Frequently Asked Questions About Clocks

Q

When was the first clock made?

A

No one knows for sure. Before the advent of the mechanical clock, there were, of course, sundials, but there were also clocks that measured time by burning candles or dripping water. The latter, called "Clepsydra" or water-clock, was fairly widespread, although few examples exist today.

Some scholars believe the first record of a mechanical escapement (the part of the clock that stops and releases the gear movement at regular intervals) is illustrated in an album of sketches from c. 1250, but this was not used in a timepiece as such. Several references to iron clocks appear during the first half of the 14th century. The first detailed description of a mechanical clock movement comes from an Italian, Giovani da Dondi, in 1364. The oldest extant mechanical clock is from 1389 and can be found in Rouen, France.

The most important development in accurate time keeping came in 1657, when a Dutchman named Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum escapement.

Q

Why is the Roman numeral "IV" written "IIII" on clock dials?

A

"IIII" is a valid way to write 4 in Roman numerals, but the tradition of its use on clock dials has mostly to do with visual balance. If it were written as "IV", you would have IV and V on the lower right side of the dial and VII and VIII on the lower left. Visually, it would look like the dial wanted to roll to the left -- it would be lopsided. The IIII helps maintain balance. Some clocks do use IV -- The most famous is the clock in London's Palace of Westminster, often referred to as "Big Ben" (although that moniker rightly refers to the largest bell in the clock tower).

Q

My clock stops after running a short time. What's wrong with it?

A

It is very important that clocks with mechanical movements be cleaned and oiled regularly! If you're using the clock on a daily basis, it should be serviced every few years. What happens is that the oil in the movement becomes gummy. When this happens, in addition to causing additional drag on the gear train, the oil holds dirt and metal shavings that act as an abrasive on the brass plates of the movement. Eventually, this causes the bearing holes to become worn and out-of-round. That's when the clock stops -- but by that time, the damage has been done. Such damage is repaired by inserting a new bushing into the worn bearing hole. So, take your clock to a qualified repair person and have it serviced. With proper care, clocks such as the ones you see on this site will be in service for decades to come. For additional troubleshooting tips, see Prestige Clock Repair's troubleshooting guide.

Q

Is the Ansonia Clock Company still in business?

A

The Ansonia Clock Company that made all the wonderful old clocks you see on this web site went out of business in 1929. Here's a brief history:

1850

Theodore Terry and Franklin C. Andrews, then operating a large clock-making shop under the name "Terry & Andrews" in Bristol, CT, were approached by Anson G. Phelps with the proposal that they sell him 50% interest in the business and move to Ansonia, CT, where Phelps had his brass mill. The company was named "Ansonia Clock Company" in May of that year.

1854

The factory burned down. The Ansonia Clock Co. ceased to operate. A related company, the Ansonia Brass and Battery Co., continued to make some clock movements to sell to other clockmakers.

1869

The Ansonia Brass & Copper Co. was incorporated to resume full-scale clock production. (One of my steeple clocks is from this company.)

Dec.1877

The Ansonia Clock Company is once again established.

1879

A new factory is opened in Brooklyn, New York.

1880

The new factory burned down.

1881

Another new factory is built on the same site.

1883

The Ansonia, CT, factory is closed and all operations are moved to New York. (My "Cottage Extra" clock was made during the transitional period between 1879 and 1883. It has both addresses on the label.)

1929

The company went into receivership. The machinery and dies were sold to Amtorg, a purchasing agent for Soviet Russia.

A couple of different firms have attempted to use the Ansonia name in the last half of the 20th century. Their clocks should not be confused with the original Ansonia Clock Co. of New York or Ansonia, CT.

Q

What about my (insert name here) clock? When was it made?

A

Here is what I know about the dates of operation of other major American clock manufacturers of that period:

Waterbury Clock Co., 1857-1944
Seth Thomas, 1813-53
Seth Thomas Clock Co., Plymouth Hollow, CT, 1853-65
Seth Thomas Clock Co., Thomaston, CT, 1866-1930
Seth Thomas div. of General Time, 1930-
W.L. Gilbert & Co., 1845-48, and 1851-66
Gilbert Mfg. Co., 1866-71
William L Gilbert Clock Co., 1871-1934
William L. Gilbert Clock Corp., 1934-57
Elias Ingraham & Co., 1857-60
E. Ingraham & Co., 1861-1958
E.N. Welch Mfg. Co., 1864-1903
Sessions Clock Co., 1903-56
New Haven Clock Co., 1853-c. 1965
F. Kroeber (& Co.), 1863-1887
F. Kroeber Clock Co., 1887-1904

Q

What about my French/German/Swiss/English/Electric clock?

A

Soon after I started collecting, I made a decision to specialize in American spring- and weight-driven clocks. There is just too much to know to be a generalist unless you make a living in the clock business. I'm afraid you'll have to keep surfing. The single most comprehensive index to horology on the web is Horology - The Index.

Q

What can you tell me about the American Clock that I just inherited?

A

There was a time when I had the time to look up people's clocks in my many reference books. Unfortunately, that time is past. The demands of running my own business, being on the board of directors, webmaster, and newsletter editor of the local chapter of the NAWCC (Chapter 69), being on the national Membership and Publicity Committee for the NAWCC, being on the board of directors of the Orange County Guitar Circle, and just living my life have made it impossible for me to give up anything more. The best advice I can offer now is to check your local library, check with the booksellers below, or get in touch with someone from your local chapter of NAWCC.

Q

Where can I get reference books on clocks?

A

Call or write either of these sources and ask for a catalog of their books on clocks:

Arlington Book Co.
2706 Elsmore Street
Fairfax, VA 22031-1409
Phone (703) 280-2005
Fax (703) 280-5300
http://www.arlingtonbooks.com/

U.S. Books
7707 Kiva Drive
Austin, TX 78749-2917
Phone (512) 892- 4220
Fax (512) 891-9127

http://www.usbooks.com/

Q

Where can I get replacement parts like pendulum bobs or springs for old clocks?

A

Call or write either of these sources and ask for a catalog of clock parts:

Merritt's Antiques
1860 Weavertown Rd.
P.O. Box 277
Douglassville, PA 19518-0277
Phone (610) 689-9541
Fax (610) 689-4538
http://www.merritts.com/

TimeSavers
P.O. Box 12700
Scottsdale, AZ 85267
Phone (602) 483- 3711
Fax (602) 483-6116
http://www.timesavers.com/

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