Flashback: Forestville Connecticut Clocks

April 16th, 2010

This article discusses the Forestville Manufacturing Company, noting the company’s origins, the clocks that they made, and the labels that they used to mark their products. It originally appeared in the September 1947 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antiques collectors and dealers.

The name and label of the Forestville Manufacturing Company marks some fine and intelligently made Connecticut shelf clocks. This company was a prolific source of clock making from the 1830s to the 1850s. A large number of its clocks, still running well, are today in the hands of discriminating collectors.

1. Gothic-style (steeple) clock of the third period (1842-49), bearing on the label the name combination of Forestville Manufacturing Company and J. C. Brown.

1. Gothic-style (steeple) clock of the third period (1842-49), bearing on the label the name combination of Forestville Manufacturing Company and J. C. Brown.

The year 1855 being about the last date the name was used, many Forestville clocks are now over 100 years old. Almost all the printed data about Forestville clocks having proved at least slightly in error, the present study is an attempt to give (with thanks to Edward Ingraham, Lockwood Barr and others) an account of the firm from sources believed to be correct.

The firm originated in 1831 with a company that made clock cases then turned to making complete clocks; later branched out to make hardware; had the usual severe fire — company records get destroyed in a bad fire — and finally failed in 1855. Famous clocks bearing the Forestville name include double and triple deckers with accurate 8-day weight driven brass strap movements, acorn clocks, twin and blunted and steeple clocks and any number of others.

The story appears to start and end with an ingenious gentleman named Jonathan Clark Brown, Tr. (1807-72). In Bristol, Connecticut, in 1831 Elias Ingraham and William G. Bartholemew were in business together making clock cases. In September, 1832, T. C. Brown bought out the Ingraham interests and changed the name of the firm to Bartholemew, Brown and Company (1832-34). They then began making complete clocks, some of which, still bearing their label, are extant today.

Forestville is about two miles east of Bristol. Its name came from a description of the surrounding landscape, described as “a complete forest.” There a tract of land was purchased by Brown, Bartholemew and four others — William Hills, Chauncey Pomeroy, Tared Goodrich and Lora Waters.

2. Forestville clock of the first period (1835-39) strap brass movement, solid escape wheel and a 20-inch pendulum in an Empire-style case.

2. Forestville clock of the first period (1835-39) strap brass movement, solid escape wheel and a 20-inch pendulum in an Empire-style case.

Little data about these men, other than Brown, has been discovered. Bartholemew, possibly a kinsman of Eli and George W. Bartholemew, of hollow-column clock fame, was reported to be a good salesman. Hills came from Farmington. Pomeroy previously may have made clock movements. Goodrich was a kinsman of Chauncey Goodrich. From what evidence there is, T. C. Brown seems to have been the chief figure in the enterprise.

Once the tract of Forestville land was cleared, the trees felled and the water rights secured, a dam was thrown across the Pequabuck River and a bridge put over it for a road that led to the Farmington Canal (opened 1826). Here the Forestville Clock Factory was built. Production began in 1835 under the name of Forestville Manufacturing Company, successor to Bartholemew, Brown & Co. Was this the earliest use of “manufacturing” in a firm name? It is supposed to be.

The first clocks made at Forestville were the larger 8-day strap brass weight driven shelf clocks in pleasant cases of veneered mahogany. These clocks usually were in three sections (fig. 2) — face, mirror, and tablet (painted scene). They had round side columns, a flat top, no feet, and they were in the Empire style. They can be identified by the strap brass movement (rolled brass still being too expensive), with a solid escape wheel, a 20-inch pendulum and a paper label reading:

“Improved Eight Day Brass Clocks made and sold by the Forestville Manufacturing Co., Bristol, Conn., warranted if well used etc.

“Wm. Hills, J. C. Brown, C. Pomeroy, O. J. Goodrich. Label printed by Case, Tiffany & Co. Pearl St. Hartford.”

The dates of this partnership are 1835 to 1839. Evidently they somehow weathered the depression of 1837.

3. Label pasted inside the clock pictured above.

3. Label pasted inside the clock pictured above.

That these facts do not tell all the story of Forestville’s first period is readily admitted. For example, there is owned by James Phillips of New York a clock with the above described movement cased in an “OG on an OG” (fig. 4). It bears the label quoted above except that only the names of J. C. Brown and C. Goodrich are mentioned. The label was printed by Huyler & Richey, Book and Job Printers of 26 Bleecker Street [New York]. Further to complicate the issue, there exists from this first period a three-decker 8-day clock with brass movement which bears a label, FORESTVILLE MFG. CO., without names.

In 1840-41, operations were conducted under the name of Hills Brown & Co. Brown bought out Hills and changed the name to J. C. Brown & Co. (1842-49). Brown, now controlling the company, used on his label both FORESTVILLE MANUFACTURING COMPANY and J. C. BROWN together. There are many clocks in existence with this name combination (fig. 1). It is believed that the label bearing the names of the four men in the lower right hand corner is on Forestville clocks dating 1835-39.

A typical label of the 1842-49 period, printed on blue paper, reads:

“EIGHT DAY BRASS CLOCKS springs with equalized power warranted not to fail manufactured and sold by the FORESTVILLE MANUFACTURING COMPANY, J. C. Brown, Bristol Conn.”

These labels were printed by the press of J. G. Wells, 26 State St. The usual directions about making the clock run are included.

4. A Forestville clock with 1835-39 movement yet uniquely cased in an "OG on an OG" and bearing an exceptional label mentioning only two of the manufacturer's names.

4. A Forestville clock with 1835-39 movement yet uniquely cased in an "OG on an OG" and bearing an exceptional label mentioning only two of the manufacturer's names.

THE FORESTVILLE CLOCK MANUFACTORY, J. C. BROWN, Proprietor, was the name used from 1850 to 1855. An advertisement (fig. 5) in the Connecticut Business Directory for 1851 is interesting:

“Forestville Clock Manufactory, J. C. Brown, Proprietor. 8 day and 30 hour marine clocks, 8 day and 30 hour OG’s, Top pillar carved, 8 day S top carved and plain, 8 day S top carved and plain, 8 day Jennie Linds, Prince Alberts, Victorias; — and pledges himself that all clocks manufactured at his establishment will give entire satisfaction both as regards quality and finish and at as low prices as can be or are sold by any other manufacturer of same description of clock.””

Then followed a list of agents.

Incorporated in 1852, there was started a hardware manufacturing business with J. C. Brown as president, under the name of Forestville Hardware Co. This name he changed in 1853 to Forestville Hardware and Clock Co. The firm is believed to be separate from the Forestville Clock Manufactory. About this time the manufactory suffered a bad fire which interfered with operations for a time. Every clock factory seems to have had at least one severe fire in its history, yet with the accumulation of shavings from the planning mill in the making of cases, such fires appear possible enough.

Perhaps the financial panic of 1857, casting its shadow before it arrived, began to be felt as long as two years ahead in a sharp slackening of business. In any event, J. C. Brown and his companies failed in 1855. E. N. Welch took all of them over and began operations again. The Welch interests finally became, in 1902, the present Sessions Clock Co. Following his failure, J. C. Brown went on to various other enterprises but he had no more to do with the making of clocks. He was in Westborough, Massachusetts; Brooklyn and Nyack, N. Y. He died in Nyack in 1872 at the age of 63 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

From comparison of (and deduction about) clocks and their labels, those clocks which bear the Forestville and J. C. Brown labels can be approximately dated with the aid of additional information, as follows:

5. Forestville advertisement of 1851 listing types of clocks the Company was then producing — marines, OG top pillars, R tops, S tops, Jenny Linds, Prince Alberts and Victorian.

5. Forestville advertisement of 1851 listing types of clocks the Company was then producing — marines, OG top pillars, R tops, S tops, Jenny Linds, Prince Alberts and Victorian.

Rolled brass one day weight driven movements date from 1838 or later, mostly later. Etched glass tablets came into use after 1840. Coiled springs, first in the fusee cones of wood and later of metal, are believed to have been used after the middle of the 1840s.

Thus Forestville clocks with the following features are most nearly datable: weight driven one day brass OG’s, 1840; sharp Gothic-style cases (steeples), late 1840s; carved-case blunted steeples with fusee spring and etched glass, late 1840s or early 1850s.

The acorn is a famous Forestville clock. The shelf type acorn, of which there are a half-dozen known variations, could be about 100 years old or later. The wall-type acorn, which looks more like a lyre than an acorn, could date still later. Just how much J. C. Brown had to do with their design is not a matter of residual record. His name appears on almost if not all of them. Perhaps he should be given credit for this graceful clock so much prized by collectors.

It is interesting to note that the house which is pictured on some of the tablets of J. C. Brown clocks is a house he purchased in 1847, at the height of his clock-making success, from Lawson C. Ives. It is located on Maple Street in Bristol and is still standing.

That Forestville and J. C. Brown clocks were well designed and well built is attested by their fine timekeeping and the present excellent condition of their cases. Today they merrily beat out the right time as they work away through their second century.

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

10 comments so far

  1. Margaret Saxelby Says:

    We have an improved 8 day E.N. Welsh made in Forrestville [inside on glued paper we think]clock belonging to my husband’s great grandfather. It has a lady leaning on what appears as a marble stand. Would you have any idea of approx date. Thank you Yours faithfully Margaret Saxelby

  2. mark holdridge Says:

    looking for date of lenzkirch model 923 tall case clock , thanks mark

  3. SUZAN CHANDLER Says:

    I HAVE A SHELF CLOCK WITH THE NAME T.M. ROBERTS MAKER FOR E. BREWSTER. I CAN NOT FIND ANY INFORMATION ON THIS CLOCK. IT HAS WOODEN GEARS.

  4. Ed Rossier Says:

    I have a Forestville clock. It was made in the 1850s. I am having a dificult time getting it level to run. Currently it is hanging on the wall. Would it be better to have it on a shelve. All the time it was at my parents home it was on a shelve. It has run but now I’m just having a difficult time getting it going. It runs no more than 10 minutes and stops.

  5. Sarajane Savidge Dallas Says:

    What kind of a clock do I have and when was it made and by whom? I do not know when it came into the family and how can I identify it ? As I said the only identifying thing about it is the paper that is stuck on the inside that looks like the figure three of this article. It has a picture in the middle glass that is deteriorating of a Church while the bottom glass part has been totally removed and a pattern is now on it. It keeps good time and runs for the eight days, when I have to wind it again. I love it but I know nothing more than that about it. The paper says Bristol, Conn. inside and the paper states the printer was in Hartford conn but the name is partially gone so I cannot read the name on it.The wood finish looks to be mohogany and it is about 37to 38 ins in height and 16and a half to 17 and a half wid the decorations on it. The face of the clock has yellowed and in the center I can see the metal works Can you give me any information about this clock to identify it’s age?

  6. Becky McDonald Says:

    I have a clock that we found out was made in Forestville Conn the front glass has gold inlay on the picture is of a crane standing in a marsh. There is no tag on the back and the name of E N Welch is also stamped above the Forestville. There is hole punch in the c and o and there is another hole punched between the two n’s. This clock has been in my family at least one hundred years I would just like to know more about the clock I can send pictures of the clock if anyone would like to see it

  7. guy olson Says:

    This is the best article i have ever seen the only the only words you could read were thirty hour and the letters LCH after reading this isee thatEN WeLCH took over in 1902 so i now know that it is around 1902 this clock has a picture of the capatal at ALBANY NY if anybody knows more leave comment thank you very much for the info

  8. Paul R. Sechler Says:

    I have two Ogee type shelf clocks. One is a E. N. Welch and the other has only a small piece of a label still inside. How can you tell who made this clock? Is there any difference in appearance in clocks made by Welch, Goodrich or Seth Thomas etc.? Only part of the word improved is left of the original label on this unknown clock. The glass in the top half of the door has many distortions in it and a man who restored it in 1959 said it was by Chauncey Goodrich. I don’t know how he knew that. Thank you very much for any help you can give me.

  9. Tom Moore Says:

    I recently obtained a Forestville Mfg Co wall clock. The case is not good. It needs the weights and chains. The clock however still runs. Are these parts available? Also, can I get an extended pendulem as I wish to put this movement into a grandfather clock I am building? The clock also has the wording improved 8 day clock printed on it. The case is about 3 feet high.

  10. Jim Sweitzer Says:

    We are trying to find some information on a clock we have. It was made by THE SESSIONS CLOCK COMPANY, successors to THE E. N. WELCH MFG. COMPANY. The only info off of the clock are these numbers
    C – 10-10 -1 something. Cam you help us with some information about this clock ?


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