Advertising clocks have been made in a wide range of materials and styles, as diverse as the numerous products and services they were designed to promote. Early advertising clocks were often elaborately carved wooden wall and regulator clocks pushing tonics, headache cures, and jewelers. More modern examples include Westclox’s alarm clocks featuring ads for "Nine O’Clock Washing Tea" on their dials, or Hamm's beer's light-up clocks with detailed depictions of lakes and rivers.
In the 19th century, two clockmaking companies dominated the advertising clock market: Sidney Clock Advertising Co. and Baird Clock Co. Andrew VanWoert Strait, who owned a store that sold watches, clocks, and jewelry, began making advertising clocks in Sydney, New York in the 1880s. From there, the Sidney Advertising Clock Co. was born.
The Sidney Advertising Clock Co. is best known for its "cylinder" advertising clock, for which it received a patent in 1886. There was no charge for the clock itself (advertisements subsidized that cost) and the clocks were not sold to the general public. Instead, they were given to hotels, restaurants, local stores, physicians, and other businesses.
At the bottom of the clock was the detail that won the company the patent. There, a glass case with three cylinders rotated every five minutes to reveal a different advertisement for cigars, tailors, beverages, and furniture. Some clocks also featured sounds, such as bells or drums, as the cylinders turned.
The Sidney clocks were all long (between five to six feet tall), made of wood, and featured a white face. Many were calendar clocks and most (if not all) had movements made by Seth Thomas. Some had glass cases exposing the pendulum while others used that surface for additional advertising. The very top of the clock case featured either another advertisement or an ornamental, scalloped design.
The clock cases made by the Baird Clock Co. were much simpler in design, although they are still highly sought by collectors today. Founded in 1887 by Edward P. Baird, the company made clocks of wood and tin. Like the Sidney Advertising Clock Co., Baird clocks mostly used Seth Thomas movements.
The most common Baird advertising clocks look almost like a figure-eight. They feature a white face surrounded by a circular wood frame on top and a wooden circle underneath. The...
Baird was also known for using papier-mâché and has been credited with creating the first Coca-Cola clocks in the 1890s.
Coca-Cola’s novelty timepieces ran the gamut from simple alarm clocks to elaborate neon wall clocks. According to some historians, Coca-Cola originally thought advertising via clocks was too expensive to be worthwhile on a large scale. But the clocks were a big hit with store owners, and by all accounts helped sell a lot of soda pop.
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- The Canadian Clock Museum