Keeping Time With History: The Philolectian Clock

By Chuck Zielin

Becoming a new volunteer at the Anoka Historical Society was a challenge; how could I contribute?  My interviewer, Sara, quickly answered the question--with my background in antique clock restoration I could help them bring back to life the Philolectian Society’s grandfather clock. They are planning a rededication of the Philolectian Room at the History Center. As a side note, I discovered that this clock is the second donated by the Philolectian Society to the library after they organized in 1892.  (Does anyone know anything about the first ‘ugly’ clock?  Please let us know if you do.)

The Philolectian Society was instrumental in bringing the library to a “culturally and geographically isolated Anoka.” To break out of this isolation they saw “great propensities for social, civic and cultural advancement” that a library could provide. In the dedication of the Carnegie Building in 1904, the Philolectian Society donated this clock. It first stood in the lower level area known as the Philolectian Room, then in 1965 it was moved to the new library building on Third Street and occupied a position in the fireside room. When the building came to house the Historical Society, the room was renamed the Philolectian Room, though the clock was placed in storage. As ACHS has worked to create new exhibit panels for the room, it seemed only proper to have this artifact once again prominently displayed.

I identified the clock as a 1904 Ansonia Long Case. It has a time and strike movement and is powered by two weights: one for the time gear side and one for the strike side. It’s crown, with inner facing curved wings and ornate brass finials is classic 19th century. The time piece hood, waist, and base feature square and rectangle lines of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Having a square stamped face with no arch at the top also reflects this latter movement. However, the large silvered time ring and the smaller second ring, along with the scrolled spandrels (corners) and center circle reflect the earlier style. Finally, the solid straight oak wood cuts are key to the Arts and Crafts design. One can easily consider these case design features to be hybrid and transitional.

To refurbish the case, I removed the collected grime and old cracked varnish without damaging the patina through hand work using a solvent and steel wool. I sealed the wood with a flat finish, trying to split the difference between the purist who would have left it as found and the revitalist who would have stripped it and then refinished it. I also cleaned, polished, and sealed three brass finials, the two weights and pendulum bob as well as cleaning and adjusting the timepiece.

Our timepiece is of a high-quality brass and common Ansonia design dating to the second half of the 19th century. The weights have a plain design and are raised by pulling down the chains every seven or eight days. The gong striker is a small brass hammer attached to the timepiece strike arm and has a leather insert to soften the sound. The actual gong is a curled rod common to most Ansonia Time and Strike clocks. Penciled dates on the timepiece carriage indicate the clock was serviced some eight times: March 2, 1905; April 3, 1908; February 25, 1915 RNB; March 4, 1918 PHB; January 9, 1935 Saudberg; January 3, 1954 AL, April 17, 1957, and May 31, 1999 Tom Burns. A ninth date could now be added:  December 27, 2018 CZ.

 The finished product now proudly stands in the Philolectian Room at the Anoka County Historical Society.  It is running smoothly and keeping good time.

 Thank you, Philolectian Society, for this beautiful symbol of your contributions over these many years.

This article originally ran in the Anoka County Herald.