The First One for June 2011
Left. Jeromes, Gilbert, Grant & Co. clock. Center. Movement of clock at left. Right. Label of clock at left.
John Jameson (VA)
If my detailed inventory is accurate, my first clock was a Jeromes, Gilbert, Grant and Co. acquired in May 1961. My wife and I had been in Waterford, VA, on one of our field trips looking for antiques for our Arlington, VA, home. Those of you who have been to, or perhaps have had the good fortune to live in Waterford, know it to be a charming, small, out-of-the way town west of Leesburg, VA, surrounded by fields and forests. All very bucolic. As I recall it had one store, maybe two, and one could drive into town and park easily. Hopefully the town remains much the same thanks to zoning and other restrictions by the wise residents.
Mostly we browsed, but at the end of the day we stopped at the Roses Antique Shop. I don’t recall any previous interest in antique clocks, but the clock shown in Figure 1 caught my eye. The price of $27.50 (from my inventory record) seemed like a lot to me, but I went ahead. My wife humored me.
As illustrated on page of 62 of NAWCC Bulletin Supplement No. 15 (spring 1986), in Chris H. Bailey’s excellent book, From Rags to Riches to Rags, The Story of Chauncey Jerome, the clock is described as an “unusual model shelf clock by Jeromes, Gilbert, Grant and Co. made about 1839. Zinc dial with black painted chapter. Lower mirror is original.” The case is quite thin (three inches) and perfectly flat in front unlike the usual ogee or beveled front. Likely it was a prototype for those models. This clock is in the collection of the American Clock and Watch Museum. My guess is that my clock originally had a mirror that was replaced with a reverse painted tablet. My purchase is pretty much as found with some touching up of the tablet and a repair to the glass over the dial.
Elsewhere in Bulletin Supplement No. 15 (pages 25 and 56), Bailey describes Jeromes’ evening in Richmond, VA, in 1837 when he conceived the idea of a cheap, one-day brass clock that would take the place of wooden-works clocks. Following discussion with his brother, Noble Jerome, upon returning to Bristol, CT, in January 1838, Noble set to work to develop the new movement. While production continued on wooden-works clocks, in 1839 the two Jeromes went into partnership with William Gilbert, Zelotes C. Grant, among others to raise capital. Production started using Noble’s design. While the new clock was a great sales success, the company was dissolved in 1840, perhaps to get rid of partners and their shares of the income.
This clock was in my possession for many years but is now owned by my good friend and fellow accumulator, Ralph Whitmer, who took the photographs and reviewed this paper. We would be interested in knowing of other such clocks owned by collectors or in other museums.
Left. B. Arlington pocket watch. Center. Acquisition No. 8. Right. R & A Vienna Regulator, acquisition No. 3.
Donald Bellairs (CA)
Our interest in antique clocks and watches began in 1966 when we received, from my father-in-law, three old pocket watches possessed by his mother prior to her death. One needed cleaning and the other two needed repairs. As our ignorance about watches and clocks was absolute we consulted our local watch repairman. One he cleaned and we gave it to my wife’s sister; the second one he repaired and we kept it; the third one he returned to us with the admonition to find an old watch repairman who would restore it for “love” not “money.” Then he said, “I could do the repairs but you could not pay my bill.”
The watch in question is a man’s silver case-in-case fusee pocket watch made by B. Arlington of London. The hallmarks on the case date the watch to the year 1814. We were successful in finding an elderly retired watch repairman who consented to do the extensive repair. Someone in the past had separated the plates without letting down the spring. The fusee chain was broken and other damage sustained. The guilty party, I surmise, was able to stuff the parts and pieces back into the case and close it up. This was how I handed it to Mr. Walter Charles of Point Loma, CA (San Diego). He accepted it with obvious joy as he hadn’t worked on a fusee movement in years.
A few weeks later a call informed us that our watch was ready for pickup and was running quite nicely. At this time our family consisted of four children plus a foster daughter. As I was just beginning a teaching career, money was quite tight. Upon our arrival in Point Loma Mr. Charles handed us a running watch and said, “I did $300 worth of work on this.” I was stunned as this just about equaled one month’s salary. My heart missed a few beats, then Mr. Charles smiled and said, “But, you owe me $50.” He had indeed done the work for love and not for money.
This adventure sparked the beginning of our interest in clocks and watches. Unfortunately, we do not know the history of the watch. It came to us through my wife’s grandmother and/or her sister. The sister died first and Grandma came to possess the watch. It may have belonged to their father—we like to think so. When I asked my father-in-law from whence his mother obtained the watch, he said, “I don’t know, I never asked her.” Oh, how I wish he had!
A cousin later also denied any knowledge of the history of this old watch. Even though we can’t trace its full history, this B. Arlington watch is a prized possession and was the first stage in our development of an interest in timekeeping and the collection of timekeepers.
After joining the La Mesa, CA, clock club (now San Diego County Chapter 59 of the NAWCC), our interest shifted to clocks. Over the nearly 45 years since receiving Grandma’s watch we have owned about 1,850 clocks. No, we do not still have them all!
Although the gift of the three watches sparked our horological interest, for some reason even unexplainable to us, we tend to consider acquisition No. 8 the start of our active collecting.
We had purchased a number of antiques at a nearby auction house by 1968 when No. 8 came upon the scene. We had even previously bought a small R & A Vienna Regulator, but again, though No. 3 is still in our possession, it is not the “Start.”
Auctioneers could be a subject of a dissertation all by themselves. Digressing for just a moment, we were attending an auction in northern Kansas where the auctioneer tried to pass himself off as the stereotypical country hick—called himself colonel, used a heavy country drawl, used poor English, anything to further the image of a real Rube. My wife was standing slightly behind me with her hand on my shoulder. When she wanted me to bid, she would squeeze her fingers. Within two squeezes the auctioneer did not even glance at me, he simply took our bid from her flexed fingers! A real Rube!
Back to the purchase of clock No. 8. The auctioneer selling this clock must have been a cousin to the one in Kansas. A helper handed him a cuckoo case and a shoe box full of parts. I could not assemble a clock at that time and this one was not one in which I saw any promise at all, not even at $7. My wife saw differently, she poked me in the ribs, I jumped, the auctioneer shouted “SOLD!” and our nearly 45 years of collecting clocks began.
I took the box of pieces to our local repairman. He looked carefully at them and said, “You have such an interest in clocks that you should do the cleaning and assembly of this one.” I said, “But I know nothing.” He replied, “Just ask me if you get stuck and I’ll tell you what to do next.” This was the true beginning, if not of collecting, of the cleaning and repair of clocks.
The finials were missing from the case, we could see the empty holes, but we had no idea what should go in those holes. My wife is quite talented in design so she came up with a pattern, and I made some pieces to fit where finials should have been. After knowing what a cuckoo finial should look like we hesitated to replace our initial effort. Our oldest son now has a one-of-a-kind cuckoo clock—and it’s still running 42 years later!