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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Milwaukee County Historical Society's street clock frozen in timeMilwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 27th
"He just thought that made Milwaukee more modern. He thought street clocks were old-fashioned." Becker had focused his purge on Grand Ave., so a few street clocks survived the destruction, including a Seth Thomas-brand clock in front of the Milton H...Read more
Clock donated to Pequot Lakes Historical SocietyThe Lake Country Echo, August 26th
Anyone who watches "Antiques Roadshow" is familiar with the word "provenance" as it relates to authenticity. A picture of the interior of the hardware store or the depot, for example, with the clock on the wall, would be perfect. If such a photo ...Read more
Auchampaugh: The mystery of the Owasco Reformed Church tower clockAuburn Citizen, August 15th
The consistory records over the years record the many efforts to restore and maintain the steeple bell with the antique clock attachment. When the midsection of the ... In Connecticut, the family had ties with Seth Thomas. • This places the ...Read more
Kinsler cashes in all his husband points at onceLancaster Eagle Gazette, August 7th
I needed some scrap clock parts to prime my clock-repairman's junk box — old gears, odd bits of brass with holes in them, weird screws and springs, and even semi-complete clock movements to be torn down for parts that might restore another clock to...Read more
Texans' Clock Collection Sells in MassachusettsMaine Antique Digest, August 6th
The Brothertons are well known in antique clock circles, and Terry has held important national and local positions with the NAWCC. Overall, according to Cheney, they ... The Brothertons had early examples by Silas B. Terry, who produced unusual and...Read more
Bedford courthouse gets weather vane backRoanoke Times, August 3rd
Bedford residents wondering which way the wind is blowing at the courthouse now can learn by looking up. On Monday, a free-spinning restored vane was put back atop the copper-domed tower, where it has perched since 1930...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