Seth Thomas (1785-1859) began his clockmaking career in 1807 as an apprentice to renowned clockmaker Eli Terry. In 1810, he bought Terry’s Connecticut factory and began making tall clocks with wooden movements.
Thomas added wooden-movement shelf and mantel clocks in 1817. The first of these had pillar-and-scroll cases, usually with a scene painted on the bottom third of the case below the clock’s face. Around 1830, antique Seth Thomas mantel clocks were frequently framed in carved mahogany.
Brass movements replaced wooden ones in 1842 (wood was phased out entirely in 1845), which was also the first year that Thomas made mantel clocks with ogee cases—the style was produced until 1913.
Though an innovator when it came to production techniques and business, Thomas was rather conservative when it came to the appearance of his clocks. So, after his death in 1859, Thomas' sons were quick to introduce new clock styles—from handsome wall clocks to regulators to spring-driven clocks to clocks with calendars.
Of the calendar clocks, the Seth Thomas antique wall clocks for kitchens were particularly popular. One early double-dial calendar clock made shortly after the founders’ death had a rosewood-veneer case that came to points at the top and bottom to earn itself the nickname of "Peanut." Walnut kitchen clocks were produced from 1884 to 1909.
One of the toughest competitors for U.S. clockmakers in the second half of the 19th century were the French, whose clocks cased in onyx and marble were all the rage. In response, U. S. manufacturers made clocks that resembled those of the French, except instead of marble, they made their cases from less expensive iron or wood.
Thomas responded to the French challenge with its own line of marble clocks (1887 to 1895) and iron clocks finished in black enamel (1892 to 1895). But the Thomas response that i...
Adamantine was a veneer developed by the Celluloid Manufacturing Company—Thomas licensed the veneer because it could be produced in black, white, and a variety of patterns to replicate the look of wood, onyx, and, most importantly, marble. The Seth Thomas Adamantine mantel clocks were popular enough to remain in production until 1917.
Another trend from the late 19th century was the practice of naming a clock after international cities. Thomas did that, too, using names like Milan, Genoa, and Naples to evoke the style of a particular clock. Thomas also had a City Series of clocks named after U.S. cities. The Atlanta clock, for example, had a rosewood case with gilt details and a glass door that had been etched in a leaf pattern. Even Utica got its own clock. The City Series was produced for roughly 40 years.
Thomas clocks were also named after presidents (Lincoln, Garfield) and royalty (Victoria). Others were named after universities, from Cambridge to Cornell.
In the 20th century, Thomas introduced its first tambour clock in 1904. The low, wide profile of these mantel clocks made them perfect above fireplaces. Chime clocks followed in 1909, and electric clocks were added to the company’s catalog in 1928.
Of the pre-war, 1930s Thomas clocks, the Art Deco alarm clocks (wind up or electric) made of a colored plastic called Catalin are highly collectible. Unlike Bakelite, which was opaque due to its fillers of sawdust or carbon, Catalin is transparent, which made it easy to mix with dyes to produce rich colors. It could even be marbleized, which, for Thomas, recalled the company’s Adamantine clocks produced just a few decades earlier.
Key terms for Antique and Vintage Seth Thomas Clocks:
Ogee: A type of molding whose profile resembles an S-shape curve.
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Recent News: Seth Thomas Clocks
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'We had a job to do'The Durango Herald, March 23rd
Ferdinando earned his pilot's license after the war and bought a plane, which he would fly off of College Mesa, where the old Durango airport was located. He rebuilt and performed all the maintenance on his plane, a Funk, himself. Because of an...Read more
Antique wall clocks targeted by thieves at Northwest Fresno law firmsABC30.com, March 16th
The criminals didn't stay inside the buildings long. The victims say they broke through the door and went right for the antiques on the wall. Attorney Michael Margosian's office wall now has an empty spot that used to house an antique Seth Thomas No. 2...Read more
Antiques & Collectibles: Seth Thomas regulator clock a timeless favoritePress of Atlantic City, March 6th
Question: What can you tell me about an old oak wall clock left in an office building I recently ac-quired? It is 37 inches long, 16 inches wide and 5½ inches deep with a brass pendulum and weight. Its metal dial is painted white, has Roman numerals, a...Read more
Time for city to fix clockPetaluma Argus Courier, March 2nd
They suggested a clock be put on the building as a sign of progress and prosperity of the 25-year old city. The city, however ... They succeeded and the wooden tower with the Seth Thomas clockworks adorned the new building for all to see. We now refer...Read more
Horology Auction Earns Nearly $1.1 MillionMaine Antique Digest, February 6th
Clock and watch auctions differ from most other antiques auctions in that the material passes, for the most part, from one collection to another. The offerings were vast ... A 75" walnut, walnut veneer, and burl Seth Thomas Regulator No. 19 made for...Read more
FEBRUARY INTRODUCTION TO ANTIQUE CLOCK COLLECTING ...Ventura County Star, February 4th
The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Chapter 190 Ventura & Santa Barbara County will be presenting a 2 day introductory workshop on antique clock collecting, maintenance and repair on February 28 & March 1, 2015. It will be held at...Read more
Street clock coming home: City to buy historic timepiece, install it in ...GazetteNET, January 25th
Photo courtesy of the Northampton Office of Planning and Sustainability The city is buying this Seth Thomas clock, which stood at the corner of Main Street and Strong Avenue from 1910 to 1996, with plans to having it restored and reinstalled next year...Read more
Seth Thomas clock winds up being around 100 years oldOcala, June 16th
Q: The enclosed pictures are of a Seth Thomas wind-up clock that I acquired at an auction in Sullivan County, N.Y., back in the 1970s. The glass in the door that opens to the clock face is missing. The clock is in working order and when you wind it, it...Read more