Keeping Time With History: The Ansonia Clock Company
By Chuck Zielen
As I continue to work with the Anoka County Historical Society to repair and preserve the clocks in the collection, I have had the opportunity to conduct a bit more research as well. The Ansonia Clock Company, formed in 1851 and operated as a high-quality company until the 1920s, made the clock of this week. A series of bad decisions and the Depression forced the sale of the company to Soviet Russia in 1928. The company was originally housed in Darby, CT until 1854 when the factory burned. The company moved production to Ansonia, CT and renamed themselves the Ansonia Brass and Cooper Co. as well as the Ansonia Clock Company (1854-1878). Our clock at ACHS was produced during this period with specific characteristics that place it in the early years.
This donation is a very interesting clock based on case style and timepiece design. First, the architecture of the case in no way is related to the later years. The flat, octagonal design with flat edge trim is the anthesis of the rounded edges and raised boarder trim of the later years. A second feature is the “chiseled” bottom with its doors opening downward rather than sideways. Finally, the flat, angled bottom faces forward and not downward. That would indicate the style is Anglo-American as it reflects a very popular Victorian design that really did not catch on until it was reintroduced in the 1890s. Not many of this style clock were made during this early period and very few have survived, making this a rather rare item.
The Anglo-American designation comes from the British. When their Royal patent office refused to allow American clocks to be imported because “no clock could be that cheap” English manufacturers began importing American mechanisms and placing them in their cases, thus, the Anglo-American connection.
Our timepiece is a spring-driven time-only type. What places it in the very yearly years are several things, including the timepiece wood mountings. Here, the mechanism is held at the top and bottom by pieces of wood that are slit so the back plate of the timepiece (top and bottom) slides into the slits. The wood pieces are then screwed to the backboard just like the OG design clocks. Also, the timepiece is identical to the OG weight-driven mechanisms except the great driving wheel now has a spring attached to it.
Keep in mind, the spring steel as we know it was invented in the 1830’s. This, in connection with changes in brass metallurgy, made it possible to produce cheap brass movements driven by springs thereby replacing weights and labor-intensive wood movements. In this clock, we have an old-style OG movement that is spring driven in an American version of the Anglo-American clock case.
When I put all these facts together, I place a manufacturing date between 1854 and 1856. Later clocks of this style had different mechanisms and case architecture.
Case cleaning removed the grime and most of the paint spots. Veneer chips were filled and stained, the bezel was cleaned while the white painted face was left as found. Front timepiece wires holding the mechanism together were replaced with appropriate pins to eliminate the looseness. The mechanism was disassembled, cleaned, reassembled, and oiled, though not adjusted for accurate timekeeping. While the clock is in good running order, when hung, the beat will have to be set and it will have to be timed.
No discussion of this clock would be complete without looking at the face, bezel, and wings. To the right and left of the door, just below the octagonal frame, are the wings. These are hand carved and unique to this case style. The bezel is of quality brass with a weak hinge design (note repair and loose screws). Finally, our face place is a single piece of stamped metal with a concave white painted dial.
This article first ran in the Anoka County Herald as a column.