News & Events
Discover Mid-America May 2008
by Vicki Walker
"I became interested when we would go on family vacations in Vermont,” said Darrell Carr, former president of the Heart of American Chapter 36 local of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWC www.nawcc.org).
Carr’s fascination with clocks and watches — and time — goes back over 30 years and he continues to cultivate it through his involvement in antique shows.
Time fascination is not limited to this century. It has fascinated the human race since the dawn of agriculture, when reliance on the sun’s position in the sky created some means of measurement.
Sundials graced the gardens of Egyptians nearly 5,500 years ago. Using the sun’s shadow to point to a number, ancients would learn the time of day. Unfortunately, that only worked while the sun was up. During the night, they were on their own.
According to www.archtech.org, a website about the history of clocks, water clocks were the next big thing. Egyptians designed what they called clepsydras, about 1,400 B.C. Water flowed from one container of water to others through a series of tubes. The marks on the lower container showed the water level, which corresponded with a specific time.
Credit, also, goes to the Egyptians and Babylonians for devising the numbering system we use today for our time. Twelve hours from sunrise to sunset and twelve from sunset to sunrise were the dividing points they used, although that part got a little sticky because the length of a day changes throughout the year. They also conceived the 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute system. This was all done 4,000 years ago.
Spring-powered clocks were invented about 1510 and the first clock with a minute hand showed up in 1577. It wasn’t until the pendulum clock was invented that time became more precise than the shadow of the sun.
As people’s lives became more complicated, clocks had to become more exact. By the mid-1500s, Europeans were rediscovering the ancient world, and science and mathematics were taking on a larger role in defining the world and deadlines needed to be met.
Before Miller beer clocks let us know it was “Miller time,” many early Americans marked time through the seasons, never knowing the exact moment they were in.
Coming to America
Clock making worked its to America by the early 1700s. By the early 1800s, Americans had developed their own unique style, no longer dependent on European clockmakers.
By 1880s, the industry boasted hundreds of clockmakers. With the invention of mass production, which some credit the watchmaker Eli Terry with inventing about 1816 — long before Henry Ford put the idea to use building cars — every farmer, dressmaker and laborer could own a clock.
The first original, all-American-made clock was called the banjo, patented by Simon Willard in 1803. Before that American clocks were mainly imitation of English, Scottish and French clocks, according to Bill Duggan, a member of the Heart of America Chapter 36 of the NAWCC and by all accounts the local clock historian.
Duggan, who collect early American clocks, said American ingenuity and the war for Independence helped birth the new clock industry.
“We couldn’t get brass (for the mechanism) because of the war, so they used things they could easily find — wood,” Duggan said.
Up until then the main type of clock was tall or what we refer to now as the Grandfather clock. Because clocks used weights, the body of the clock had to be long to accommodate it. Willard, said Duggan, shortened the weight, which then allowed for a smaller clock case. Wall clocks and shelf clocks were born, and the first style was the banjo clock.
Americans, by now, marked time through the natural business cycles and the rising and setting of the market, not the sun. Those business cycles were populated with companies that needed to sell their wares. The place to sell them was the general store.
From Strauss Brothers Tailors to Mayo’s Tobacco, from Goulding manure to “10-2-4” Dr. Pepper reminders, businesses would slap their name on just about anything if it would get them a sale.
The use of advertising on clocks and ones made specifically for advertising is a relatively new idea, but one embraced by entrepreneurs.
One of those entrepreneurs was Edward Baird of Montreal. He moved south to Plattsburg, NY shortly after starting his Baird Clock business.
Advertising clocks really came into their own during the late 1800s. One of the first advertisements on a clock was Reed’s Tonic, an elixir that would fix any ailment from malaria to indigestion. While the company is no longer in business, the clock — made by Edward Baird — that “sold” the advertising is still around.
The uncontested expert on all things Baird is Jerry Maltz from New Rochelle, NY. He owns over 90 clocks and has been a collector for 30 years. Maltz’s specialty is the Baird clock.
A collector friend introduced him to the Baird at a NAWCC meeting in 1976. Maltz saw another advertised in a newsletter and has been hooked on them ever since. And Maltz literally wrote the book on it. Baird Advertising Clocks, (http://www.taylor-time.com/baird.htm) was published in 1998.
“I don’t have a favorite,” Maltz said, “but I do remember where and how I obtained every one.”
How Baird’s or any clock comes into the possession of a collector is the culmination of love, luck and persistence.
Maltz tells the story of how he got a particularly special Baird when friend of Maltz’s showed him a clock while visiting one weekend. Maltz admired the clock, but his friend said it wasn’t for sale. Several years later, however, during another visit, the friend said, “If you still want to buy it, it’s yours.”
Maltz was shocked because clock people are pretty particular about their clocks and to whom they sell them. That Baird clock still hangs on his wall.
Baird clocks are also made of an unusual material — papier-mâché — as are all advertising clocks. Call such clocks a living history of many out-of-business companies such as Reed’s Tonic, which would have been forgotten if not for the advertising on the clock.
In the beginning, the clocks were painted brick red with the case usually made of pine while the doors containing the advertising were made from molded papier-mâché, but with the look and feel of wood. Later the color would change to a darker brown or even mahogany, and on some the color changed with age.
The Baird clock has been compared to the look of a toilet seat, with the top part holding the face, and the smaller door on the bottom containing the mechanics with which to wind the clock. Both doors had printed or embossed names of companies or products around the edges, and opened with brass hinges.
Seth Thomas, the famous American clock maker, made the movements for the Bairds until a year before the company folded, when several other makers were used. The clocks were 8-day clocks, which meant they were spring-loaded and were wound once a week, with a 1-day grace period, giving people time to forget without losing time.
Baird sold his clocks door-to-door, making them for the companies to hang in shops or general stores. The company name was printed on the clocks, and then those companies would give them away to businesses that may use their products.
For instance, razor blade companies would put Baird clocks with their company name on it in barbershops and stores that sold razor blades. Coca Cola would place their clocks in soda fountains, train stations and markets.
Companies from all different categories bought these clocks, from newspapers that are now defunct (Commercial Gazette of Cincinnati, Toledo Blade, Times of Philadelphia, Bright and Newsie) to companies that still in business such as Ghirardelli Chocolate and Dr. Pepper.
One of the most valuable Baird clocks to date is a Coca Cola advertising clock that sold for $25,000 20 years ago, according to Maltz.
Other advertising clocks
There are many different kinds of advertising clocks, especially from the 1940s and onward. But during the 1800s, the idea was just getting stared.
Maltz described one of the most unusual clocks he owns, a Sydney Advertising clock. Built in the 1880s, this is one huge clock, standing 68 inches tall. It has reverse painting on the doors, which is the first advertisement. The cabinet on the bottom of the clock holds three revolving cylinders, with four sides each, that carry advertising cards inside. At each quarter or half turn of the clock, the cards would rotate, showing a new ad for a different business each time.
The clock was given to a company but then fees were charged for the ads. On the dial, the name of the jeweler was printed — as gratis advertising. For that bit of free advertising, the jeweler agreed to maintain the clock in working condition for each year.
A “newer” advertising company was 9 O’clock Washing Tea, which hit the markets around the turn of the century. By using 9 O’clock Washing Tea, women could have their laundry done and hung on the line by 9 am. Tea was another word for soda or washing soda.
Harold Englehaupt of Overland Park, KS, is a local collector of Bairds and Sydneys. His house has a sitting room that has been turned into a parlor full of clocks. One that hangs above an old Victrola is a beautiful cast iron Baird Strauss Brothers Tailor with copper plating.
One would think entering a house with a minimum of 100 clocks in four rooms the noise would be deafening. But it’s just the opposite. Englehaupt winds few and has only one that strikes. The subtle tick, tick, tock feels almost like a heartbeat, which is how Englehaupt sees his clocks — “the heart of the house.”
He described his first house years ago and the newly married shabbiness of the furniture. However, hanging on the wall was a clock. A beautiful clock and that is what friends who visited saw and felt, said Englehaupt.
An old railroad man fond of clocks enticed Englehaupt when he was in high school. At a time, when older men were mentors to the young and curious, Englehaupt wasn’t used to having old clocks around. They soon fascinated him.
“He taught me about clocks. In 1961 or 62, he sold me my first clock, but he said I would have to pay full price. Just because we were friends didn’t mean I would get a deal. It cost me $12.50,” Englehaupt said.
That first clock evolved into a life-long obsession.
“Typically, advertising clocks were made by the company and put on location — typically free,” Englehaupt said.
Most advertising clocks were inexpensively constructed. There would be no bezel or glass covering the dial, just laminated wood with a printed advertisement, with a simple time mechanism.
A 100 years ago advertising for product was limited, especially in rural areas. There were few magazines or newspapers. The general store was where the consumer showed up. So that is where the advertising would be.. was a perfect place for advertising clocks.
However, the survival rate for advertising clocks is low. Englehaupt collects what he likes with a tendency to “work an area hard” before moving on. Calendar clocks, advertising clocks, Ansonia figure clocks, some French clocks all found their way into his collection.
But the advertising clocks bring with them more bang for their buck because of the history that comes with those advertisements. Such advertising that attracted the average customer captivated Englehaupt.
A Damaskeen Razor clock hangs on one of his bathroom walls. The nickname is the “Ugly Baby Clock.” A man with a face full of shaving cream is sitting in a barber chair holding a somewhat ugly and screaming baby.
Another Baird clock announces the company Vanner & Prest’s and Molluscorium, a liniment. It came with a ticket inside to a “picture drome” and has an 11-inch dial made of paper with a finish set against a backing of zinc or tin.
Englehaupt has a theory about how the dial became scratched on the bottom of the clock face.
“You can see where the wear of the dial has been worn out at certain points — when you set the time, the nail on the index finger would scratch the finish on the down stroke,” he said.
Englehaupt also has a Sydney clock. In fact, he bought it from Maltz.
“In excellent condition, the Sydney clock could bring up to $15,000, in bad condition, between $7-10,000. So who could lose?” he said.
“Advertising clocks tend to bring more money and do reflect history,” said Jerry Thornberry. a local clock collector and past president of the NAAWC Heart of America Chapter 36. But there are clocks that the more average collector could afford.
At a recent auction in Sedalia, MO some clocks went for as little as $2 and up to $300, including advertising clocks.
But then there is always one that defies the odds. An E. Howard & Co. astro-regulator build in 1872 sold for $220,000.
It’s just money and it’s all personal. People own these clocks and under their watch, are born, live their lives and die. Then they and their history are passed on to others to do the same.
Vicki Walker is a Kansas City-based writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2006, the Oxford Dictionary declared the word “time” as the most often used noun in the English language.
The word “clock” comes from the Dutch word “glock,” which means bell. Clocks that do not strike or chime are really “timepieces.”
Tempus fugit on the face of a clock is Latin for “time flies.”
The use of the word “Grandfather clock” used instead of ‘Tall Clock” in the 1870s is said come from a song written by Henry C. Work called “Grandfather’s Clock,” in 1875.
Clock metaphors captured the imagination of artists. In 1612, John Webster, playwright (and portrayed as the nasty little boy who played with mice in the movie Shakespeare in Love) wrote:
“The lives of princes should like dyals move,
Here are few other time tidbits:
*A.M. means Ante meridiem, from the Latin for "before noon.” P.M. means Post meridiem, from the Latin for "after noon,"
*O’clock is a short way of saying “of the clock,”
*Wag on the Wall is a popular nickname for a wall clock with exposed pendulum and weights. The pendulum ‘wags back and forth’ hence, wag on the wall.
*Daylight Saving Time, according to the Huffington Post, was proposed by Englishman William Wilmett in 1905 and adopted by the Germans first during WWI. Americans were the last to join.
The longest continuous clockmaker in the United States is Seth Thomas Clocks, according to www.1-8004clocks.com/interesting -facts-about-time-and-clocks.html