American shelf clock
American shelf clock

A few longcase clocks were made in America in the 18th and early 19th century. These  were similar to provincial English longcase clocks, or had wooden movements similar to Black Forest clocks.

Early in the 19th century, the “wag on the wall” became popular. This was a weight-driven wooden clock with a pendulum swinging in front of the dial.

The first American shelf clocks were made by Simon and Aaron Willard. These were about four foot high with a wide base section like a chest-on-chest. In 1802, Simon Willard also invented the banjo clock.  This had a circular dial above a tapered trunk and a box-shaped base. Other makers produced variations of this design, such as the lyre clock, which had curved sides, and the grandole clock, which had a circular base.

Ely Terry, was the first to produce cheap clocks in quantity. In 1806, he undertook the production of a single order of 4,000 clocks. In doing so, he not only devised a factory for making them but also methods of distribution and retailing. Ely Terry’s first clocks had wooden mechanisms. Until 1845, American clocks, even shelf clocks, were driven by weights because America at the time lacked the technology to produce clock springs.

Seth Thomas wall clock
Seth Thomas wall clock

In 1810, two of Ely Terry’s staff, Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley, bought the business from him. In 1813, Thomas sold his share to Hoadley and founded his own business, the Seth Thomas Clock Company. In 1838, Thomas began making clocks with brass movements rather than the wood movements that had been used by Terry. The Seth Thomas Clock Company was very successful and stayed in family hands until 1932 when it became the General Time Instruments Corporation. The factory closed after a flood in 1955 but reopened under the Seth Thomas name. It remains the longest established American clock-making company.

 

Antique American clocks available now
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