The Timeless Appeal of the Westclock Big and Baby Bens

July 17th, 2008

In this interview Bill Stoddard talks about collecting antique Westclox Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks, and discusses clock collecting in general. Based in Flora, Indiana, Bill can be reached via his website, clockhistory.com, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.

How did I get interested in clocks? Something about them has always been ingrained in me. My mom’s father had a small collection of antique clocks and when I was a little boy he showed me how to wind them and regulate them. When I was eight we moved to a new house and my mom and I were looking in the attic and found an old octagon wall clock made by Waterbury, probably dated about 1880.

Old Rose Crackle Baby Ben 1929 - 1930

Old Rose (pink) crackle finish Baby Ben with luminous dial: 1929 – 1930

That was the first antique clock I owned myself. I hung it on my wall and we tried to get it fixed but the repairman couldn’t fix it. When I was 11 or 12, I started mowing lawns for money and paid another man to repair it for me, but when it came back it would run for a while and then stop, pretty erratic.

I took it back and the repairman told me it was like a large Timex watch and just not worth being fixed. So I brought it home and left it hanging and would wind it up every once in a while.

Once I was winding it and one of the main springs broke, so I decided to take it all apart and fix the main spring. I was looking at it and said, aha! there’s the problem, there were two gears that were in backwards. So I swapped them, and it’s worked perfectly ever since.

Collectors Weekly: And how did you get started with Baby Ben alarm clocks?

Stoddard: My grandma gave me an old Baby Ben alarm clock that didn’t work when I was seven. I took it all apart and asked my dad to help me put it back together, but he cut his finger on the spring. I think we threw it away.

Butler (brushed) nickel case, gold leaf numeral dial: 1930 - 1932

Big Ben: butler nickel case, gold leaf numeral dial 1930 – 1932

A few years later my grandma gave me one that worked, and my aunt gave me another one. Then my friend and I went around the neighborhood asking people if they had anything they wanted to give away, like old clocks and cameras and tape recorders. That way I got myself another Baby Ben, bringing my collection to three by age 12.

For my 14th birthday I got a book called The Treasury of American Clocks and there was a picture showing the seven types of Baby Bens. I thought, oh boy, I just need four more and I’ll have them all! That summer at an antique store I came across one that wasn’t even in the book, and I thought that was exciting. Now I know that there’s probably 14 basic shapes, but a lot more variations than that depending on how far you want to take things. Not to mention there’s the Big Bens so that doubles it right there.

Collectors Weekly: Aside from these Westclox Baby and Big Ben models, what else do you collect?

Stoddard: Some of the old American pocket watches are just beautiful so I have several in my collection. They are just gorgeous watches and very well made. I love the Hamiltons in particular, probably some of the best watches made in America.

I also like some of the older American weight-driven clocks. They made them with wooden works until about 1840, then with brass gears and I like some of the early brass-geared American clocks. There’s a clock that came down the family, my great great granddad bought it used in about 1885, it was actually sold new in about 1839, one of the first of the weight-driven brass clocks. It’s got a round brass dial and a painting in the door, really neat. From that point on I really liked those.

I’m always interested in the history and the variations of clocks and how they fit in the scheme of things, what came before and what came after. I tend to be a nitty gritty detail kind of guy.

Collectors Weekly: It sounds like you’ve learned a lot about Westclox… did you ever see their factory?

Stoddard: I’ve been there several times. Their factory in LaSalle, Illinois closed down in about 1980 when they moved all their production down south, but the building is still there. One time a friend and I were down there behind the factory and we got talking to a man who was leasing the back half of the factory to make machinery for bakeries. He invited us in to look around, so we got to go up and down the big freight elevator and he found some old music boxes that were never used that he gave to us (Westclox made one or two little clocks with a music box in them). You just can’t imagine the size of this factory it’s just gigantic. At one time they employed about 3500 people, making about 35, 000 clocks and watches per day.

Illustrates crackle green Tiny Tim, crackle blue Big Ben and crackle pink Baby Ben clocks

Advertisement: Illustrates crackle green Tiny Tim, crackle blue Big Ben and crackle pink Baby Ben clocks

During World War II they had some fantastic ads that you can see on my website like, “Victory Won’t Wait for the Nation That’s Late,” and “Guard Your Big Ben” where they show a bulldog and a soldier with a gun guarding a Big Ben because during the war they stopped making clocks for the consumer market and totally switched over to military work.

There are also some other makers’ clocks I’ve gotten into, like the Seth Thomas 30 hour ogee, which is a weight-driven shelf clock. Also Telechron, which was a big maker of electric clocks. Henry Warren invented a little synchronous motor that could go inside a clock. When he made his first clock and plugged it into the wall it worked fine except it wasn’t accurate, it was off by plus or minus a half hour a day, because the 60 cycles were not regulated at that time, so it could vary quite a bit. His bigger job was to design a system so the power companies could regulate their generator so the clock could keep time. That’s another story.

Collectors Weekly: What about the Big Bens, are they battery operated or wind up?

Early form of dial, clock does not say

A Big Ben typical of those made from late 1910 to mid-1915.

Stoddard: The first Big Bens and Baby Bens went on the market in 1910 and they were wind ups. About 1931 they made the first electric Big Ben, and they were plug ins. But for years the majority were wind ups, they were so popular. Which is interesting because many of the electrics are scarcer but people just aren’t into collecting electric clocks. I tried selling some of my surplus electric Big Bens on eBay and they just didn’t go, you could get only about $0.99 for them.

In terms of my own collection, I’m still trying to find some of the really early Big Bens. They did some limited production (less than 200) in 1908, when they were still perfecting the design, then quite a few in 1909, but it really wasn’t nationally advertised until September of 1910. I like to find the ones before that and study their history. I try to get all the pictures I can and keep them all chronologically and study the history.

Collectors Weekly: How many Big Ben or Westclox collectors are there?

“The first Big Bens and Baby Bens in 1910 were wind ups.”

Stoddard: It’s really hard to say. Quite a few who try to get every basic model, but fewer who get into the rarer models and do research. There’s a seller on eBay now who’s doing some really outstanding restorations of Big Bens. For me it’s kind of an inexpensive hobby because as a boy I could find them for about a dollar a piece, sometimes in good condition. But he’s taken some that are really rusty and had the backs replaced beautifully and reproduced some dials, and he’s actually had some selling for several hundred dollars, so that’s a totally different thing. Some people just want one or two that they remember from childhood in good condition, so that’s just the thing for them.

Also, it’s not just Americans who collect, its worldwide. Westclox set up a factory in England in the 1940s and also in Scotland. They had one in Brazil for a while and I think also in Hong Kong.

Collectors Weekly: When did you discover that there were other clock collectors?

Stoddard: I was pretty much on my own until college. I met somebody then who told me about the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and then I joined that and in their bi-monthly magazine I found a man looking for early Westclox information, he is now one of the foremost Westclox researchers. When I got out of college I started going to the watch and clock conventions and met a man who was giving a program about the history of Big Bens and Baby Bens. Eventually we became best friends and started researching together. They asked me to give some programs myself at some of the chapter meetings so I became a little bit better at being a public speaker, and it’s been great meeting people.

Collectors Weekly: What are some of the key things a collector should be looking for with antique and vintage clocks?

This Christmas ad illustrates 61-F Dura Case, style 2 crackle finish Big Ben and Baby Ben, Auto Clock, Pocket Ben and Country Club pocket watches.

This Christmas (1930) ad illustrates 61-F Dura Case, style 2 crackle finish Big Ben and Baby Ben, Auto Clock, Pocket Ben and Country Club pocket watches

Stoddard: The main thing is the originality of the dial and if it’s a wooden shelf clock, having the original painting in the door would be really important. A lot of the American Shelf clocks from the 1820s up to 1900 have reverse paintings in the door, on the backside of the glass.

Condition is important, but clocks can be restored. If someone has restored it in the past, make sure the correct dial was put on it and the movements, which have probably been repaired a lot, have been done nicely. People did some bad things over the years just to get them running. A lot of American clocks have veneer over the base wood so if that’s starting to peel it can be really expensive to get fixed. Sometimes extensive casework can be more time consuming than getting the movement running.

With alarm clocks, they were so common that when people repaired them they did whatever they could to get them going. So you find clocks where parts have been switched, so that’s one challenge, determining originality. I’ve been trying to compare lots of different clocks to find out what original parts go together. Sometimes getting parts is tough, too, although it turns out Westclox made lots and lots of spare parts. They’re just scattered in different places all over the country, little collections of hands, springs, screws, and things like that.

Collectors Weekly: How is clock collecting changing today?

The style 8 Big and Baby Bens were introduced in 1964. This 1964 Westclox Christmas ad describes their features.

The style 8 Big and Baby Bens were introduced in 1964. This 1964 Westclox Christmas ad describes their features

Stoddard: The prices for larger wall clocks, three feet tall and up, have increased dramatically, while prices on some of the more common clocks have remained the same for the past 20 years. The other thing is reproductions. There’s a clock called a Crystal Regulator which is about a foot tall with a brass case and glass on all four sides. They’re making some really nice reproductions of it in China and if you don’t know what you’re looking for you could be fooled easily.

Another thing people do is make fake advertising clocks. They’ll take an old Big Ben from 1930 and make a new dial that says Indian Motorcycle or Victola, and put it on eBay. Sometimes I’ve seen them for 300 to 600 dollars. Westclox did make a couple of documented advertising clocks, but very few.

I wonder if the younger generations are as interested in the older things as we are, although there are some younger collectors out there learning how to do clock repair. Recently I’ve seen people taking an old Baby Ben that’s worth a few bucks or so and gluing rhinestones around the bezel on the clock. They call it Shabby Chic and sell it on eBay for 60 to 80 dollars. They aren’t hurting it permanently, it’s just kind of weird. In a way they’re preventing clocks from being thrown away so I can’t totally condemn it, but it still seems like a funny thing to do.

Collectors Weekly: What are the best resources out there for clock collectors?

Stoddard: The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) is headquartered in Pennsylvania but has chapters throughout the country. They have meetings every two months, and educational programs, so that’s a really great way to meet collectors and get all kinds of advice.

The internet is fantastic, you can find out anything about just any kind of clock, exchange pictures easily, correspond with people and work together on research. The NAWCC has an online forum with a lot of different categories. There are also some specialty chapters, like an alarm clock chapter and a 400-day clock chapter, one that specializes in wristwatches and one on early American pocket watches. 400-day clocks are also known as anniversary clocks, they would run 400 days on one winding. They typically have a round brass base with a glass dome over them; they were made in Germany from the 1890s up through the 1970s, and a lot of people collect them.

Collectors Weekly: Any other advice for new collectors, about clocks in general or Westclox Big and Baby Bens in Particular?

Stoddard: Pay attention to quality. People will still look for a good wind up but the quality declined in the later years just because the companies tried so hard to keep the prices low. If you look at a Baby Ben in the 1959 Sears catalog, they sold for about nine dollars and if you go to a Wal Mart today you can still buy a Baby Ben for about nine dollars, but the quality isn’t the same.

(All images in this article courtesy Bill Stoddard, www.clockhistory.com)

29 comments so far

  1. Gordon Goodrum Says:

    I found this article very complimentary to the Westclox company and an intriguing piece to read.
    I will be watching for more articles from Bill Stoddard
    Thank you
    Gordon Goodrum
    England

  2. Terry Shields Says:

    I have an antique mantle clock given to my Aunt & Uncle for a wedding gift (approximately 1949) FROM my great grandparents. I was told it was an antique at that time. Underneath the #12 on the face it says: G. Falconer & Co. LTD. Hong Kong. It still works. Can anyone tell me about this?

  3. Bryon A. Hallman Says:

    I have a collection of alarm clocks, but slowly selling many. I am reading, studying, and learning more about the Westclox. My love is for the style 1 peg leg Big and Baby Bens; mostly Baby Bens. I have purchased 1) Style 1 Baby and Big Ben with the Gold Leaf dial (seller stated raised letters); and, 2) a Style 1 Baby Ben with “Baby Ben De Luxe” on the dial. Question: Are both 1) and 2) marriages of Style 2 mechanisms put in a Style 1A Big Ben and Style 1 Baby Ben. In all my research I can not confirm that The Style 1 models every had 1) and 2) above. Can you confirm? Thank you.

  4. Ben van Vliet Says:

    I am pleased that I came across your article.
    I know Bill Stoddards name from other publications on Westclox.
    As my first name is Ben, I started to collect these alarmclocks since about 1970. Some years ago I intended to do a write-up on my collection and started researching on the internet and found the Westclox history site with a wealth of info. In 2006 I started collecting vintage advertisements. Next to the original Westcloxes I have an interesting collection of European copies by a.o. Junghans, Kienzle,Mauthe,Kaiser, Peter, (all from Germany) Veglia (Italy), CNIS ( France), Ingersoll (UK) as well as some Hong Kong made items. Kind regards, Ben van Vliet

  5. edward nelson Says:

    hi, I have a cocacola square clock. it has a picture of a “huck finn” type boy,carying 2 bottles of coke& a fishing pole,with his dog. dated:1990 ,decorated :hong cong….made in japan….cocacola tradmark.
    can anybody tell me about this piece? 7&a half X 6..desk clock.

  6. Natasha Says:

    Hello,

    I’ve recently acquired a New Haven decorative wall clock. It is battery operated and takes a D battery. The only problem is a standard size D battery does not fit. It is too large (wide). Am I missing something here? I know very little about clocks in general. Has the mechanics of the clock been changed/upgraded or could there be another issue at play?

  7. pearl Says:

    i have a large ansonia wall clock 32 1/2″ x 32″. the clock face is 16″, ca 1900. the clock belonged to pheobe appersons family at their ranch in sunol california. any info would be appreciated. thank you

  8. Teri English Says:

    My Husband and I just purchased an antique mantle/shelf clock at an estate sale. The only marking I can find are the letters ST in old english style inside of a diamond thats inside of a circle, on the clock works. There is a small dial inside of the clock face that has roman numerals like another clock face. Any information would be very helpful. Thanks, Teri

  9. Jay Says:

    I have a sessions mantle clock duet#1. I am looking to get an approxmiate value of this clock. It is in working order and chimes on the hour and half hour. There are some blemishes on the wood on the right side. The whole clock seems to be origional and was maintained by my grandfather who was a watch/clock repairman. As stated it is working and keeps time. Thank you for your input.

  10. Frank Baker Says:

    I Have a small brass alarm clock,which is 1-3/4″ Hieght Length & Width.
    It is stamped on the back of the casing DRP&GM.
    the knobs have foreign words ie wecker & UHR.would like to know about his clock
    Can you help
    Frank Baker.

  11. Cheryl Madsen Says:

    I have a Westclox Big Ben 1910 style 1a and have not been able to find out the present value/worth. Could you suggest how I could go about finding out this information. Your cooperation would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Cheryl

  12. Paula Samuels Says:

    Through a friend I purchased an apparently antique key wind up long wooden and glass cased clock. It has a removable bottom decorative piece as well as a top rounded top flat piece of wood with a verticle wooden slat on the back extending to become a peg-like extension to fit and secure the decorative piece into the top of the clock. All I really want to know is about the raised horizontal single eye type decoration on this top removable piece. This “eye” is horizontally elliptical in general shape, about 4 3/4″ long and 1 3/4″ tall with a circle in the middle making it look like a single eye. Can anyone tell me the meaning or significance of this “eye”? Origin of the “eye”, forklore or legends surrounding????? Thanks, Paula

  13. Eileen Cassidy Says:

    I was given an Elias Ingraham Clock many years ago and would like to know a bit more about it and its value.

    It is and Elias Ingraham Brass Clock with a patent stamp of September 30, 1862. It also says that the patent was re-issued March 31, 1868.

    It is in good condition and has the original pendulum and key.

    Thank you

    Eileen

  14. Bill Ferris Says:

    I have a Seth Thomas Mantle clock that my older sister’s husband’s Aunt had on her mantle for years. I first saw the clock in 1957. It was passed on to my sister and for years it was on their mantle along time until it stopped. It was put away for years and last year it was given to me as I have small collection of United novelty clocks. I just had it repaired & it works & looks great. It is a Medbury-4W #4910. I would like to find out about this clock. Thanks

  15. Debbie Blake Says:

    I have come across a mantle clock that has been in my husbands family for as long as he can remember… He estimates his bother purchased the clock around 1950. It is made by The Sessions Clock movement, appears to be brass, a bucking horse with cowboy rider…judgeing from the clothes design of the cowboy it is quite old. Was just trying to find out any information on this clock or if you may have ever come across one like it…
    Thanks for any info you may be able to supply…
    Debbie Blake

  16. LYNDA HINSHAW Says:

    I have a small Westclox wind up clock dating around 1937. It is 3″ diameter with Westclox on the back and PAT.APLOFOR. The front is in Roman Numerals with a dome shaped raised glass. The center is in the shape of the world map. At the end of one hand is a star and the other hand is the moon. It sits on a small brass stand with Westclox on it. I know it was purchased in 1937 because it belonged to my elderly friends who were married in 1938. It was a gift from him to her the year before they were married. I would like to find the value of it. Thank you.
    Lynda Hinshaw

  17. Tjeerd Bakker Says:

    Dear Terry Shields,

    At this moment I am research a clock by Falconer& co HongKong. It would be very interesting if you could provide me with some pictures of the clock. This will broaden my view in the clock. At this moment I study horology at West Dean College in the UK.
    Thanks very mutch

    tjeerd

  18. chatrles crow Says:

    I just acquired a sir w.h. bailey oceans tide clock dated 1880, with a Fusee movement. The clock is several houndred pounds, and keeps great time. I can’t find out anything about him or any other clocks by him. Any help would be appreciated. Charles Crow Penn Valley, Ca

  19. Angela Bradley Says:

    I have run across and old clock that I would like to know something about. I think it is a clock made by Sessions. I know that it is electric and it requires a dime deposit to set the alarm on it. It looks like you mount it to the wall. Could you please try to help me find out what kind of clock this is. It would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you

  20. don Says:

    i have a pocket watch that says (inscribed inside) g. falconer ,,,rona & london or kona & london i dont know its in old english and says kona or hona it has 1243 all inscribed on the inside where when u open it u can see the gears, looks like an a8 and a crown with a 18 on the middle inside cover (that covers the gears) and also a 1243 and what looks like an 8 or an infinite symbol (sideways 8)then again on the part that clasps over everything on the inside an A3 or A8? then 4 symbols a crown an 18 and to unkown symbols in a square patern but on its side square pattern. and again 1243 is this an antique its gold but looks brand new but also an antique at the same time does anyone know what kind of pocket watch this is or if its gold or a replica of something or what it might be worth?? thanks for your time…

  21. amanda Says:

    was doing research.. Appears from search engine a conversation about “D” batteries but cant find it in the text.. Can anyone inform me of the different size of D? Thanks

  22. brenda Says:

    I have a mantel clock,its floral in color,made by Ansonia Cock Co.USA.New York. It has a patent June 18-1882 and says Dakota on the back,can you tell me more?

  23. Bryon A. Hallman Says:

    I have been collecting, repairing, and restoring mostly Westclox Big Bens for several years. Thank to several professionals who I’ve met on Ebay, I have become quite skilled with my restorations plus making dials and alarm function indicators. While studying the types of Big Ben style 1 and 1A in WestcloxHistory.com, I noticed the reproduction style 1A, and have acquired about 5 of them. I know the site informs readers the amount of Big Bens produced in any one year, but does NOT for the reproduction model produced in 1970. I have looked high and low in my attempts to find out how any of these resproduction style 1A were produced. All the aforementioned to ask you if you know how many of the 1970 style 1A’s were made. Your response or advice would be much appreciated.

  24. Bill Stoddard Says:

    I read (but can’t remember where) that about 40,000 were made. Westclox also made about 5000 gold-plated reproductions.

  25. Oda Says:

    I have an Pine State Ice Cream Milk clock that I would like to find out how much it may be worth. I also need it repaired so that it will be functional and need to find someone that will do that for me. Would you please direct me to someone that can do this for me?

  26. Francis T Rozario Says:

    I have a collection of clocks, and amongst my collection are Westminster chime wall clocks, I have two Keinzle and two Junghans.
    When did Junghans stop manufacturing Westminster Chimes, and when did Keinzle stop manufacturing Westminster chimes.
    All the rods in my clocks are verticle that is from top to bottom of the case, four on each side at the back of the movement.
    The sound is very good when I compare it with the Howard Miller and the Jauke I just purchases, its loud and resonates very well.
    I am trying to determine the age.

  27. Bernard North Says:

    On 3rd January 2099, Terry Shields asked if anyone had information regarding his clock signed G .Falconer, Hong Kong. I recently wrote an article on Hong Kong Watch and Clockmakers for the Antiquarian Horology Society Journal. I am sure I can give Mr. Shields further information about his clock. I would also like photo and more details of his clock, since I intend to write a follow-up article.

    Bernard North

  28. Tim Says:

    Just remember, old luminous clocks are full of radium! You do not want to open them up, lest you breath radioactive dust from old paint or spread it around. Westclox Big Bens and Baby Bens are full of the stuff.

  29. Richard GeRue Says:

    Ref comment #10 from Frank Baker. I have a similar clock.
    German: WECKER (alarm); UHR (clock).
    UHR (CW arrow) knob sets clock time. WECKER (CCW arrow) knob sets alarm time.
    WECKER (CW arrow)/UHR (CCW arrow) knob with ring: CW winds alarm; CCW winds clock. Handle on top: down – alarm off; up – alarm on.


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