Monday, March 26, 2018

A Clock for Everyone's Mantel

QUESTION: I fix up old houses. While cleaning up a house to resell recently, I discovered a heavy clock with pillars on the front that looks as if it had seen better days. At first I was going to toss it in the trash, but when I told my wife, she said to bring it home. When she saw it, she gasped, for it looked like one her grandfather had when she was a child. She loved hearing it chime when she went to visit. The clock needs some restoration, but generally the case is sound. I took it to a clockmaker friend of mine who told me that he could probably get it running and would restore it for several hundred dollars. I’d like to know what kind of clock this is, who made it, and how old it is. Also, would it be worth restoring or should I just look for another one for my wife?

ANSWER: From the photograph you sent, it looks like you have an Ansonia cast-iron clock from about 1904. The company, based first in Derby, Connecticut, then in New York, produced thousands of clocks, but their cast-iron models were some of their best sellers.

The Ansonia Clock Company was one of the major 19th century American clock manufacturers. It produced thousands of clocks between 1850, its year of incorporation, and 1929, the year the company went into receivership and sold its remaining assets to   the Amtorg Trading Corporation in Soviet Russia.

In 1850, Anson Greene Phelps formed the Ansonia Clock Company as a subsidiary of the Ansonia Brass Company with two noted Bristol, Connecticut, clockmakers, Theodore Terry and Franklin C. Andrews. Phelps had been operating a brass rolling mill, the Phelps, Dodge, & Company, which he formed with two of his son-in-laws. To help build up his brass business, Phelps decided to get into the clockmaking business as a way to expand the market for his brass products. It was a shrewd business move, for it allowed him to profit from the manufacture of a clock’s raw components and the finished product as well.

Terry and Andrews thought it was a good business decision for them as well, giving them ready access to large quantities of brass for use in clock movements. They agreed to sell Phelps a 50 percent interest in their clockmaking business in exchange for cheaper brass clock parts and moved their entire operation to Derby, Connecticut— a portion of which was later named Ansonia after Anson Phelps—where Phelps had his brass mill.

By 1853, the firm had begun to produce cast-iron clocks to meet the needs of middle class families for clocks that looked elegant but were affordable. That same year, Ansonia exhibited their cast iron cased clocks, painted and decorated with mother-of-pearl, at the New York World's Fair in Bryant Park. Only two other American clock companies exhibited at the fair, which opened on July 4, 1853—the Jerome Manufacturing Company of New Haven, Connecticut, and the Litchfield Manufacturing Company of Litchfield, Connecticut, known for its papier-mache clock cases. (Learn more about papier-mache products by reading “Beauty and Strength from Paper” in The Antiques Almanac). Unfortunately, Phelps died a rich man a month after the Fair closed.

Ansonia created their cast-iron clocks to imitate elegant ones being made in France. Their clocks, however, because they made them of cast-iron, were less costly to produce, thus less expensive to buy, making them affordable to middle class homeowners. The paper dial used on this type of clock gave the impression of more expensive enamel ones very convincingly. While some bases were left sold black, others had the look of faux marble, simulating the French ones. Ormulu figures and mounts, on those clocks that had them, had a Japanese Bronze finish. The clocks had an eight-day movement, meaning they only had to be wound every eight days.

An antique cast iron mantle clock with gold gilt accents, manufactured by the Ansonia Clock Company of New York, circa 1904. This elegant mantle clock features a frame inspired by Greek architecture with a top cornice that has a gold bow and ribbon motif in the middle and two reeded columns on each side of the clock face, also with gold gilt details to the top and bottom. The central clock face is white with black roman numerals and hands, which is marked with the maker’s mark near the bottom and is then surrounded by a gilded border with an egg and dart design. The entire clock sits on a solid rectangular base.

This clock is what Ansonia named the “Boston Extra.” Made in 1904, it was a mantel clock with a visible escape movement, enabling the owner to watch the clock ticking, and chimes on the hour and the half hour. It features a pie-crust bezel, four green, full rounded pillars on the front and is very heavy, weighing in at 24 pounds. In 1904, the Boston Extra sold for $11.15 to $14.25. Today, one of these in good condition can sell for over $600. So, yes, it would be good to have it restored.

Learn more about clocks by reading #TheAntiquesAlmanac's Glossary of Antique Clock Styles.

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