to the Music

Events like Little Egypt were insufficient to sustain the clock industry for long.  Clock companies looked to other technologies to stay competitive.  Musical clocks were popular with the public and manufacturers responded to the demand.  Keep in mind that the technology of the day did not include iPods, and nothing had Blueteeth.  The clockmakers had to apply pure mechanical ingenuity to develop their melodious products.

The bracket clock was a favorite style with homemakers of the day.  As the name implies, bracket clocks were small clocks that could be mounted on brackets extending from a wall.   Owners were just as likely to place them on tables or other stands, however.

Ellicott Bracket Clock

An English bracket clock by John Ellicott of the Royal Exchange, London is in the collection.  The style is Early Regency Period with a mahogany case inlaid with brass mountings.  The clock runs for eight days on a single winding and sounds the hour with a deep strike.  The owner can select among six tunes to accompany the sounding of the hour.  Eighteen bells play the tunes.  The clocks dates from about 1810 to 1820.

The owner has a variety of choices to make when using this clock.  Such catchy tunes as Bonny Wee Wife, Buy a Brgom, Di Tanti Palpiti, Polly Hopkins, Huntsman Chorus, and Auld Lang Syne make selection a challenge.  Undoubtedly, these songs went to the top of the charts in the early 19th century.  In addition, the clock is has a repeater function.  This operation will repeat the last strike and melody whenever a lever is pulled.  Furthermore, the chiming of the tunes could be turned off at times when more decorum was appropriate.

Gravelle & Tolkien Clock

The final clock for our consideration is an English bracket clock by Gravelle and Tolkien of London made around 1850.  Clockmakers had not been standing still in the forty years since the development of the Ellicott clock.  New technology abounds in this example.  The ebonized walnut case is provided with gilt bronze mounts and a silver dial.  Timing is more accurate because the clock movement includes a fusee.  The fusee is a mechanism that makes the beating of the clock more regular as the mainspring power winds down over a period of time.  Typically, the power provided by the mainspring varies from when it is fully wound to when it is nearly unwound.  The fusee tends to smooth out the variation in the timing.  This clock strikes the hour and plays musical selections from eight tunes on sixteen bells.

Here again the hits of the day are featured.  Choices include Sailor’s Journal, Richter’s Hornpipe, Bonny Lad, Oscar and Malvina, Devil’s Dream, Bonny Charley, Dusty Miller, and Duncan Davidson.  Nevertheless, the choices do not end there.  This clock too is a repeater.  The owner can also selectively silence the striking or the music.  For example, a more serious note is appropriate when the boss comes to dinner, so the host, not wanting to be thought frivolous, will turn the music off and just allow the businesslike sounds of hour striking to prevail.  Party times call for music only because who cares how late it gets and one does not want to be reminded by the strike of the hour.  In addition, one can make further decisions regarding the volume of the striking or music.

These three clocks are a small sample of the nearly 400 items in our collection.  Such richness need not be overwhelming because the museum offers easy ways to gain and understanding of the clocks and watches—even if you have very little experience with timepieces.  First, the friendly docents will gladly explain the inner workings and demonstrate how each performs.  Amazingly, almost all of the clocks and watches are in operating condition.  A touchscreen computer is a second resource open to you.  The display showing photos of many of the clocks and watches is accessed by simply touching the one of interest.  A new screen offering a detailed description then pops up.  We hope that you will make plans to visit the WCCWM soon and see these wonders yourself.

If these stories about clocks have you thinking that it might be fun having a clock in your living room, plan to visit the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum during the American Craft Weekend on October 1 and 2.  The Palomar Chapter 136 of the National Clock and Watch Collectors will be celebrating by holding a Clock Mini Mart.   The event will include displays of clocks for sale along with parts and literature.  The enthusiastic horologists presenting the mart will be pleased to answer any questions you may have and to assist you in selecting a clock that will be perfect for your home.

I wish to thank WCCWM docents Andre Perreault and John Ginzler for their knowledgeable assistance in preparing this article.