Flashback: Daniel Pratt, Neglected Clockmaker of Reading, Massachusetts

April 16th, 2010

This article discusses the life, craft, and partnerships of Massachusetts clockmaker Daniel Pratt. It originally appeared in the January 1948 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antiques collectors and dealers.

Daniel Pratt, Jr., clockmaker, banker, town clerk, legislator, was in present parlance a “solid citizen” of the town of Reading, Massachusetts, in the middle 1800s. Reading is a pleasant suburb twelve miles north of Boston. For that part of the State, Pratt must have been a prolific producer, if the number of his clocks still in existence are any indication. These clocks are still running, or capable of running for many more years.

1. Daniel Pratt (1797-1874), Reading, Massachusetts, clockmaker. From a photograph owned by his great-granddaughter.

1. Daniel Pratt (1797-1874), Reading, Massachusetts, clockmaker. From a photograph owned by his great-granddaughter.

Pratt’s other achievements are rather fully chronicled in the Town Records of Reading. About his clockmaking activities, however, very little actual information has been discovered. Moore (1911) listed only “Wm. Pratt & Bro., Boston 1847.” Nutting’s Clock Book (1924) added “Daniel Pratt, Jr., Salem, Mass. 1839″ and “D. Pratt & Sons, Boston, 1849.” Nutting’s Furniture Treasury added “Pratt & Frost, 1832-35,” with the correct partners listed.

It seems unlikely that Daniel Pratt added much to the science of horology but he did provide a large number of families with reliable clocks at modest prices, relieving them from dependence on the sun as a gauge of time. Since the second, fourth, and seventh clocks added to the author’s collection were “Pratts,” the dearth of information about his clockmaking has long prodded this quest for accurate knowledge of his work. Here are the results of the search.

Daniel Pratt, son of David Pratt, was born in Saugus, Massachusetts, on February 24, 1797. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Reading, Mass. His father, David, was a successful shoe manufacturer and it is said that one of Daniel’s early occupations in his father’s plant was packing the finished shoes more tightly by leaping up and down in the barrels into which they had been crammed. Since then we’ve come a long way in packaging. His father died in 1818, leaving considerable property, including a store and the shoe business, to his two sons. Later the brother took over the running of the store. Daniel continued with the shoe company till 1832, when he introduced his clock business in Reading.

2. Shelf clock bearing the label of Pratt & Frost, a partnership that lasted 3 years, 1832-1835.

2. Shelf clock bearing the label of Pratt & Frost, a partnership that lasted 3 years, 1832-1835.

Jonathan Frost (born June 13, 1798; died April 9, 1881) set up in the spring of 1832 a small clock business, buying clocks from the firm of Burr & Chittenden (1831-1837) in nearby Lexington. It is believed that Burr & Chittenden purchased their clocks from Bristol and other Connecticut makers, reselling them after attaching their labels. They may have made or purchased some clock cases from Pratt or, later, from other makers. Frost is recorded as paying them a bit more than eight dollars each for wooden movements and casing them himself. Later the price was seven and a half dollars. These could well have been Connecticut movements.

Later in 1832, Daniel Pratt formed a partnership with Frost under the firm-name of Pratt & Frost, a partnership that lasted three years (1832-1835). The clocks they sold in this period were wooden movement, weight driven, 30 hour, wood-cased, looking glass type shelf clocks. One of them is illustrated in figs. 2 and 3. All clocks with the Pratt & Frost label so far seen have the older styled, nonadjustable verge inside the plates and the hour-minute motion work outside the front plate. It is possible that these clocks were made this way in order that they would not infringe the Eli Terry patents. Also the gong for striking the hours was usually on the top of the case, not inside.

The case of a typical Pratt and Frost clock measures 35 inches high, 16 1/4 inches wide, and has a depth of 4 1/4 inches. It is usually covered with mahogany veneer over pine. The pendulum rod is 15 3/4 inches long; the door upper glass, 10 1/2 by 10 7/8 inches and the mirror, 10 1/2 by 14 1/2 inches. There are the two usual weights, cords not compounded, running 30 hours. The square dial is of painted wood, 11 1/2 by 12 inches, with Arabic numbers and a dial diameter of 10 inches. The movement winds at 9 (strike) and 3 (power). The paper label reads “…Improved clocks manufactured and sold by PRATT & FROST Reading, Mass.” This label was printed by “J. Howe, Printer, 39 Merchants Row, Boston.”

3. The same clock as above, showing a typical style of casing used by Pratt & Frost.

3. The same clock as above, showing a typical style of casing used by Pratt & Frost.

When the partnership was dissolved in 1835, Jonathan Frost retired from the clock business till 1838 (following the 1837 depression), when he started up again by himself and continued till about 1850. To complete the Reading clock story, there are in existence later type clocks of probable Connecticut manufacture with a label reading “made and sold by Benjamin Frost, Reading, Mass.” As yet there is no further known record of this Frost except that he was born in Reading, June 28, 1826, the son of Benjamin and Mary Frost.

Daniel Pratt successfully continued in the clock business without interruption and built up a sizable trade. In 1838-39 he employed 20 “hands,” securing his workers from Reading and the surrounding area, including North Reading. It is said that having neither water nor steam power, the motive power for his factory was supplied by hitching a horse to an ingenious windlass contrivance that was connected by gearing to the power shafts inside the plant. The horse, walking around in the circle with the pole attached to it, caused the wheels to revolve. Pratt was resourceful enough to have designed this device.

Pratt clocks were “sold all over the country as well as exported.” He enjoyed an export trade to India. An original bill of landing dated May 29, 1841 of a shipment from Boston to Philadelphia is illustrated in fig. 6. To further the domestic sale of his clocks he supplied and sent out “peddlars” who did a flourishing business.

4. Shelf clock bearing the label of Daniel Pratt, Jr., Reading, Massachusetts.

4. Shelf clock bearing the label of Daniel Pratt, Jr., Reading, Massachusetts.

“Brass movements were introduced about 1838,” according to Eaton’s History of Reading. It is doubtful if Pratt himself made these metal works. He probably purchased them from Connecticut. However, he did make wooden movements in his plant, as well as wooden cases. This statement is confirmed by his grandson, Chester B. Pratt, now of Andover, N. H. The wood-cased clocks with wooden works were at this time (1840) less expensive than the clocks with brass movements, and Pratt’s salesmen, wholesale and retail, spread his clocks throughout rural districts in the North as well as in the South, and even outside the United States. They sold his clocks for about 12 to 16 dollars.

That Daniel Pratt later became a “dealer only” is recorded. In 1846 he opened a clock store in Boston at 49 Union St. Eaton says the factory operations continued till about 1858 (depression of 1857). The competition of Connecticut clockmakers probably became so severe that Pratt found it less expensive to buy complete clocks for resale than to manufacture any part of them.

Daniel Pratt is one of the few clock-makers who placed dates on his paper labels — on some, but not all. Today, over l00 years later, this marking is handy in trying to identify the age of a particular clock. Most of Pratt’s own cases were mahogany veneered looking glass or ogee style — the style that was sold by Frost in the period 1838-1850. Alarm clocks with wooden works — identified by the extra brass ring around the cannon tubes — also were put in the same cases.

The Jr. that Daniel Pratt placed after his name on his paper labels seems to have come about in an odd way, his father’s name being David. He is supposed to have said that since there were other Daniel Pratts in Reading, and none of them a junior, he would add the Jr. to identify himself from the others.

5. Same clock as above, showing a style of mahogany veneered casing favored by Pratt.

5. Same clock as above, showing a style of mahogany veneered casing favored by Pratt.

After 39 years of successful business operation of the clock business and other interests and activities, Daniel Pratt died in Reading on March 17, 1871. The Boston store continued long after his death under the name of DANIEL PRATT’S SONS 1871-1880 consisting of Daniel T. Pratt and Benjamin Boyce, husband of Delia Pratt. Eaton says this firm did a rapidly increasing business, importing clocks from abroad, selling nice French clocks cheaper than any other house in the city [Boston].”

From 1880 to Aug. 25, 1895, Benjamin Boyce, as successor, operated under his own name at 49 Union St., later at 119 Hanover St. He in turn was succeeded by Daniel F. Pratt who continued the business as DANIEL PRATT SON at 339 Washington St., later 53 Franklin St., till the death of Frank W. B. Pratt on March 17, 1916. This brought to an end the clock business of the Pratts. The appended table and the above data are for owners and collectors who wish more closely to identify their clocks.

For fellow ferrophilliacs it may be added that Daniel Pratt in 1843 persuaded the Boston & Maine Railroad — which used to go through Wilmington into Boston — to bend its new line from Wilmington Junction though Reading, now the main line of the railroad.
Of Daniel Pratt it has been said: “He was a man of sterling integrity, thoroughly honest and of Arm purpose. As such he held the confidence of his townsmen in a marked degree and always took a great interest in public affairs, having the best interest of his town [Reading] at heart.” He was selectman for 20 years, town clerk from 1831 to 1852, representative from Reading to the General Court in 1845 and 1847, and president from 1843 till his death in 1871 of Reading’s first banking institution, the Agricultural & Mechanical Association.

6. Bill of lading of a shipment by Daniel Pratt, Jr. of "five boxes of clocks and four small boxes of weights," from Boston to Philadelphia.

6. Bill of lading of a shipment by Daniel Pratt, Jr. of "five boxes of clocks and four small boxes of weights," from Boston to Philadelphia.

The memory of this successful man is continued by the quiet, even beat of his many clocks which are still keeping the right time — truly a pleasant monument.

List of makers, etc., herein mentioned:

Lexington, Mass.: Burr & Chittenden (Jonathan Burr & Austin Chittenden) 1831-1837. (Some clocks extant with each individual name on label, some dated.)

Reading, Mass.: Pratt & Frost. Autumn 1832-1835; Pratt, Daniel, r., factory. 1835-c. 1858; Frost, Jonathan, cases only. Spring to Autumn, 1832; Frost; Jonathan, again (factory?). 1838-1850; Frost, Benjamin, probably dealer. Perhaps 1850 or later.

Boston, Mass.: Pratt, Daniel, 49 Union St. 1846-1871; Daniel Prates Sons. 1871-1880 (Nov.); Benjamin Boyce, 49 Union St., later 119 Hanover St. 1880-1895 (Aug. 25); Daniel Pratt Son, 339 Washington St. 1895-1916 (March 17)

The author wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness for information to Eaton, History of the Town of Reading (1874); Mrs. Arthur E. Nichols, Reading; Miss Grace J. Abbott, Librarian, Reading, and Mr. Chester B. Pratt, Andover, N. H.

This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.

17 comments so far

  1. Talmadge Stanley Says:

    I own an 1837 Daniel Pratt, Jr mantle clock it is the 35 in high x 16 1/4 in wide and depth of 4 1/4 in. The clock is in working condition and has both weights and pendulum and the weight for the Pendulum.
    My question is what would be the approx price for this clock. I know it would be hard to give an exact price but as close as you could would help. Thank you. Talmadge Stanley

  2. Beth Merritt Says:

    What a wonderful resource you have provided! We purchased a Pratt grandfather clock at auction last weekend, and, without this article, information would have been extremely limited. Thanks so much for the knowledge!

  3. scott nolan Says:

    I recently purchased a mantle clock, by Daniel Pratt Jr,looks to be vintage 1837

    thanks for your information

  4. David Roberts Says:

    Congratulations, Scott. Aren’t they great clocks! Here at our shop in Reading we love to hear them tick. Have restored many to different degrees over the years. Glad your happy with it. I own one that has the printed label with the date 1840, but it must have been left over so, come the new year the “0″ was written over in pencil with “1″. Many of our customers keep them running all the time and they keep wonderful time.
    Dave

  5. Daniel F. Pratt Says:

    I, also Daniel F. Pratt, was born in Durand, Michigan in Feb of 1955. I am currently 56 years old. It is to the best of my knowledge that all Pratt’s are related, and that we come from the Grant clan of Scotland from years back. My father’s name was Elton D. Pratt, and looked like a true Scottish man. I do not actually own a Daniel Pratt clock, but would consider it an honor to have one some day. These are truly remarkable stories. Thank you much, Daniel F. Pratt , currently of Jacksonville Florida (who has 3 sons, 2 of which are excellent wood craftsmen themselves).

  6. Jane F Simonds Says:

    My great grandmother had a Daniel F Pratt clock which was handed down to my mum and now mine. I have just had it over hauled and works like a charm. It was made by Henry P Cotton in Nobleboro, Maine (which was not a mentioned manufacturer in the above article). There is a signature inside the door says was made in Nov 20, 1849. This info came from a paper glued to the inside back of the clock. Also on it were directions for oiling and winding the weights and adjusting the time. At one time there may have been finials on top which I’d like to restore. Will have to try more research on it. I summer in Waldoboro which is next to Nobleboro. The clock is very simple wood veneer. It is absolutely rectangular with no molding or fancy trimmings. The face has 4 sets of blue flowers painted and Arabic numerals. Where the hands join the inner works there is a 4″ hole which you can see the movements going. The bottom half of the door is a mirror. I don’t think this in the original mirror as it looks to a have new putty inside. I do treasure this hand-me down.

  7. Al Braye Says:

    Just FYI, I recently purchased an eight day, steeple clock by E. N. Welch, Forestville, Ct. The clock, as well as bearing a paper label from Welch, also bears a another paper label from Benjamin Frost, Reading, Mass.
    I believe the clock to be from the 1840s – ’50s era.
    Sincerely,
    Al Braye
    Winston Salem, NC

  8. Don Stover Says:

    We own a 1906 hall clock with the name Daniel Pratt’s Son on its face. Our beautiful mahogany cased clock stands 7’10” to it’s peak. It has 6 silver appearing tubes and 3 brass covered weights, one at 25#, one at 13# and one at 12#. I purchased it in Manchester NH in 1963 while in the US air Force, after I found it standing and not working, at a very old hotel. I was able to replace the cloth backing (behind the weights and pendulum), new weight cables, replaced one missing pulley, re-padded the strikers, lubricated and polished everything. It now stands working beautifully as it has since 1963 in our home. We have moved 5 times since then and have brought our clock with us each time and it STILL works. My wife says that I go before the clock. She loves it more than me, I guess!
    Thank you Daniel Pratt for making us part of your legacy .
    Don Stover
    Newcastle, WY

  9. Susan Alspaugh Says:

    Hi. Did the Pratt’s make maritime clocks? What would their approximate value be? Also, if they did make them, did they make a lot of them? Thanks much. Merry Christmas.

  10. Jim Savage Says:

    I own a heavy small marble clock made by “D. Pratt’s Sons, Boston”. It is 9″ tall including a 2″ high 9″ wide base that has a clock portion that is 7″ by 7″. The back entry cover has a bronze 4″ round that leads to the wind up (one winder) clock works which has the top # of 2685 and bottom No. 42. The marble cover appears to be packed with a plaster material that goes to the bottom of the clock. What do I have and when was it made. I suspect that it might orginate around 1875 more or less.

  11. Tim Martel Says:

    I bought a Daniel Pratt Jr. “Looking Glass” style clock with a lablel marked 1838. The case needs some TLC, as does the wooden movement with alarm but everything appears to be there and I plan to restore it. I have two questions”
    1. My clock has one bell and it is installed inside the case. Was there a 2nd bell mounted outside?
    2. The lower glass tablet is missing, am I correct in assuming that it was a mirror and should be replaced as such?

  12. Richard P Gorski Says:

    Richard P Gorski
    I own a Daniel Pratt Jr. Shelf clock and would like to known how heavy the weights should be. This clock’s year is approx. mid 1830′s. Thank you Dick

  13. Pamela Rodrigues Says:

    I have a 1837 Jonathan frost shelf clock in working condition I would appreciate any information since this “year” seems questionable between himself & Pratt ( they split up or stopped making them?)
    Thankyou kindly

  14. L.Allison Says:

    I have a mantle clock the paper tag inside the clock state:
    Spring Eight Day Brass Clock, Manuf. by Daniel Pratt Sons Reading Mass, Sales No 49 Union Street upstarts corner of Union & Marshall St Boston.
    Can you tell me something about this clock. Please recommend someone to work on it, it will run for about 1 hour.
    Thanks for your help
    Allison

  15. H Stewart Says:

    I have a Rosewood Veneered ” Daniel Pratt’s Sons” shelf clock that says 49 Union Street Boston on the label. Sold by wholesaler M. Boyce ( on label).
    The clock is appox. 16&1/2″ tall.,10&1/2″ wide at base, and 4&3/4″deep.
    It has two round wood frames that hold glass , which are about 6″ in dia. The door somewhat resembles a figure 8 with one rosette at each side. It is a striking movement ,counting out the hrs. on a steel gong. The clock itself is all original ,all rosewood veneer intact, and keeps very good time. I bought it in Massachusetts in 1975. Love it!!!! Mr. Stewart

  16. Lorrie Hall Says:

    I have a beehive clock. Manufacturers Daniel Pratt & Sons. Reading, Mass. Brass clockworks. Mahogany veneer. Says “Boston” in small print at the bottom of the label. How old is this clock?

  17. Ray Denney Says:

    I have a rather simple Pratt shelf clock with a wire gong. The paper lack of discoloration in that area would indicate that originally there was something else there. The lead on the gong rod is rather large, leading me to believe that originally there was a bell in that area. I’m guessing that the wire gong actually came from a typical ogee clock. Any hints? I have a number of old bells on hand.


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