Monday, March 31, 2014

Harmon Estate Clocks, Part 6

I fell a little behind with these blog posts, in order to finish writing a biography of the Gruen watchmaking family for the German Historical Institute's Immigrant Entrepreneurship online encyclopedia. Look for that later this year.

Now, time for more clocks! I've selected a few international wall clocks for this post.


Rombach wall clock

Thomas Rombach was a Bermondsey clockmaker, as the address boldly written across the dial indicates. Prior to 1891, he was in partnership with Adreas Saum at 215 Grange Road.

Detail of dial, showing some damage to the paint.

The label inside the case, T. Rombach, Practical Watch and Clock Maker and Jeweller, lists some of his services, including clock winding and payment plans. If I'm remembering correctly, the type of "clubs held" were buying clubs, to make it easier for consumers to buy expensive items.

The label also indicates that Rombach was servicing this clock until 1939.


Next up is a regulator from Germany. I didn't have anyone with me to hold it up, so this isn't the most flattering photograph. As you can see, there are a couple pieces near the top of the case that need to be reattached. Otherwise, though, the case is in good shape.

How do I know it's German? Well, I'm going by the letters D.R.C.M. found on the bracket holding the movement in place; except that the letters are almost certainly D.R.G.M., which was a type of patent mark used in Germany starting in 1891 ("Deutsche Reichsgebrauchsmuster"). A Gebrauchsmuster was a utility model (rather than a patent model) protecting the design or function of of an item.

One of the fun things about the internet is how easy it is to find information. Photos of a similar clock were posted in a NAWCC discussion thread. I didn't have time to take apart this clock to look for the maker's mark, but I'm going to assume from the similarities to the clock in the discussion thread, and others, that it is the same. Which means that it was made by Thomas Haller A.G. sometime around 1910.

Thomas Ernst Haller (1878-1954) came from a watchmaking family. His father, Thomas Haller (1854-1917) established his own business in the 1880s, producing pocket watches and clocks. Thomas Ernst succeeded his father in operating the Haller A.G. company.

In 1900, Haller merged with Uhrenfabriken Gebrüder Junghans. The merger lasted several years before being dissolved.

Haller A.G. was acquired by Kienzle in 1929.

Case interior, with Roman numeral markings on the lower right.

Front and back of the pendulum bob, showing a surprising amount of messy metalwork.


The third clock for this post was made by Aichi Clocks. Aichi was founded in 1892 or 1898 at Nagoya, Japan. A description of the 1903 National Industrial exhibition held at Osaka noted that Aichi Clock Company employed some 300 workers, and that there were twelve companies in the Aichi Clock Manufacturers' Guild.

Aichi produced inexpensive Western-style clocks for export. The production numbers for 1918-19 show that China was their largest export market, followed by India, the Philippines, Great Britain, Peru, and elsewhere. The United States was presumably lumped into the category of "Other countries," to which they shipped a total of 673 clocks in that year. Meanwhile, the U.S. was shipping steel springs and other supplies to Aichi.

During the early 1900s, Aichi manufactured precision equipment for the Japanese military. They became an aircraft manufacturer during the 1920s and were the fourth-largest aircraft supplier for the Japanese military during World War II. Later, after the war, they produced gears for motorcycles.

Aichi Clocks 8-day octagon regulator

The oddly-discolored paper label inside the clock.

The paper label on the back of the clock. Can anyone translate this for me?

Japan's Aichi prefecture is currently home to Naluse Company, which claims to be the only Japanese company making Japanese clocks (as opposed to Western-style clocks).


These last two clocks are still a mystery for me. My inclination is to think they are German, but I could be completely wrong about that. [UPDATE 4/4/14: a friend of my father's has suggested that they are Black Forest clocks; after a quick search online, I have to agree.] American manufacturers produced clocks like these, but they usually stuck their name somewhere prominent on the front or back. Think about that for a moment: we take it for granted that the maker's name will appear on the face of a clock or watch, boldly turning the timepiece into an advertising poster. The Rombach at the start of this post is an excessive example, in which he's even plastered his address on the dial. We've acclimated to the hubris, but in other cultures and in other eras, it would have been considered tacky and vain to have the maker's name on the dial.

Anyway, here are the two mystery clocks. They appear to have been made by the same company. Decorative painted porcelain fronts are attached to plain wood boxes designed to hold the movements and allow you to mount the clock on the wall. Weights are not currently attached; I have three buckets full of clock weights, so I'm sure they're here somewhere.

The movement is accessed through hinged doors on either side of the clock.

The back has a hole for mounting to the wall, and what appears to be the maker's name.

I've tried to decipher the name, but so far I haven't had any luck figuring it out.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Harmon Estate Clocks, Part 5

It seems fitting that my grandfather's clock collection includes a few Waterbury clocks, since I live in Waterbury.

Brief History

The Waterbury Clock Company was one of the major Waterbury manufacturers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, originally established as a department of Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing Co. Benedict & Burnham hired Chauncey and Noble Jerome, clockmaking brothers with whom they had previously partnered, to set up their movement and case making shops during the mid-1850s.

The Waterbury Clock Company was formed in 1857 as a joint stock corporation. Noble Jerome continued as supervisor of the movement shop. Edward Church, who had worked with Chauncey Jerome for nearly two decades, took over supervision of the case shop. When Noble Jerome died in 1861, he was replaced by Silas B. Terry, son of clockmaker Eli Terry. (Silas B. Terry left the company in 1867 to form the Terry Clock Company.)

By 1868, Waterbury Clock was exporting 50,000 clocks to England every year. They were one of several Connecticut companies represented by a NYC sales agency called the American Clock Company. Sales offices in Chicago and San Francisco were opened by 1875, and an office in Glasgow, Scotland opened in 1886.

The success of the company led to it becoming independent of Benedict & Burnham in 1887. New factories and an office building were constructed on North Elm and Cherry Street in Waterbury, employing some 700 people. Further expansions during the first fifteen years of the twentieth century made Waterbury Clock the largest clock manufacturer in the country.

In 1922, Waterbury Clock acquire the Ingersoll watch company. Financial difficulties during the Great Depression led to the Waterbury Clock being reorganized as Ingersoll-Waterbury, with a shift in production to focus on electric clocks and the highly lucrative Mickey Mouse wristwatch. The company was sold in 1942 to a group of Norwegian investors, who relocated the company to the neighboring town of Middlebury. They changed the company’s name to United States Time Corporation in 1944. Clockmaking disappeared, and the company renamed itself once more, in 1969: their Timex wristwatch was so successful, they made it their corporate identity.

The Timex worldheadquarters is still located in Middlebury. Their company museum, Timexpo, opened in 2001 in Waterbury and has a comprehensive collection of Waterbury clocks, Timex watches, and related material.

The Clocks

These are wood mantel clocks, popular during the 1880s and 1890s. The first two are of a design that is sometimes referred to as "gingerbread," since they look a little bit like the cases were made out of gingerbread.

The Waterbury Clock Company had hundreds of different case designs, all of them with distinctive names. Using Tran Duy Ly's guide books, I've been able to identify only one of the clocks.

 The "Afton," 1890s.

The dial has seen better days, but is is nice to see a dial that has never been retouched.

The next clock case makes me imagine an owl spreading its wings in the night sky. It is similar to the "Hargrave," but with subtle differences in the case design, a different scene on the glass, and a different pendulum.

The pendulum is a design that was patented on March 29, 1881 by Florence Kroeber (a man, despite the name). Kroeber was a German immigrant with his own clock company in 1870, purchasing movements from Connecticut manufacturers. The main office was at 8 Cortlandt Street in NYC, next door to Waterbury Clock's New York office, at 10 Cortlandt Street.

Patent drawing for Kroeber's pendulum.

Detail of the Kroeber pendulum.

The third clock has a surprisingly plain case for Waterbury Clock Co., but the name stamped on the pendulum and the labels on the back leave no doubt as to who made it.

The dial has been poorly repaired, and is ready for more repainting.

The regulating pendulum bob, with the patent date of December 11th, 1883.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Veg-O-Mat Juice Extractor

At first I thought that was some sort of industrial machine, the sort of thing you'd find in a factory, or on a construction site. Then I read the label and realized it was "just" a juicer, the Veg-O-Mat juice extractor.

An advertisement from the February 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics declared "A New Industry is born! Veg-O-Mat extracts delicious vegetable juices containing all minerals, vitamins. Highly recommended by physicians."

Electric juice extractors were all the rage during the 1930s. Other brand names included Sunkist Jr. and Dormeyer. Sunkist introduced their first juice extractor in 1921, partly as an effort to increase the sales of oranges (hand-squeezing oranges at soda fountains was too laborious).

The Veg-O-Mat was marketed for home use. A pair of photographs in the March 1939 issue of Popular Science illustrated its use.

Although the brand name wasn't given, this is clearly the Veg-O-Mat.

A second illustration from Popular Science, showing the celery being fed in the top and coming out the bottom into a cloth bag.

An advertisement in the Madison Health Messenger, from about 1940 (reprinted in History of Seventh-day Adventist Work with Soyfoods, Vegetarianism...) extolled the virtues of the electric gadget:
No more laborious hand-grinding--no more dribbles of juice and waste of good fruit and vegetables. The Veg-O-Mat puts an end to the unsanitary, wasteful, and tedious old methods of juice extraction by hand. The Veg-O-Mat, a midget in size but a giant in power, comes in one compact unit which is easy to clean and economical to use. It employs the most advanced process of juice extraction, it thoroughly triturates every cell and fibre of the vegetable, and then subjects the pulp to a pressure of many tons. This insures that the juice will contain the most valuable minerals and vitamins, those found only in the interior of the fibre. Guaranteed for one year; 8 inches by 14 inches; has a capacity of sixteen to twenty pints per hour.

Here's another, very dramatic, advertisement: "Thoroughly rips every cell, subjects pulp to tons of pressure, juice contains all minerals and Vitamins." Notice that The Veg-O-Mat Machine Company also sold a "valuable booklet" on juice therapy.

Advertisement in Life & Health, The National Health Journal, May 1940.

The Veg-O-Mat was patented in April 1939 by William Wishinsky of NYC as a "Vegetable and Fruit Press."

Diagram Sheet 1 of William Wishinsky's patent (No. 2,154,649)

Wishinsky had a business supplying parts to watchmakers (hey, look! a connection to horology!), starting in 1920 or 1924. He advertised custom movement blocks and dies for platinum watch cases (among other items). His office was located at 100 West 21st Street in New York City.

Wishinsky was born on January 15, 1894 in Mlawa, Poland. He emigrated to the United States in 1913 with his mother and siblings, settling first in Boston, where he found work as a first class machinist for an electric company. In Boston, Wishinsky met his wife Rose, who came here from Russia in 1912. Both spoke Yiddish. The couple were living in Roxbury, Massachusetts when William was naturalized in 1920.

At some point between 1920 and 1923, the Wishinskys moved to New York City. They lived at 1487 Teller Avenue in the Bronx and had two sons: Jonas and Myron.

After receiving the patent for his Veg-O-Mat, William Wishinsky opened up a new office for his new business, at 655 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. He remained at that address until the late 1950s, listing himself in the directories as a tool and die maker.

I have not found a record of William's death. Rose died in 1983.

The Veg-O-Mat was the precursor to the Veg-O-Matic, which was introduced in 1963. The invention of the famous Veg-O-Matic ("It slices! It dices!") is credited to Samuel Popeil, who moved to Chicago from New York in 1945. He introduced his Chop-O-Matic in 1956. The main difference between the Veg-O-Mat and the Veg-O-Matic is that the later, more famous gadget was manual, not electric.

I don't know what the connection is between the Veg-O-Mat and the Veg-O-Matic, other than the obvious trademark infringement with the name and general concept. The Veg-O-Mat Machine Company was still in existence in 1957, located at 655 Sixth Avenue in New York City. They were gone by 1960, which is about when Popeil applied for his vegetable cutter patent.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Harmon Estate Clocks, Part 4

Cuckoo Clocks

I haven't had a chance to really look at the cuckoo clocks yet, but there are at least five that I've found so far. Here are four of them.

Posing for their photographs on a very nice couch.

A clock with two cuckoos.

Movement and bellows for the two cuckoos.
The bellows are stamped "West Germany" in purple ink.

The cuckoo on the left needs some help.

This cuckoo clock is having a tough time, with various bits and pieces
slipping out of place. I think we've all had days like that.

A clock made by the American Cuckoo Clock Company. The hands and Roman numerals
look like Bakelite, but could be some other type of plastic.

The cuckoo and a detail of the hands and numerals.

The back of the clock, with the remnants of the label.

Movement and bellows. The bellows are stamped "West Germany" in purple ink.

The American Cuckoo Clock Company was based in Philadelphia. There's not too much reliable information about the company that I've been able to find online, so I've pieced together their history from old articles and advertisements. They were in business from 1895 through the 1960s or '70s. They imported movements and bellows from the Black Forest region of Germany and housed them in rustic wood cases like these, made in Philadelphia.

The American Cuckoo Clock Company began in 1877 as Breitinger & Kunz, a partnership of Louis Breitinger and Gustav Kunz (American Jeweler, 1 March 1905). The company was a general watch and clock importing and jobbing business. The partners were also family: Breitinger was married to  Kunz's daughter. Both men were immigrants from Wurtemburg, Germany.

Louis Breitinger (1841-1904)
Illustration from his obituary in American Jeweler, 1 January 1905.

In 1895, they purchased the Boss Company's stock of cuckoo clocks, bringing Charles Boss on board as a partner for the newly formed American Cuckoo Clock Company. Kunz continued to focus on the general watch and clock business until his death in 1899. Breitinger and Boss focuses on the new cuckoo clock business.

The company's first factory was located at 37 and 39 North Ninth Street in Philadelphia. They relocated to a new building at Fairmount Avenue, Randolph and Fifth Street sometime around 1900.

Advertisements for the company's cuckoo clocks placed an emphasis on their domestic manufacture. An ad in the November 1, 1904 issue of American Jeweler disparaged imported cuckoo clocks, implying that it was all but impossible to have an import repaired: "The man who made them in Germany knew they were 'never coming back.'" The ad also emphasized their ability to restock the retailer's store within a couple of days, ensuring that they would be able to fill their Christmas orders.

The Den Clock, a specialty line of the company's cuckoo clocks.
(American Jeweler, 1 Oct 1904)

The primary market for the cuckoo clocks seems to have been Christmas gifts. An advertisement in the September 1, 1902 issue of American Jeweler stated that "There's a retail jeweler in Philadelphia who sells between a half dozen and a dozen of our Cuckoo Clocks daily all year 'round, and during the Christmas holidays his sales average fifty a day."

The American Cuckoo Clock Company was incorporated in 1905, following the death of Louis Breitinger in 1904. Louis A. Breitinger, his son, was President and General Manager, Charles Boss was Vice President, Henry Borchers (son-in-law of Gustav Kunz) was Treasurer, and H. B. Stuetzer was Secretary. The widows of Lewis Breitinger and Gustav Kunz, Julia Breitinger and Regina Kunz, were the principal stockholders (American Jeweler, 1 March 1905).

Julia Breitinger was actively involved in the Philadelphia clock and jewelry business, principal owner of the family's wholesale and retail jewelry business, Breitinger & Sons, at the time of her death (American Jeweler, 1 October 1913).

The company's clocks gained rapidly in popularity during the first decade of the 20th century. Sales offices were established in Chicago and Brooklyn.

In 1911, the President and General Manager of the American Cuckoo Clock Co., Louis A. Breitinger, invented a power brake for his Philadelphia factory (American Jeweler, 1 July 1911). The device allowed the entire department's machinery to be shut down within 5 seconds. Breitinger was inspired by the horrible factory accidents he had read about at other factories. He improved on existing factory brakes by making it possible for anyone at any location to activate the shut down.

In 1913, the American Cuckoo Clock Company began supplying movements, weights, dials, and so on to amateur case makers (American Jeweler, 1 March 1913). There apparently was a large demand from amateurs and jewelers who preferred to make their own cases. The company even published a set of blueprints for DIY cuckoo clock cases in 1916 (American Carpenter and Builder, October 1916).

A 1924 Q&A section (the "Information Bureau") of American Jeweler noted that repair of the cuckoo clock bellows usually involved buying replacement bellows, rather than attempting to repair the leather. The article also noted that the American Cuckoo Clock Co. was owned by Breitinger & Sons, Inc., 37 N. 9th Street, Philadelphia.

A 1968 article in the Wall Street Journal (6 Feb 1968) hinted at the demise of the American Cuckoo Clock Company. Charles Pfaltzgraff, the last remaining employee, mournfully noted that "young people today" had no interest in cuckoo clocks. According to the article, the company stopped manufacturing cuckoo clocks around 1948, focusing instead on repairing clocks. Pfaltzgraff was also quoted as stating that "a few years ago, we had 18 people here. Now it has dwindled down to just little old me. And when I go, that's it." Pfaltzgraff died in 1978.

A 1946 classified ad in the New York Times (29 Nov 1946), posted by the company's Brooklyn office, also hints at the demise of American Cuckoo Clock's manufacture of clock:

CUCKOO clocks, genuine hand-carved, 8-day; just a few left; $40 plus tax; circular on request. American Cuckoo Clock Co. 96 Stockholm St. Bklyn, GL 5-0936.

The fourth cuckoo on the couch.

The cuckoo.

The movement, which is stamped "Made In Germany."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Utter's Parlor Game

Sometimes you just have to know what you're looking for, and then you find it.

In my last post, I shared images of a whatsit device that was labeled "Parlor Game." At that point, I had found only the base. Fortunately, the base was clearly labeled with the product name and the manufacturer's name, allowing me to find this great illustration of what the complete device (a space heater) should look like.

Advertisement in The Metal Worker, 22 September 1894.

Today, as I as working on the inventory for the probate court, I suddenly realized that the missing parts of the Parlor Game were right in front of me. It's amazing how something can go from being a mysterious whatsit to an obvious and easily identified contraption.

Here is the completed Parlor Game, which comes in three sections:

The two top sections.

The burner, on the top of the base.

So what does one do with a Victorian oil heater? If you're courageous and mechanically inclined, you could fix it up and get it working again. If it gets refinished, it would make a great movie prop. Maybe there's a museum of parlor stoves. Or maybe a steampunk artist will be inspired to convert it into a fantastical device.