Some grandfather clock history and clocks history never gets old. Just look at the stories of Simon Willard, Aaron Willard and Benjamin Willard. An article written in 1936 is still as informative and interesting to a clocks historian as one written today. Grandfather Clocks enthusiasts are sure to minimally find this interesting.
May 24, 1936
Grandfather Clocks, Some Genuine Old-Timers Still Tick Off Hours or Chime Timely Melodies, Proof of Care Their Makers Used
Many things had been discussed by the little group seated behind the plate glass window of a Franklin Street store. And that isn’t exactly true either. Many things had been broached, but the discussion was almost wholly a monologue by the host, a veteran of many a trek into the hinterlands of the antique country and a recognized authority on early American antiques. Now and then a listening member would throw a few words into the conversation, more to keep the oratory flowing than for any factual use, until at last someone uttered those well-worn last words: “What time is it getting to be?”
Subconsciously glances were directed toward the tall dominating grandfather clock against the far wall. Then they fell back to modern wrist-watches and there was a concerted start–for watch and clock pointed to the same hour. No one mentioned it, but there was a subtle sort of mental agreement that it was all “just a coincidence.” But it wasn’t. That old grandfather’s clock was still keeping time, and correct time. “How come?” I lingered to question the antique dealer. And thereby came this tale, a story of famous old American clocks and clockmakers. It seems that– when Simon Willard was 13 years old he made his first “grandfather” clock. When he was 82 he made the large clock in the Capitol at Washington. He was born in 1753, lived to be 95 years old, and left behind him some of the best and most beautiful clocks that have ever been made.
Simon Willard had no grand ideas about organization, sales promotion and production. He did all his work in the space of four rooms. It is good to think that Simon’s clocks, which were made by hand and with infinite care and solicitude, command a higher price today than those made by Aaron Willard, his brother, who opened up a factory and turned out watches and clocks by the hundreds.
Side by side in a Richmond, Virginia antique shop may be seen a grandfather clock made by Simon Willard and one by Aaron Willard. To the connoisseur with blood in his eye the clock made by Simon is much the finer. To the casual onlooker both the clocks are rare examples of early American grandfather (or long case) clocks.
Benjamin Willard, who started making clocks in 1764, was the father of Aaron and Simon, and the first of this famous Massachusetts family to engage in clock-making. In the Boston Gazette for February 22, 1771, he advertised, “Musical clocks playing different tunes, a new tune every day in the week, and on Sunday a Psalm tune. These tunes perform every hour.”
Reliable Clocks Kept Puritan Sabbath
And such is the reliability of a Willard clock that there is no single record of a Puritan Sabbath being violated by week-day tunes. Likewise, the beauty and workmanship which went into the clock cases of Simon Willard is not the only reason these clocks bring good prices wherever antiques are sold: The clocks run and they keep good time.
Simon Willard was an inventor of genius, but that did not keep him from being a thrifty American. He thought that clocks ought to be good and that they ought to be cheap enough for an American to own one, and at the same time have money enough left for a house to put it in. He advertised little, relying on his clock papers (and his clocks) to put across his ideas. One of these clock papers tells his story:
A Simon Willard ‘Grandfather’ clock (left), which is still in first-class condition. The case very handsome with its curved fretwork on top. Phases of moon and days month are both given. Simon Willard made his first at age 13. A shelf (right). Willard called these clocks, were as early 1784, timepieces, because they did not strike. The works were brass.
“Simon Willard, at his Clock Dial in Roxbury Street, manufactures every kind of clock work, such as large clocks for steeples, made in the best manner. . . . Clocks that will run one year without winding up, with very elegant cases, price 100 dollars. . . . Elegant daytime pieces, price 30 dollars. Timepieces which run 30 hours and warranted, price 10 dollars. . . . Chime clocks that will play six tunes, price 120 dollars. . . . Gentlemen who wish to purchase any kind of clocks are invited to call at said Willard’s Clock Manufacture, where they will receive satisfactory evidence that it is much cheaper to purchase new than old and second-hand clocks. He warrants all his work–and as he is ambitious to give satisfaction–he doubts not of receiving public approbation and patronage.”
Willard Originated the “Banjo” Clock
Although Simon Willard knew the worth of his clocks, it is doubtful if he dreamed of the approbation and patronage they would receive less than a hundred years after his death. He set out to make serviceable clocks that thrifty Americans could buy with a clear conscience. What would he say if he could happen in today on some sale of rare antique clocks and see his paragons of thrift and mechanical perfection sold for prices for four figures? And the purchasers, descendants, perhaps, of those thrifty New England customers of his, glad to get them at that price and paying for them with a smile?
Aaron Willard turned out his clocks by the hundred. The clock at right is mahogany with inlay. The other clock is by Nathaniel Edwards of Acton, Mass.
In 1802 Willard brought out his patent timepiece, which was later called the banjo clock. It was a prodigious success. No improvement has since been made on the original design. The story goes that such accuracy did Willard have in his hand and eye that he habitually filed the teeth of his cogwheels without marking them; and that when someone asked him why he didn’t stamp his brass with markers, he replied that it was unnecessary–his wheels were accurate. And Simon Willard was right! One proud owner of a Willard order clock says that it has run within 30 seconds of accuracy for a month.
Simon Willard died during the turbulent year of 1848. He had retired from business in 1839 and sold his tools and the good will of the business (together with the privilege of putting the name Simon Willard on the dials) to Elnathan Taber, his best apprentice. Simon Willard Jr. took these clocks and sold them at his shop in Boston.
It was this son, Simon Jr., who made the astronomical clock now in the observatory of Harvard University. His astronomical regulator was standard time for all railroads in New England.
Since the first grandfather clock appeared in England in 1681, clockmakers in this country and abroad have given them thought and consideration, so that now, when the antique hunter goes clock hunting, there is every style, every wood and every price at his disposal for this useful and beautiful ornament.
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We like to think of our 2 blogs www.ClocksBlog.com and this blog www.GrandfatherClocksBlog.com as the ultimate guide to comparing grandfather clock brands and THE Grandfather Clock Buying Guide, helping consumers to understand the different grandfather clock styles, including traditional vs contemporary grandfather clocks and grandmother clocks, knowing at least some of the differences between the best grandfather clock brands, understanding the features that may or may not be in a grandfather clock, including the grandfather clock chimes, knowing who are the best makers of mechanical grandfather clock movements, understanding the different types of grandfather clocks movements – whether it be quartz chain-driven, cable-driven or tubular chimes, and understanding the more recent and older and ever-changing history of grandfather clock manufacturers and grandfather clock makers.
This is a very tall grandfather clock order, yet we believe we have here a veritable treasure trove of information that would be useful for anyone in the market for a grandfather clock. Whether you are thinking about purchasing an antique grandfather clock, a vintage grandfather or grandmother clock, or whether you are trying to understand the marketplace in general and whether to buy a new grandfather clock, we at 1-800-4CLOCKS are there for you both with these blogs, with many grandfather clock resources available on our website at 1-800-4CLCOKS.com, and we are always only a toll free phone call away at 1-800-4CLOCKS, and are delighted to talk with anyone who is serious about being in the market for a grandfather clock or grandmother clock, not to mention mantle clocks, cuckoo clocks, wall clocks, atomic clocks, and so much more.
We spend a lot of time to delving into the history of grandfather clocks themselves, the evolution of the major grandfather clock brands and how that has changed over time, and continues to be ever-changing. We attempt to demystify the many features offered on many grandfather clocks, including illuminated dials, automatic nighttime shut-off, working vs faux moonphase dials and so much more. The grandfather clock chimes are another key element that any thoughtful grandfather clock buyer will want to understand completely, and we address not only the different mechanical grandfather clock movement makers, as well as triple chime grandfather clocks vs single generally Westminster Chimes Grandfather Clocks, and when and where one might expect to see some of the less common grandfather clocks songs or chimes such as Beethoven’s Ave Maria or Schubert’s Ode to Joy.
Understanding the differences within and between grandfather clock brands, such as Howard Miller Grandfather Clocks compared to the Hermle Grandfather Clock collection, or Ridgeway Grandfather Clocks, Kieninger Clocks and Americana Grandfather Clocks. All have pros and cons, and many have big differences even within their own grandfather clock line.
We even include some of the most popular posts about grandfather, grandmother, wall, mantle, cuckoo, atomic and other clocks on our main website, which we term the Best of, like Greatest grandfather clock Hits of music, for posts that our customers and readers have found especially useful. We have one post on our grandfather clock blog which is titled Moving Grandfather Clocks, and that page is the single most visited page on our website. We warrant the advice for what you as a customer pay for it, which is nothing, yet we have never had a negative comment or even any suggestions for changing this grandfather clock blog greatest hit of all time.
Any grandfather clock or other timepiece subjects you would like us to cover? Just make a Comment to this post, or send us an email, or feel free to call us toll-free. If you want to become a grandfather clock blog contributor, that is something to which we are also always open.
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As a long-time leading retailer of grandfather clocks, we are frequently asked for our grandfather clock catalog. This is especially true because of our roots in direct marketing as a grandfather clock catalog retailer with a memorable toll-free number. Of course we have always sold and featured wall clocks, mantel clocks, cuckoo clocks, grandmother clocks, atomic clocks, antique grandfather clocks, and antique timepieces of all sorts including pocket watches and some amazing antique grandmother clocks, regulators, congreve clocks, inclined plane clocks, automata, sterling silver sundial-compass combinations and much more.
Antique clocks always present a special challenge to market in a catalog, as any experienced auction house knows. There is almost always just one of the antique clocks or watches for sale, so listing these timepieces with a fixed price can create many headaches. Yet at the same time, despite the currently appearing ubiquitous presence of auctions online and off, from eBay to Christies to Sothebys, many buyers and sellers prefer the old fixed price antique market model, much like one would find in a fine antique clock and watch shop.
Many readers of this blog post, the fifty and over generations, will remember to some degree the old Sears and Roebuck Catalog, that literally set the standard for the catalog direct marketing revolution that it began. Even the Catalogs themselves became collector’s items, as did reprints of the original Sears Catalogs.
However, fast-forward one hundred years into the future, meaning today, and the web and individual websites like 1-800-4CLOCKS.com have taken over as the modern-days Catalogs of choice. New grandfather clocks and wall clock collections can be added daily. Grandmother Clocks on backorder can be noted as such so grandmother clocks on backorder will not disappoint customers. Complete new lines and brands can be added in a day. Consumer expectations about the customer shopping experience have gone through the roof, as grandfather clock shoppers and those searching for wall clocks discounts and mantel clocks on sale expect that anything they see on a website for sale is absolutely in stock.
Grandfather clock makers such as Howard Miller Clocks, Ridgeway Grandfather Clock Collection, Kieninger Clocks, and Hermle Floor Clocks are much better then ever before about providing more current inventory data. Yet at the same time, this grandfather clock, wall clock and mantle clock data will not be real time. And some clocks, including Kieninger Grandfather Clocks and wall clocks and mantle clocks, and some of the Hermle clock models, including Hermle Grandfather Clocks and Mantel and Wall Clocks can have a 2-4 month lead time and are generally considered prepaid custom orders. This is hard to communicate either in an old-fashioned direct marketing catalog and even in a great website like the one we have at 1-800-4CLOCKS.
The good news is that with the advent of the internet, we are able to offer both selection and savings never before imagined even 20 years ago. More choices, higher discounts on the best grandfather clocks, better pictures of each clock, and even the ability to hear a specific clock chime and offer supersize pictures can all really recreate the grandfather clock gallery shopping experience. A tradeoff is that many fewer of us bricks and mortar-type stores are surviving, especially as new and competing technologies are vying for some of the same shopping dollars that were previous spent on grandfather clocks and wall clocks. Not only can one see the current time on most any personal computer or MacBook, but also on iPhones and other mobile devices including the Samsung Galaxy.
Having said that, there is nothing that competes with the old world charm of a grandfather clock or wall clock or mantle clocks, whether a new or antique clock. A grandfather clock is truly the heartbeat of the home.