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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Bromo Seltzer tower's clock loses its hands as major restoration beginsBaltimore Sun, October 12th
The hands of the clock atop Baltimore's landmark Bromo Seltzer tower moved for the first time in nearly two years Monday — right off the timepiece's faces. A crew of ... Prominent Connecticut clockmaker Seth Thomas Co. built the tower's focal point...Read more
THE SCRIBBLER: Time will be true today atop county courthouseLancasterOnline, September 29th
“The clock is gorgeous.” Clock or clocks? It's one clock with four faces, providing time in all directions. This complex assemblage will join the restored Lady Justice statue and other elements in the copper-clad dome this afternoon. The Seth Thomas Co...Read more
'Roadsides' a treasure of small-town sightsMaryville Daily Forum, September 28th
In those not-so-long-ago days, giant oaks and elms arched over winding country blacktops, and every little town offered travelers small instances of charm and adventure: an old drug store with a tiled soda fountain that served milkshakes to die for, or...Read more
Look Back: Memories of Pa Young and his clockBaxter Bulletin, August 30th
Written by Mary Ann Messick for the April 10, 2001, edition of Senior Focus. If the popular PBS TV show Antiques Roadshow ever comes to the Twin Lakes Area, Bobby Lee Reed of rural Gassville knows exactly what he will take to it. The Seth Thomas clock ...Read more
Time well spent: Clockmaker cherishes stories from each timepieceHickory Daily Record, July 21st
HICKORY – A modern-day Geppetto, David Pendley spends his days surrounded by clocks of all types and description. He spends almost two hours twice a year honoring Ben Franklin by springing forward or falling back until his last clock is set...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
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