This article discusses popular clockmakers in New York in the 19th century, describing their craft and the types of clocks they made. It originally appeared in the May 1938 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.
Before the Revolutionary War, New York consisted chiefly of the Hudson River Valley. The Mohawk Valley and the rest of Central and Western New York remained in the possession of the Indians.
But with peace there began a western surge. This was augmented by the construction of the Erie Canal and by 1820 Central New York was a thriving agricultural region. The Genesee Valley around Rochester was a great wheat granary. The opening of the Canal in 1825 linked Buffalo on Lake Erie with Albany on the Hudson, and New York City became the gateway for foreign commerce.
As prosperity increased in Central New York, Yankee clockmakers were not slow to take advantage of it. Between 1820 and 1860 there were some 50 clockmakers working in this section. The important towns and cities of the industry included Utica, Syracuse, Auburn, Geneva, Seneca Falls, Newark, Chittenango, Stockbridge, Scottsville, Morrisville, Marcellus, and Baldwinsville. These lay along the Canal or within a few miles of it, while far to the east and close to the Hudson River was Saratoga Springs, another clockmaking center. In fact, except for those coming directly from New York City, the long string of patents emanating from New York state on everything connected with clocks were from the Canal section.
Clockmaking got its start here by the shipment of movements from Connecticut. Riley Whiting sent parts instead of whole movements to Scottsville, where they were assembled, cased, and labeled with the name of a local man. Chauncey Boardman sent entire movements to Newark, where they were cased and labeled.
This practice is interesting as a development of the Connecticut clock industry. There is no reason to believe that either Curtis and Dunning of Burlington or Dyer of Middlebury, Vermont, attempted to invade this market particularly. Yet there are plenty of banjo clocks not locally made still to be found in the section. They may have been the work of the listed Albany clock men of the second decade of the century.
Of the clocks locally made, I have a very early one with wooden works which bears a label apparently reading MAE W. ADAMS, but on being cleaned with a damp cloth turns out to be E. W. Adams overlaying Marshall Adams. It was made at Seneca Falls, which is near Auburn where Asa Munger, the most famous of the Central New York clockmakers, made his highly original timepiece. The label in my clock is by John H. Child, Printer, Seneca Falls. The wooden works have brass bushings. The carved pillars are of maple, which contrast nicely with the mahogany that forms the rest of the case. The lines are unusually graceful, more so than those of other makers of this region. It is the only locally made clock with wooden works that I know of and probably dates before 1825.
Asa Munger’s clocks bear the label A. Mungers Patent Brass Eight Day Clocks and Timepieces, Auburn, printed by Henry Oliphant, Printer, West corner of South and Genesee St., Auburn. They are slightly under 40 inches high and have characteristic galleries. A mottled tin shield, often colored blue or gray blue, in the door covers the edges of the round enameled iron dial. The enamel has the gray fine grain of the banjos of the 1820-1830 period. The hands are steel and finely designed. The second hand is below XII; the time winding post is between I and II, but the striking one is in asymmetrical position very close to the X, which gives a queer appearance to the dial. The works are inside hung, have open plates of solid brass, and are of an original type. The pendulum bob is an eagle with spread wings, a characteristic of this maker. He is listed as 1825.
Asa Munger was born in Granby, Mass. His grandfather, Joseph, served in the French and Indian War and was a landowner in Ludlow, Mass. His son, Joseph, Asa’s father was a goldsmith, a soldier in the Revolution, a member of the Masonic Order, and held a town office in Ludlow in 1801-02. Three of his sons followed the trade of goldsmith and Asa, in addition to being a watch and clockmaker, was a silversmith. Conceivably the eagle pendulum decoration and the use of metal decoration in place of the usual painting or plain glass in the upper door are a result of this influence, as are undoubtedly the fine hands and ingenious artistry in his clockworks.
He married Polly Chapin at West Springfield, Mass., September 30, 1801. They had six children and lived at Ludlow until about 1805, when they moved to Herkimer, N. Y., and then to Auburn where Asa spent the rest of his life, made his clocks, and died there March 2, 1851. While he is best known for the rather clumsy type of shelf or wall clock already described, a grandson wrote of him, “I have a hall clock made by my grandfather, Asa Munger, in Herkimer, N. Y., in 1817. It is ingeniously made; shows days of the week and month, phases of the moon, and plays a tune every three hours, a different one each day. On Sunday it plays ‘China.’ It is a genuine grandfather’s clock.”
Among the Auburn clockmakers, Munger and Benedict are listed for 1833, and Hotchkiss and Benedict as of 1820, but I believe 1830 would be nearer right. The latter partnership made a clock under the same patents as Munger. It had a wooden dial with their name and a coat of arms on it, a hole for the second hand large enough to reveal part of the works. The case was about 17 by 33 inches with an added four inches for the gallery. The dial was nine inches. This clock seems undoubtedly later than the standard Mungers, thus making the probable date about 1830 rather than ten years earlier, as listed.
A familiar name to collectors of clocks from this region is that of Lawyer Byington, whose name appears on large stencil clocks with winding holes in the dial at III and IX. The works are wooden about seven by nine and one-half inches, screwed to the back of the case off-center, and going about their business with loud moaning and groaning, especially at striking time. The cases are usually about 35 inches tall, including gallery. A smaller sized Byington clock has claw feet. The labels read, Improved Clocks made and sold by Lawyer Byington, Newark, Tioga County, N. Y., on the large clocks and Otsego County, N. Y., on the small one. The labels on the large clocks, however, were printed by P. Canfield, Printer Hartford and a touch of the useful damp cloth reveals the already suspected CHAUNCEY BOARDMAN, Bristol, Conn., as the actual maker. An L. Byington & Co. is listed for 1849 in Bristol, Conn., and a Loring Byington lived there at that time. It is quite possible that “Lawyer” was a phonetic error of the printer and that “Loring” was the correct name. Obviously there was a connection between the Byington of Newark, N. Y., and Bristol, Conn.
Similar to the Byington clocks with claw feet is a stencil clock with an unusual gallery showing a stage coach. It was made by L. & J. Frisbie & Co., Chittenango, Madison Co., N. Y., with label by L. Lyon, Printer, Chittenango, N. Y. The clock measures 28 1/2 inches high and 16 1/2 inches wide and has a square 12 1/2-inch dial of 10-inch circle. The works are standard 30-hour wooden and, while it seems to be of local provenance, it is a standard, Naugatuck Valley design.
Also, a very small stencil clock by Wm. Dexter, Stockbridge, Madison County, N. Y., suggests, in appearance, some of Hoadley’s work. The gallery is stenciled; the pillars are of plain wood, but probably stenciled originally; the sides are of pine and the front mahogany. The wooden dial is nine inches square with a seven-inch circle. The whole clock is about 25 inches high including gallery, 14 inches wide.
As already stated, some of the Central New York clockmen bought their works from Connecticut makers. Among these was Nettleton Heath & Co., Scottsville, who used Riley Whiting works Carter & Weller, Stockbridge, Madison Co., used those made by Seymour, William & Porter, Unionville, Conn., about 1835 and shortly thereafter.
Here the Empire type was broadened to 22 inches with a total height of 39 inches. The feet were carved and gilded, the half pillars mottled. The mid-panel and lower door had Terry type pictures. The works were of the strap type with much heavier wheels than the graceful ones of Ives. The strike train was not on a special arm, but held in the left strap plate. Bristol, Conn., clockmakers then found a definite market here, Chauncey Boardman and Riley Whiting in the wooden works era and others later, although the brass works group apparently made their whole product locally and followed distinctive lines.
In addition to the patent brass clocks made by Munger and his partner, another type was made by Philip L. Smith, Marcellus, Onondaga Co., “N. York” with label by John Greves & Company, Printers, Geneva, N. Y. One example is a large Empire type, 36 inches high and 181/2 inches wide with an 11-inch dial and 9-inch circle. The full pillars at the sides are heavy. A moon-shaped opening in the dial reveals part of the works. The winding posts, including the alarm, are at XII, IV and VIII, with an alarm wheel at the center opening in the dial.
Yet it was not until 1860 that New York clockmaking came to its full glory. In 1863 Theodore R. Timby of Baldwinsville, N. Y., began his series of patents on his Solar timepiece. The clock was made by L. E. Whiting of Saratoga Springs. One feature was a fancy engraved label placed partly on the back and partly on the bottom of the clock, as in the case of the Ives hourglass type. Each clock was numbered. The one in my collection is Number 92.
In addition to the label, Whiting described the clock as “illustrating the Diurnal Revolution of the Earth, and serving as a GEOGRAPHICAL EDUCATOR for the SCHOOL ROOM and the FAMILY, Ornamental in the Parlor and useful everywhere. The old and unmeaning clock face may now be banished from use as no longer desirable.”
“The movement in these Time-pieces is the best made in America, and unsurpassed in Europe; the balance wheel is set in jewels, making it a timekeeper equal to the best lever watch, and regulated in the same way – WIND ONCE A WEEK REGULARLY – WARRANTED accurate and of perfect workmanship throughout.”
The clocks were made in Saratoga and then sent to Boston to Gilman Joslin, a globe manufacturer at 5 Mount Vernon Avenue in 1855, doing business as Gilman Joslin and Son in 1875 and disappearing in 1877. He not only made globes, but all kinds of maps and was held in high repute by mariners. The globe of Number 92 contains this inscription
“Joslin’s Terrestrial Globe Containing the latest discoveries Boston Gilman Joslin 1860 Drawn and engraved by W. B. Aimin.”
Timby had four patents. The first, issued to Theodore R. Timby of Saratoga Springs, was dated July 7, 1863, and was essentially the clock illustrated, though the case had a flat top instead of full Victorian regalia. In November 3 of the same year came a clock using a flat map, the North Pole being in front and the South Pole in the rear. May 2, 1865, he patented a clock with a regular dial and with hands in the lower panel in place of the minute wheel. On the same day another patent added the feature of having the whole globe in the front of the case.
Other globe clocks of a more complicated nature were made in 1867 by Louis Paul Juvet of Glens Falls and Smith E. F. Rawson of Saratoga Springs. Obviously the Timby clock was selling and being imitated.
This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.