Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Promoting Through Time

QUESTION: I have an old clock with advertising for Jolly Tar Pastime Tobacco on it in raised letters. I’ve had the clock for a long time and never saw another one like it. Can you tell me anything about it?

ANSWER: You’re the lucky owner of a Baird advertising clock. You’ve no doubt seen pens and other items with printed advertising on them. But in the 1890s, a clock advertising a company was a novelty. Clocks promoted foods and beverages, household products, even medicines, such as Monells Teething Cordial for Children. They even advertised pet food like Clarke’s Patent Buffalo Meat Dog Cakes, endorsed by Queen Victoria, herself. Each clock says something different on it.

Born in Philadelphia in 1860, Edward Payson Baird went to work for the Seth Thomas Clock Company in 1879. In 1887, he left Seth Thomas to form his own company, the Baird Manufacturing Company, in Montreal, Canada,  to produce cases and doors for advertising clocks to house Seth Thomas movements. While he made his cases of pine or oak, he used papier-maché for the doors, with embossed letters around the clock face promoting the virtues of one product or another. Baird had numerous clients in the United States as well as in Canada and  Great Britain.

Baird used papier-maché for his clock doors because of the ready availability of wood pulp in Canada. By 1890, he moved his operation across the border to Plattsburgh, New York.  When economic circumstances forced him to close his Plattsburgh factory in 1896, Baird shifted his base of operations to Chicago, where he produced clocks with embossed, stamped tin advertisements. However, by that time interest in advertising clocks had begun to wane, so he concentrated his efforts on manufacturing parts for the fledgling telephone industry.

While some advertising brands, like Coca-Cola, are instantly recognizable and still exist today, many other products and brand names have long since disappeared. Baird clocks are the only clocks made from papier-maché that have advertising on them. Most resemble a figure 8. The top doors are 18 inches wide, while the bottom ones are 12 inches wide. While Baird clocks are 30½ long, Baird did make smaller 26-inch models. 

Baird also produced 18-inch-diameter gallery clocks. For the most part the dial on these clocks  measures 12 inches and the hands are straight, with a few exceptions. All Baird clocks have two doors unlike many other clocks produced at the time with only one door, giving access to the dial and pendulum.

A Baird clock in good working condition, with its original dial, glass, movement, and paint job, can sell for around $3,000. Some exceptional pieces sell for over twice that and higher. And well known brands, again like Coca-Cola, can sell for even more.

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