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.
At 1-800-4CLOCKS, we get requests not only from all over the USA, but also from around the world, regarding where individuals and organizations should go to get their timepiece repaired. Grandfather Clocks are the most frequently requested category, whether a Howard Miller Grandfather Clock that is no longer under warranty, or a 120 year old antique grandfather clock. In fact, we get requests for all kinds of mechanical clocks and pocket watches too, including wall clocks, mantel clocks, cuckoo clocks, novelty clocks and grandmother clocks. This is true for antique wall clocks and antique mantel clocks, including Kieninger Clocks and Hermle Clocks and Ridgeway Clocks.
We no longer encourage people to mail in their timepieces to us for repair. We used to do that, and found it is much more efficient from everyone’s perspective to get their new or antique clock fixed reasonably locally to them. To aid in that goal, we are sharing clock shops that do repairs, some with a particular specialty, in various geographical areas. While we cannot recommend specific shops or warrant any work they might do, we do try here to give you a least of clock repair shops in California that may well be either able to help you themselves, or if not to point you in the right or a good direction.
We hope this list of clock repair shops in California helps. We will be sharing other clock resources which may be of assistance on a continuing basis.
B & B Antique Clock Repair, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420, tel. (805) 489-0415
Clock Master, 2734 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, CA 92869, tel. (714) 997-4029
Clocks Americana, 860 North Main, Orange, CA 92868, tel. (714) 997-0923
Clocks Etc., 971 Moraga Road, Lafayette, CA 94549, tel. (925) 284-4720
Davidson Clock Company, 10900 Los Alamitos Blvd, Suite 210, Los Alamitos, CA 90720, tel. (888) 419-6522
HRS Clocks, 490 1st St, Ste C, Solvang, CA 93463, tel. (805) 688-8555
Mike’s Clock Clinic, 17000 Western Avenue # 7, Gardena, CA 90247, tel. (877) 286-6762
Read-Co, 35791 Royal Sage Ct, Palm Desert, CA 92211, tel. (760) 565-1910
Redwood City Clock & Watch, 2738 Broadway, Redwood City, CA, 94062, tel. (650) 556-1197
Slaters Antiques & Collectibles, 609 N. 10th Street, Sacramento, CA 95811, tel. (916) 442-6183
The Clock Man Online, 205 W Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton, CA, 92832, tel. (714) 578-0089
The Tic Toc Shop, 9534 Reseda Blvd (this is the local Post Office address), Northridge, CA 91325, tel. (818) 718-8300
Tom’s Clock Service, 3909 Pacheco Blvd, Martinez, CA 94553, tel. (510) 228-8436
I’m also pleasantly surprised that my daughter and son have shown some interest in clocks as well. Initially they had not shown much interest in the grandfather clock idea, but I’m hoping that all these new clocks will help spark an interest, or at least all the exposure to my interest in clocks over the years will make them both a little sentimental about clocks as well. Almost everyone who comes to my house comments on the fact that there is a clock anywhere you look, although now I’m trying to replace quantity with quality.
I have an old regulator wall clock with the original glass panel advertising Calumet baking powder that used to hang in a store that my grandparents owned. This was one of two matching clocks, and I found this one in their barn with the wall clock movement missing. I refinished the case and fit a key-wound pendulum movement from Klockit in it. I guess that’s the only one that has some meaning or history to it. I’ve had it hanging in my bedroom for the past 15 years which is nice except when I sleep somewhere else — on vacation, for example — and then it’s too quiet without the tick-tock sound I’m used to hearing.
I’ve also just discovered the novelty clock section of your website and the interesting Rhythm Clocks, so I’ll be looking at those much more closely. Originally I was single-mindedly focused on grandfather clocks, and then wall clocks, that I haven’t even looked at everything else you offer.
You already definitely have me as a loyal customer. I can’t promise I’m going to buy a grandfather clock every year, but I did a fair amount of research before I first contacted you, and was already impressed with your selection and prices; now you can add customer service to that as well. And that’s pretty much the holy triumvirate of the retail business.
My parents own a hardware store, and my grandparents owned a dry goods store and a department store simultaneously, so I appreciate what it takes to deliver good customer service, and I prefer to give my business to a family-owned business that is well run.
Special thanks to a great grandfather clock and wall clock customer who actually wrote the above in an email to us. The inter-generational aspect of the story, among others, made us believe this would be of interest to some of of grandfather clocks blog readers.
Consumers of all industrial and personal use items have heard of and to some degree follow the Consumer Confidence Index. People on Wall Street and Economists all look at the Index of Leading Economic Indicators. Manufacturers and economists alike look at the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, as among other things as a bellwether for signs of potential inflation on the horizon. Well here and now we would like to introduce the Clock Index.
Clocks by their nature are organizational creatures, whether they are the heartbeat of the home as a grandfather clock that all can hear and tell the time of day. Wall clocks throughout the nation, and the World, tell people in homes what time of the day it is, and in offices can be even more integral to the workings of an organization with everything from the start of day, to meetings, to lunchtime, to coffee breaks, to quitting time can all be measured and watched by looking at a wall clock near you. We have had many customers purchase atomic wall clocks for precisely the reason that they do not want employees discussing or arguing about whether it really is 5 o’clock or whatever the quitting time is, or not. They see atomic clocks as productivity enhancers.
So should our Clock Index be more than the types of clocks we offer, such as grandfather clocks, mantle clocks, wall clocks, atomic clocks and much more, and should they are highlight the makers, such as Howard Miller Grandfather Clocks, Hermle Floor Clocks, the Ridgeway Grandfather Clock Collection, Kieninger Wall Clocks, Hermle Grandfather and Mantel Clocks, Americana Grandfather Clocks, or should the Clock Index take a completely different wither micro or macro view of the work of clocks. Should it perhaps include the history if clocks, including the history of grandfather clocks, grandmother clocks, wall clocks and more, or should it highlight the current clock makers like Howard Miller Clocks, Kieninger Clocks, Hermle Clocks, Ridgeway Clocks and more, or should it include some well-known but no longer extant manufacturers of clocks such as Sligh Grandfather Clocks, Bulova Grandfather Clocks, Seth Thomas Clocks including the famous Seth Thomas Grandfather Clocks, Seth Thomas Wall Clocks and Seth Thomas Mantel and Nautical Clocks, among many others.
If one goes father back in clock history, simply 25 years and earlier, there an be thousand of clock makers and tens of thousand of clock and watchmakers around the globe going all the way back to the late 1600s to the present. The horological history is rich and well documented in many places, and the Clock Index could be the focal point for bringing much of it together.
There are also membership associations such as the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) and the American Watch and Clock Institute (AWCI) which are by themselves repositories of vast amounts not only of timepiece expertise and teaching, but also of clock and watch history from the golden days to the present.
Any thoughts individuals may have about the clock history, the current clock and timepiece market more broadly, and how a clock index might fit into all of that and be of most use to grandfather clock, wall clock and mantle clock shoppers, as well as to those studying clock history, would be most welcome to give us their time and thoughtful input.