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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Auction watch: Sales slow for summer, but values remain plentifulTribune-Review, July 26th
This night and day affair opens with a 5 p.m. sale loaded with collections of collectibles on the evening of July 31 and hits a high note the next morning with an auction packed with antique musicboxes, clocks and glassware. The July 31 sale features...Read more
Historic Fort Monroe post office gets makeoverDaily Press, July 23rd
at Ingalls and Fenwick roads in a building identifiable by its red brick and clock tower. The authority had operated out of a building inside the stone citadel's moat known as Old Quarters One in a building that will eventually be transferred to...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
No raining on this parade!Foster's Daily Democrat, July 20th
The Paul Revere Bell chimed the hour as Golden described the Tiffany windows, serving as a timely reminder to mention the church?s Seth-Thomas clock. Visitors from near and far were reminded to sign the guest book and records show a ... Beal?s other...Read more
Home of the Week: A kinetic home of sculptures and global memoriesCapitalGazette.com, July 17th
A house filled with memories of a romance begun in Peru, with a wedding in Turkey. See photos and video. Couple's love led them around the world – their travels are on display in their home. See photos and vid. As a 14-year-old, Rosario dreamed one...Read more
Collectors seek milk glass with hens, squirrels, cowsazcentral.com, July 14th
Question: My mom and dad were married in 1943. They received several pieces of milk glass as wedding presents and I inherited them. I have no intention of selling them but would like to know more about this type of glass and if it is considered...Read more
Courthouse clocks fully functional for first time in yearsDaily Journal Online, July 11th
After several months of cleaning, repairing and synchronizing the four large Seth Thomas clocks, all four were back in working order sometime around Christmas of 2003. But without any kind of ongoing maintenance agreement for upkeep, the clocks stopped ...Read more
Old timepiece working and clean atop LP HighLaSalle News Tribune, July 2nd
The old clockworks bear a nameplate, “Made by Seth Thomas Clock Co., Thomaston, Conn., USA, No. 2647, November 30, 1927.” This is the year this section of the school was constructed. You also will find “1927” over the main entrance under the clock ...Read more