Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dietrich and Fred Gruen

One final update regarding the estate sale: everything that was left over has been consigned to auction with Cabin Fever in Pennsylvania. It will be sold a little at a time at their monthly auctions.

My life is slowly beginning to return to "normal."

Two years ago, after completing a biography of Boston silversmith George Christian Gebelein for the German Historical Institute's online encyclopedia of German-American Immigrant Entrepreneurs, I agreed to write a similar biography of Dietrich and Frederick Gruen, founders of the Gruen Watch Company.

Being the daughter of a horologist, I felt that I was well suited to the task. I started my research with a visit to my dad's shop, where he pulled out all of his Gruen books, parts, and one lovely pentagon pocket watch that had been hidden away in a parts drawer for decades.

Gruen Pentagon Verithin pocket watch.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Stay Tuned!

The estate sale is over, but there's still a lot of great stuff left. I'll be updating this website with information about where it is being consigned as that progresses.

A few people asked what happened with the "leftovers" from the earlier sale at my dad's shop. That was all consigned to auction with Cabin Fever in Pennsylvania. They'll be selling it a little at a time every month.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Electronics and More!

A few fun gadgets:

Multi-Speed Pentron Tape Recorder

Here's a recording device that would fit in perfectly with the first season of Mad Men. It's a Pentron reel-to-reel tape recorder, produced during the 1950s.

Pentron marketed their tape recorders for family use (because what could be more entertaining than letting the kids record their voices on an expensive new gadget?), but probably proved more useful for business meetings.

The Pentron Corporation was based in Chicago. Their slogans included "In Electronics... It's Pentron" and "There's more fun at home when you have a Pentron."


You can never have too many voltmeters. What, you haven't got even one? Well, now's your chance to load up!

Most of these voltmeters were produced by Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation of Newark, N.J., probably during the 1920s or '30s. One exception is the red voltmeter, which might have been made during the 1890s.

Slide Projector

Some of you may be too young to know what this is. Before the dawn of computers and PowerPoint, people used actual physical slides that were projected through machines like this Argus 200 slide projector.

Magic Lantern

Before electricity, slides were projected using kerosene lamps inside of magic lanterns. This "Lanterne Magique" was produced by Ernst Plank, and is unfortunately missing a few parts (but is still super-cool!).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Treadle-Powered Saw

If you haven't seen one of these before, it might be a little surprising. We're so accustomed to power tools being powered by electricity, we've forgotten about treadles.

The Hobbies company, based in England, produced their treadle-powered fretsaws until at least the 1970s, making minor modifications to the design over the decades. It was a good choice for children, letting them learn while minimizing the risk involved.

Judging from the design of this model, called the A.I., I'm guessing it's from the early 1900s, maybe the 1920s.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Harmon Estate Clocks, Part 7

E. N. Welch, Forestville

First up today is a lesser-known Connecticut clock company, which began its history with Elisha Niles Welch (1809-1887), who peddled wooden-movement shelf clocks during his youth with his father. Welch eventually started the E. N. Welch Clock Company in the Forestville section of Bristol. The company continued operations until 1902, when it was bought out and renamed the Sessions Clock Company.

Sessions hit hard times during the mid-1950s and was itself bought out in 1958 by Consolidated Electronics Industries Corporation of N.Y., which kept the Sessions company going until 1968.

This is a classic ogee shelf clock, which were popular from the 1830s through the 1880s. Some continued to be made in the 1890s, but by then the "gingerbread" style of case had come into fashion. "Ogee" is an architectural term, which refers to the curve of the case border.

The lower portion of the glass front, as is expected with an ogee clock, has a painting done in reverse on the inside, so that it can be viewed on the outside. This is called reverse-glass painting, and it was often done by young women. The Connecticut clock industry was an early employer of women, who were hired to paint the dials and glass of the clocks. When Connecticut's watch industry took off, women were hired for their "nimble" and "delicate" fingers.

The scene on the glass is a view of the Alameda de Paula in Havana, Cuba. The print was published on the front page of the London Illustrated News in 1853. I don't know if it was reprinted in a U.S. magazine, or if a copy of the Illustrated News found its way to Connecticut.

The remains of the original label inside the case.

The maker's name stamped on the movement, visible through an opening in the dial.

"S" Clock Company

There are two "gingerbread" clocks in my grandfather's collection that are marked only with an S inside a circle on the dial. Is it Sessions? Is it another company?

The "S" logo is obscured by the brass ring just above the 6.

Unknown French Maker

The only identification mark that I have found on this clock is a "medaille d'argent" stamp on the movement. It could be a Vincenti & Cie, or it could be a completely different company.

The case is heavy stone, carved with decorative patterns, some inlay, and what I presume to be marble columns.

The glass has remnants of stickers, but is otherwise in good shape.
The case has sticker remnants as well and could use a little sprucing up.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Artful Glass and Ceramics

Included in my grandparent's collection are a number of beautiful glass and ceramic objects. Here are a few of them, all of which will be available to purchase in July and August, when we have the GIANT Estate Sale. If you're planning ahead, I expect to be open for business nearly every day during those months.

One of a pair of blue vases.

The vases are signed, but I can't identify the mark. It could be a PK, or a fancy FPK, or DK.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Radio Waves

Everyone loves an old radio, but what about an ultra short wave generator intended for medical use?

This is a Liebel-Flarsheim Ultra Short Wave Generator, model SW-400. Sadly, much of the veneer popped off from moisture on the trailer where it was stored. It also had a coating of mold growing on it and in it. I've cleaned off most of that.

The Ultra Short Wave Generator was an early diathermic device. Diathermy is used to increase blood flow and metabolism. Short wave diathermy can be used to relieve pain in deep muscles and joints: just as using a heating pad can relieve muscle tension or aches and pains, short wave diathermy applies heat to areas that can't be reached by heating pads. While this may look like a quack medicine device, it is very similar to diathermic devices manufactured today for treating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

The guts of the machine.

This looks like something out of a 1930s sci-fi movie.

There were a number of companies that made these devices during the early 1900s. If you want to really explore the varieties of medical devices from this era, visit

I will not be powering up this device. From what I've read, it operates on a frequency that can wreak havoc with electrical equipment.

Liebel-Flarsheim also made X-ray equipment. The company was founded by John George Henry Liebel (1891-19??) and Edwin S. Flarsheim (1894-1948) in 1917. They were, and still are, based in Cincinnati, although the company now operates as a division of Mallinkrodt, which bought them in 1996.

The back of the Liebel-Flarsheim device.

Instructions for installing tubes, stapled to the inside back cover.

Inside the front of the cabinet, where the paddles are stored.

The paddles. 
Missing are the wands which could be placed on either side 
of the head or body without touching the patient.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Although prying open crates proved disappointing, opening the numerous trunks has been much more satisfying. Here's one I opened one yesterday.

This is one of the smaller trunks, only about knee-high in height. (I really need to keep a tape measurer on-site.)

Unlike the crates, the trunks open with ease.

It's like opening a treasure box.

This particular trunk proved to be holding four items.

A pink kerosene lantern, banged up and missing its glass.

A tiny red kerosene lantern, a little banged up, but otherwise in good shape.

A heavily shellacked print in a rustic frame.

And one clock.

The clock is a Wm. L. Gilbert "Curfew" clock. The William L. Gilbert Clock Company, based in Winsted, Connecticut, operated from 1871 until 1934. The "Curfew" was produced in a number of variations during the twentieth century; one of the unifying features was the bell on top. The "Curfew" was produced during the early 1900s.

Back of the "Curfew" clock.

"Curfew" movement.

"Curfew" dial.

A slightly blurry photo of the maker's name on the dial.

One of the clock's feet.

Although the founder of the Gilbert Clock Company was long gone by the time this clock was produced, he is an interesting character, so I've put a little bit of his story into this post.

William Lewis Gilbert (1806-1890)  grew up on a Litchfield farm, moving to Winsted as an adult. He served in the State Legislature for two terms, during which time he pushed through the charters for the Winsted Bank and for the Connecticut Western Railroad.

William L. Gilbert, from Gilbert Academy and Agricultural College, 1893

Gilbert's clockmaking career began in 1828, when he partnered with his brother-in-law, George Marsh, in Bristol, Connecticut. This new business made clock parts for Jerome & Darrow for three years, before finally manufacturing entire clock movements. They relocated to Farmington for several years.

Gilbert returned to Bristol in 1835 to start a new company, called Birge, Gilbert & Co. This was soon followed by Gilbert, Grant & Co. In 1841, Gilbert relocated again, this time to Winsted, where he purchased a clock factory. The business expanded to Ansonia from 1857 until 1862, and to Williamsburg, NY from 1863 until 1871.

Disaster struck in 1871, when Gilbert's clock factory in Winsted burned down. Gilbert turned disaster into opportunity, reorganizing his business as the William L. Gilbert Clock Company and constructing new, larger, and improved factory buildings equipped with the best machinery.

Gilbert had a side business as a banker, taking over the former Winsted Bank building in 1867. He was also involved in the creation of a railroad line from Hartford to Millerton, NY. Both banking and railroads were highly profitable ventures during the nineteenth century, and Gilbert built up a small fortune.

Gilbert was a generous philanthropist, donating $800,000 to the town of Winsted and $50,000 to La Teche Seminary Agricultural College in New Orleans, which was renamed the Gilbert Academy and Agricultural College after his death. The Gilbert Academy began as a home for African-American orphans whose fathers died fighting in the Civil War, and eventually became a private high school for African Americans.

He also built a home for orphans in Winsted, spending his last Christmas with the children of the orphanage. The Gilbert Home for Friendless Children, established after his death, took in children whose parents could not afford to take care of them. Winsted's Gilbert High School, built with his bequest, was a semi-private school that educated boys and girls from Winsted and surrounding towns.

Gilbert's clockmaking company continued after his death, until 1957, when it became a division of the General-Gilbert Corporation. The clock division was sold to Spartus Corporation of Chicago in 1964.