|Photographs of Clock courtesy of Rails and Trails Museum and the Buffalo County Historical Society|
May Not be copied without permission of museum
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Artifact Analysis: Gold Colored Fancy Clock
HIST84802: Readings in American History: Museum Interpretation
Dr. Jinny Turmin
March 31, 2014
Revised May 4, 2014
March 21, 2014
Gold Colored Fancy Clock
believes it to possibly be brass. However, it may just as likely be gilded cast-iron, which was popular during
the Gilded Age. The fancy clock fits within the novelty clock category due to the design. Comparing
model by New Haven Clock Company. This was
determined due to its corresponding similarities to
an officially recognized clock.
This clock has very unique features. While the frame of the face is somewhat plain, there is a swag of flowers, which swags from the sides of the clock face. A large rose ornaments as a peak in the center in place of a finial. Two arms that reach out hold up this entire portion in an arching fashion so it appears as if these arms of the clock are carrying a box like entwining stems or roots. Acting as the base, the box’s shape at first appears disorderly. The top portion looks like a wave, with a flower jutting up on one side, and the wave is the stem cresting a little higher than the flower. Then, another bud, this time only partially open, fits snugly in the center. This piece is removable. The bottom portion has legs in equal distance, but with wave-like features as well. Once again, the waves change into a bud, but this time there is only a slight arch toward the bottom.
The face of the clock has large numbers going in the appropriate direction with a plain and simple minute and hour hands. There is a smaller dial at the bottom of the face with a very small hand managing the time the alarm will ring. There is discoloration of the face, including yellowing/browning, and it appears to be water stained. If so, then the face is probably paper, in which case there would be some cockling involved. The accession sheet reads “dial – abalone?” Based upon the sheet and testament, it probably is so, while not quite visible in the photographs.
Around the back, the roses are not visible, not even the one at the crest. However, there are what appear to be two leaves or petals that are holding the rose. There are two areas on the back that are green, and the rest has oxidized into yellow-green, with some spots darker than others. This may be soil or accretion; it is difficult to tell at this point. On the top of the bottom part of the box, there are two areas that appear to be gouges, wear spots that have worn the patina away, or possibly rust. Inside the box, there is possibly another layer of metal, this type it appears to be more iron than anywhere else. There is soil, oxidation, and it appears that there are some areas that have corroded through to the front. Looking through, there are at least two holes, and a major scratch. A blue piece of yarn is an inclusion for this piece.
Going back to the rear of the clock, there is a winding key that appears to still be complete. The turning gear that changes the time also appears to be in working order. The Small handle that sets the alarm is at the off setting, but should it (if it is still able) be moved up, the alarm is set for 3:45. In these types of clocks, there is no am or pm setting; it will ring if it is set no matter what side of the meridian the day is on.
Listed on the accession sheet, and pressed into the metal at the back of the clock are patented dates. There are four dates:
May 6, 1890
Dec 23, 1890
Jan 13, 1891
May 29, 1894
Unfortunately there is no manufacturers name included anywhere. There is not any type of identification mark at all, not even a serial number. The United States Patent Office does not have patents this far back on line in a way that can be searched for easily. The manufacturer and the serial number is required, along with the date. Assumably they can be sourced through physically researching the documents at the office in Washington D.C.
History of the Novelty Clock:
The National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors says that the novelty clocks are not new phenomena. Novel and unique is the character, but also the idea that they are “designed to dazzle, entertain, even instruct those who see them.” Decorative clocks go back to the initial medieval astronomical tower clocks. Mechanical or stationary carved figures decorated facades all across Europe. During the Renaissance, nobles and wealthy merchants requested personalized clocks. Decoration fashion has changed throughout time, from minimalist to Baroque, Rococo, and other fancy styles. What makes the novelty clock different is what makes it novel from other fancy clocks.
Novelty timepieces were more “about capitalizing on the popular culture.” In the eighteen-century, they featured birds that sang, ships that sailed, and featured music and special automata. In the nineteenth-century, these remained popular especially if they showed the watchmaker’s skill, and yet were still relatively limited as a luxury piece as a symbol or wealth and standing. In the twentieth-century novelty moved to toward comic characters, with Mickey Mouse being the highest selling novelty clocks and watches of all.
Nineteenth Century Time:
Railroads set up one hundred official time zones in the 1800s. This was set up to compact all of the different cities into zones. However, this still remained confusing. So, on November 18, 1883, today’s four standard time zones were created in the U.S. Meridians were set up during the International Meridian Conference in 1884. Most charts afterward began using the Greenwich Meridian as the base for 0 degrees. Greenwich Observatory in England produced the highest quality data. England had “more shipping and ships using the Greenwich Meridian than the rest of the world put together” and America began using the GMT as a base as well.
America became obsessed with clock watching during the nineteenth-century. Public areas had clock towers, sometimes one on every corner. Households began the acquisition of mechanical timepieces as showpieces and as personal ornaments. Wristwatches and pins adorned people of the middle and upper classes. Americans purchased grandfather clocks, mantel clocks, and table clocks made of all different types of substances. Wood, enamel, porcelain, brass, and those that were gilded in gold or silver became popular throughout the country. Alexis McCrossen said that even though thier timepieces were overly abundant, “few entirely trusted or relied upon mechanical time” because “many timekeeping mechanisms ran poorly, and most broke” and were an “unstable measure of time.”
While not as accurate as a battery, wound clocks were constantly being checked with others for the correlation of time. The wound clocks work by winding up a small weight or spring that drive the time. A balance and spring system works by the spring dropping a gear section about quarter hour. Nineteenth-century alarm clocks were pretty much developed the same, no matter the manufacturer, according to Marshall Cavendish, editor of How it Works: Science and Technology. Balance and spring timepieces have to be wound every day, and “a complete and going alarm regulated automatically to an accuracy of 99.6 percent,” which contradicts McCrossen’s view. No matter how accurate, Gilded Age Americans apparently loved their fancy clocks.
New Haven Clock Company:
While it cannot be certain, the probability that New Haven Clock Company manufactured the artifact “Fancy Gold Clock/Jewelry Box, 86:D32” is higher than the other clock companies researched. Clock companies such as Ansonia, Jennings Brothers, and Waterbury could have manufactured this clock, but the only similar piece found was the one located at the specialists Savage & Polite’s Antique Clocks page. “Jewel,” is the title that this one is listed under, with the manufacturer listed as “New Haven.”
Hiram Camp founded the New Haven Clock Company on February 7, 1853 in New Haven, Connecticut to manufacture mass-produced brass clock movements for his uncle’s clock company nearby. Camp’s uncle, Chauncy Jerome, was the founder of the highly successful Jerome Manufacturing Company. Jerome filed bankruptcy because of bad investments, and so his nephew, Camp, bought him out. By 1860, Camp’s business’ “production is now about 170,000 clocks annually. [His] workforce numbers 300 men and 15 women.” By the time of the first patented date of this artifact, The New Haven Clock company was in financial difficulty even though it produced over $500,000 worth of inventory.
Hiram Camp resigned, and Walter C. Camp took over and completely revamped the company beginning with the watch-making department. Over several years, many different men held the presidency spot. The Great Depression hurt the company financially, and though they were once again in financial stress. During World War II, manufacturing changed over to produce war supplies, just as many other plants did. After the war, watches and clocks again were created, but they were so far into debt to foreign investors that it never recovered. The company closed down and the “facilities [were] sold through a combination of public auction and private negotiation on March 22-24, 1960.”
New Haven, Connecticut:
After the Civil War, the North became economically prosperous as the Industrial Revolution sped through manufacturing. New American industries “created twelve-million new jobs between 1865 and early 1900.” National Labor and other unions began to spring up in New Haven’s manufacturing plants and construction just as they were throughout the rest of America. New Haven’s workers straddled the city as they stood in strike for higher wages and less working hours through most of the 1880s and 1890s. Immigrants were used to break the line because they were cheap and were eager for any type of work. However, during the point of full pressure, the unions were able to get the owners to bend somewhat, and were even pressured to teach the workers to read and write.
Homelessness and poverty were still prevalent in New Haven even with the surge in jobs. Many of these people were women, immigrants, and old soldiers and sailors. Even if women held a position, they were paid about one-third of a man’s labor. The Mothers Aid Society, the New Haven Dispensary, The Organized Charities Association on Church Street, the Seamen’s Friend Society, and the Grand Army of the Republic were local organizations that assisted with job training and alms giving. The Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations (YMCA and YWCA) were interested in the city youth in New Haven just as they were in other urban areas. Orphans were homed in Asylums such as the St. Francis Orphan Asylum, the Hebrew Ladies Orphan Society, and another that was “under Protestant management.”
The maritime industry in New Haven was extraordinary during the eighteenth century, however traffic waned starting after the War of 1812. Construction of the first breakwater began in the 1880s. This did not protect the harbor from storms or hurricanes, but it did assist in traffic control. It was dredged in 1887 to twenty feet so that almost any ship was able to enter. While shipping continued through the nineteenth-century, it was all but gone by the early twentieth. Because there was still manufacturing going on in the city, there was still some movement in the form of small cargo schooners. The local shipyard reached its peak “during the 1880s when more than twenty 3-4 masted schooners were launched.”
Author’s personal collection
Copy Written, may not be copied without express approval of author
Newport and the rest of Connecticut had an upswing in women’s rights and privileges during the late nineteenth century. Girls’ schools sprang up in many locations. Women’s church and society groups sampled different beliefs and activities. The educated middle class women held meetings and organized clothing and food drives for soldiers and their families. There were hospital aid societies, and “evening clubs for working girls.” Other organizations included suffrage, equal rights, temperance, immigrant, and minority societies. Women began “working by the age of fourteen, usually married early, and then raised large families.” Even so, approximately twenty percent of the women in Connecticut participated in one society or another, according to Joyce S. Pendery.
The Gilded Age:
Mark Twain created the title because of the masses of money that was produced in America at the end of the nineteenth-century. Thirty-five years, from 1890-1925 created the most extravagant generation that was known until that time. America’s sense of ever-expanding wealth and fortune coincided with the idea of manifest destiny. Houses built during the Gilded Age were nothing short of miraculous, and it was all because of American ingenuity and wealth. America built their own palaces that rivaled the rest of the world and were built “in ways that suited the tastes of the owner and the time.”
Even modest dwellings had exponential ornaments on and in them. Wall to wall carpets, wallpaper, and faux fireplaces showed how much times had changed. Americans expected wealth and utopia inhabited this time. Western culture was thought to have reached the beginning of ultimate expression. America’s buildings “are wonderful and unique windows into a time of unprecedented change and creativity in American culture.”
Americans in the Gilded Age held the idea of Manifest Destiny to their heart. The expansion westward created millionaires of some men, and paupers of others. Who did this clock belong to? Was it someone who was wealthy and moved west to become richer only to find that they bought stocks in the wrong project and lost everything they had, including their elaborate gold clock? Or, could it have been someone of no means, whatever, and traveled west to work on the railroads and found their fortune, for which they purchased a grand mansion with furnishings that included an elaborate, over-the-top decorated clock? More speculation could lead to a merchant selling to locals, perhaps, brought it to Kearney as a speculative venture. While the answer may never be known, dreaming of the grand salon where the clock probably sat brings the East to the West, and Connecticut to Nebraska.
Connecticut has had a long history in politics. Interestingly, former congressman Mickey Edwards says that the public believes the “political system is dysfunctional.” Battles and struggles from both parties have been the consistent plight of Connecticut people throughout history. The system has always rewarded “intransigence, discourages compromise, and undermines” the country. Democrats began their foothold into the area during the Gilded Age as the unions worked their way into the manufactories. The area has remained toward the left, ever since.
While it cannot be assured at this time, the probability of the timepiece being manufactured by the New Haven Clock Company in New Haven Connecticut is extremely high. The argument here provides an example extremely similar, yet not exact. No other piece has been found that has any resemblance for the time period of research. Libraries and books have been searched, websites perused, and even a couple of professionals consulted, and still just the one remains that can be said to be anything near the artifact. New Haven, Connecticut, and the rest of America was in the throws of the industrial revolution when this was manufactured. The Gilded age was at its peak, and it makes sense that this elaborate design was created during this time. (All puns intended)
- Cavendish, Marshall ed. How it Works: Science and Technology, 3rd Ed. Tarrytown, NY:
Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2003.
- Mickey Edwards, “The Parties Versus the People” Yale University Press, (2012)
yalepress.yale.edu. (accessed March 23, 2014)
- Foote, George and Richard Silocka, “New Haven Maritime History and Arts, “ Yale-New
Haven Teachers Institute. March 2, 1979. yale.edu. (accessed March 23, 2014)
- “Greenwich Mean Time – GMT,” Time and Date. 2014. timeanddate.com (accessed March 19, 2014)
- McCrossen, Alexis. “Clockwatching: The Enigma of Clocks in Nineteenth-Century
America,” American Historical Association. January 2, 2014. aha.confex.com.
(accessed March 19, 2014)
- “Novel Timepieces Gallery,” National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors. 2013.
www.nawcc.org (accessed March 18, 2014)
- Pendery, Joyce S. “Connecticut Women: Not Completely Hidden from History: Part II:
Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Women,” American Ancestors: New England
Historic Genealogical Society, 2013. amerricanancestors.org. (accessed March 23, 2014).
Images and Accession Sheet:
Photographs of artifact
- “Photographs” Rails and Trails Museum and the Buffalo County Historical Society.
Personal communication with author. 2014.
- “Accession Sheet” Rails and Trails Museum and the Buffalo County Historical Society.
Personal communication with author. 2014.
New Haven Clock and President
- “Novelty Clocks,” Savage & Polite’s Antique Clocks Identification & Price Guide. (2010)
http://www.antiqueclockspriceguide.com (accessed March 14, 2014)
Duo of Two Vickies
- Author’s personal collection
- Biltmore House and Gardens. 2014. Biltmoreestate.com. (accessed March 23, 2014)
 “Novelty Clocks,” Savage & Polite’s Antique Clocks Identification & Price Guide. (2010) http://www.antiqueclockspriceguide.com/clockdetails.php?clockid=37431 (accessed March 14, 2014)
 “Photographs” Rails and Trails Museum and the Buffalo County Historical Society. Personal communication with author. 2014.
 Accession Sheet. “Photographs” Rails and Trails Museum and the Buffalo County Historical Society. Personal communication with author. 2014.
 Accession Sheet.
 “Novel Timepieces Gallery,” National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, (2013) www.nawcc.org (accessed March 18, 2014)
 “Greenwich Mean Time – GMT,” Time and Date, (2014) timeanddate.com (accessed March 19, 2014)
 Alexis McCrossen, “Clockwatching: The Enigma of Clocks in Nineteenth-Century America,” American Historical Association. (January 2, 2014) aha.confex.com. (accessed March 19, 2014)
 Marshall Cavendish, ed. How it Works: Science and Technology, 3rd Ed. (Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2003), 486.
 Accession Page.
 Savage & Polite’s.
 “New Haven Clock Company,” Savage & Polite’s.
 Verlie Ann Polino, “New Haven and the Nation 1865-1900 A Social History Labor, Immigration, Reform,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. (March 7, 1979) yale.edu. (accessed March 22, 2014)
 George Foote and Richard Silocka, “New Haven Maritime History and Arts, “ Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. (March 2, 1979) yale.edu. (accessed March 23, 2014)
 Joyce S. Pendery, “Connecticut Women: Not Completely Hidden from History: Part II: Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Women,” American Ancestors: New England Historic Genealogical Society, (2013), amerricanancestors.org. (accessed March 23, 2014).
 “America’s Gilded Age,” Flagler Museum, (2011) flaglermuseum.us. (accessed March 23, 2014).
 Mickey Edwards, “The Parties Versus the People” Yale University Press, (2012) yalepress.yale.edu. (accessed March 23, 2014)
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