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Horology: Treasures That Tick

Photo of 1893 Seth Thomas mantel clock
1893 Seth Thomas ogee

When I was a kid, back in Canton, Ohio, I used to love visiting my Dad's Uncle Carl and Aunt Mary. They were then (and are still) a cheerful, gracious couple who never had any children or grandchildren of their own but were (and are still) universally treasured by their nephews, nieces, grandnephews, and grandnieces. Aunt Mary's claim to fame was that she gave the best hugs in the whole world, but it was always Uncle Carl who held an almost magical fascination for me. He smoked a pipe. He made his own homebrew beer and wine. Later, when I was old enough to understand, he told me stories about his experiences at Guadalcanal, during World War II. But what made the biggest impression on me was his clocks.

Somewhere along the line, people started giving Uncle Carl the filthy, broken-down clocks that they discovered in their attics or basements. He'd apply his ingenuity and a bit of elbow grease, and before long they were ticking along and sitting pretty on the mantel, or on a bracket, or hanging on a wall. By the time

Photo of 1910 Seth Thomas mantel clock
1910 Seth Thomas mantel clock
I came along, he and Aunt Mary had a whole house full of clocks. There were large ogee clocks with wooden works and reverse painted glass doors; kitchen clocks with elaborate facades and brass bells for chimes; cuckoo clocks in a range of sizes; mantel clocks and table clocks in a variety of case styles. Most had been lovingly, if sometimes imperfectly, repaired and each had a distinct personality. Uncle Carl rarely made it through one of my visits without having to take me through the house and tell me the history of each clock.
Ingraham mantel clock
Ingraham mantel clock

My favorite time to be at Uncle Carl and Aunt Mary's was around noon, because that's when the clocks really put on a show. Maybe five minutes before the hour, I'd hear a camelback mantel clock bong softly from one of the bedrooms. Soon, other clocks in various rooms of the house would "chime in", reaching a crescendo--which I have come to think of as a clockophany--and tapering off again by a couple minutes past the hour.

Soon after I'd purchased my house, I was browsing through an antique shop in Grapevine, Texas. There, I found a 1910 Seth Thomas black pillar mantel clock like the one my grandfather used to have on the mantel at his house. I had no idea whether or not the asking price was fair, but I always figure that if an item is worth the asking price to me, then it's fair. Anyway, the clock was in pristine condition, so I bought it and put it on the mantel above my fireplace, where it continues to keep good time.

Great Granduncle John's cuckoo
Uncle John's cuckoo

I currently have six antique clocks of my own: five running, one not. In addition to the black mantel clock, I have an 1893 vintage Seth Thomas ogee clock and a medium-sized German cuckoo clock--which once belonged to my Great Granduncle John Schwitzgebel--both given to me by Uncle Carl. There are also an Ingraham mantel clock and the Ansonia* kitchen clock that I bought as a fixer-upper and got running when I took the beginners' clock repair class put on by my local Lone Star #124 chapter of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC). I hope to eventually learn enough about clock repair to clean and maintain my own clocks. So far, I haven't gotten any further along than the beginners' class, but I've picked up a non-running mantel clock with barrel spring movement so I'll have something to work on when I find time to take the next class.

kitchen clock
'Ansonia' kitchen clock
  The next project
The next project

* I have since learned how to recognize an Ansonia movement by looking at it. Unfortunately, I didn't have this knack when I bought the clock at auction. Perhaps the seller, who represented it at such, didn't know how to tell either.