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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Time has come for antique clock workshopSimi Valley Acorn, January 22nd
The Ventura and Santa Barbara chapter of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors will present a two-day introductory workshop on antique clocks from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. and Sun., Jan. 24 and 25 at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse...Read more
Seattle Sports Star of the Year awards — live updatesThe Seattle Times (blog), January 21st
and preparing for the Patriots,” Debbie said. Backstage, Seth Thomas said his brother's injured shoulder would not keep the Seahawks star out of the Super Bowl. “He'll play — for sure,” Seth said. ... The Wayne Gittinger Inspirational Award winner...Read more
Houston clock tower will get up and running againAustin American-Statesman, January 19th
Time stands still on the century-old clock atop a historic industrial building in the Heights. Its hands have stopped ticking, and the building, one of the oldest in Houston, has been largely unused for decades. The roughly 60,000-square-foot structure...Read more
The Timekeeper of DennisCapeCod.com News, January 19th
One day, Anderson's friend Bo Sullivan of Forge Antiques and Forge Auctions of Bedford Hills, New York mentioned he and another dealer, Bob Albert of nearby Peekskill, had purchased a lot of 500 old clocks from a New Orleans dealer. “Twenty clocks...Read more
Auction watch: Vintage furniture among highlights at upcoming salesTribune-Review, January 11th
Especially appropriate is an “anniversary” clock, a dome-shaped piece that needs to be wound only once a year. Prized for their clever design, Baird Advertising Clocks often featured Seth Thomas workings surrounded by papier-mâché frames that extolled ...Read more
You never quite know what time it is in a clock shopLancaster Eagle Gazette, December 29th
Mick Jagger was a pup the last time I touched anything that ticked, but then four antique clocks came under my care this fall: Muhammad Ali, a weight-driven shelf clock with wooden works that clangs like the end of Round 3; Gilbert, the 1919 creation...Read more
Restored Seth Thomas clock returns to Eastown's landmark Kingsley BuildingThe Grand Rapids Press - MLive.com, December 11th
The antique Seth Thomas clock hands atop the landmark Kingsley Building are turning again, greeting drivers approaching Eastown on Lake Drive SE as they once did. Originally built in 1926, the clock was restored this summer by Grand Rapids clockmaker ...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