Seth Thomas Mantle Clock – 1892
Throughout the 19th century, Connecticut was one of the world leaders in the clock making industry. Clock repair and production hit the Nutmeg State at a time when the state was first beginning to realize its massive industrial potential. Being in close proximity to major urban centers of the northeast, as well as passable rivers and numerous raw materials, Connecticut was ideally positioned to become a manufacturing giant.
One of the early leaders of the Connecticut clock making boom was Eli Terry (1773-1852). As a young child he apprenticed under Daniel Burnap (1759-1838) in what is now the town of South Windsor, Connecticut. Burnap had apprenticed under another Connecticut clock mechanic, Thomas Harkland of Norwich, Connecticut, and the skills he learned were passed to on to Eli.
In 1793, after seven years of apprenticeship, 21-year-old Eli Terry opened up his own establishment in Plymouth, Connecticut and a mere four years later he became the first inventor to receive a clock patent from The United States Patent Office. Terry’s early clocks were primarily wooden with wooden gears and works, as was the norm for 18th century clock making. Unlike costly and hard to acquire steel and iron, timber was plentiful in New England and could be easily crafted into beautiful pieces. Eli would go on to receive nine more U.S. clock patents and taught many different apprentices, including the now-widely known clock maker, Seth Thomas, of Wolcott, Connecitcut.
Seth Thomas, originally a wood worker skilled at carpentry, joined forces with Eli Terry and, between 1807 and 1810, the two men produced nearly 4,000 intricate clocks, including the “shelf clock” or mantle clock. These pieces were quite affordable to New England households and their popularity made Connecticut the industry leader of time pieces in the United States in the early 19th century. Moving forward forty years, helped by Terry’s designs and his skilled followers, the Waterbury Clock Company was incorporated on March 27, 1857, from the Benedict & Burham Manufacturing Company.
The Waterbury Clock Company produced the popular Eli Terry style shelf clock, and later seized the growing popularity of personal brass/steel timepieces and pocket watches. The company’s pocket “Dollar Watch” was sold worldwide, and vastly popular among the mid to lower classes, only costing $1.50 new. By 1896, the ever growing Waterbury Clock Company had storefronts in New York, Chicago, and Glasgow, Scotland. From the early 1920’s into the Great Depression the company began focusing their efforts toward a small, stylish watch that could be worn on a person’s wrist. In 1933, The Waterbury Clock Company created an icon, the Mickey Mouse Wrist Watch. On the watches first day of release to the public, 11,000 were sold at Macy’s New York Department Store, for the price of $2.95. In the mid-1950s, the company produced a wristwatch line whose popularity was so widespread that The Waterbury Clock Company changed its name to match, Timex. Affordable and fashionable, Timex (based now in Middlebury, CT) continues to produce quality wristwatches that are revered by generations.
Thanks to Connecticut clock makers like Eli Terry and Seth Thomas, the Nutmeg State continues to keep the public on time and not a second late. The PAST Antiques Marketplace has an enormous selections of vintage and antique clocks, watches and timepieces both from Connecticut and elsewhere. To see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles, visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.