Amid Newark’s Clock Collections, Great Times are Always With Us

History and Landscape
Published September 2, 1999

Amid Newark’s Clock Collections, Great Times are Always With Us

| Published September 2, 1999

Room in Ballantine House with clock displayed The Star-Ledger

Today we continue our examination of clocks and other timepieces that hold important places in our city's history. In addition to 18th century tall clocks, a variety of other timepieces was produced here in the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

From 1850-1893, Henry Abbott of Newark, and later New York City and Harrison, learned about watch repairing from Graven Spence of Broad Street and opened a store in Manhattan's Maiden Lane. During his lifetime, Abbott took out 40 patents for stem winding devices, interchangeable watch movements, and application of color to enamel watch dials. Several of his inventions were also related to telephone answering devices. About the same time, E. Bliss was engaged in making watch cases. In the 1860s, the Newark Watch Company, established in New York City, moved to Newark because of space problems to quarters at 258 Market St., with Arthur Wadsworth head watchmaker. At first the company made watches, but later was engaged in selling parts to what became the Connell Watch Company of Chicago. The dials indicated that the finished product was made by the Newark Watch Company, N.J. and the Newark Watch Works, N.J. The custom at the time was for dealers selling the product to apply their own name to the watch dial. In 1874, the Newark Watch Case Material Company began manufacturing the Ajax Watch Insulator, described in an ad as a 'device of ferrous material which resisted magnetic influences' as well as 'a mechanical protection of crystals in the open-face type of watches.' The patent date is October 1899. Also in 1899, the Crescent Watch Case Company built a large factory on North 13th Street which was to pass under the Keystone Watch Case Company of Philadelphia.

Time has become a commodity that is precious, and we need to look after it. In fact, one might even equate it with happiness. To the poor student suffering through an endless French class, a commuter waiting for a plane or train, the shopper rushing to a sale, a pedestrian glancing up at a clock in a church steeple or even a nude sleeper in bed in the middle of the night wearing only a wristwatch, with an alarm clock at the bedside table, time is always with us. In ancient days the shepherd watching his flock told time by the sun, moon and stars. By the colonization of America, clocks and watches were becoming common in public and then private places. In Newark, two great collections of clocks are to be found at the New Jersey Historical Society and the Newark Museum. At the society, Rebecca Streeter reports their holdings to include 13 important New Jersey 'tall clocks.' Each is made up of three parts: the box or bonnet which houses the mechanism, a long slender compartment designed to hold the swinging pendulum, and a supporting base. The finished product was a result of the combined efforts of the clockmaker who made the machinery and the cabinetmaker who created the woodwork. By the end of the 18th century, New Jersey was recognized as a significant center of American clock making, and Newark was part of the tradition. Usually the clockmaker got his name and community painted on the clock face. The clocks at the society span the years 1723 to 1800. The cabinets were built in New Brunswick, Newark, Elizabethtown, Rahway, Bridgetown and Brick Town, of design in Chippendale, Queen Anne, Hepplewhite and Federal styles. The mechanism builders included Matthew Edgerton Jr., Joakim Hill and Isaac Brokaw. The cabinetmakers were Owen Biddle and John Scudder. Wood used in cabinetwork included curly maple, mahogany, holly and cherry, with all nature of elaborate wooden and metal inlays. The clock faces were handsome and often painted with a variety of designs including birds, trees, flowers, pastoral scenes, sailing ships and fanciful views of the heavens. Howard Wiseman, the society's former museum curator, reported his earliest job at the Society in the late 1950s was to keep these great old machines wound and in good working order. Stephen Tichenor's Newark-built clock was his favorite.

The Newark Museum's clock collection includes a half-dozen tall case clocks built in New Jersey between 1790 and 1820 and designed by well-known local craftsmen, including Isaac Brokaw and Andrew Low. The museum also has all the Ballantine House clocks, including the great Louis XIV clock, c. 1690, on the mantel of the billiard room, and the equally wonderful Japy Freres 'enameled Renaissance-style' clock in the Ballantine parlor, said Ulysses Dietz, head of the Museum's Decorative Arts Department. ‘‘We have several very fine Renaissance and 17th century European table clocks—the kind made when clocks were toys for aristocrats, ' Dietz said. 'We have another several shelf or mantel or wall clocks from France, made in the golden age of French clock making in the 18th century.' In addition to these great clocks on display in the Ballantine House, there are approximately 40 in storage and shown at different occasions. They were made from 1550 to 1900 in France, England, Germany, the United States, Switzerland and Japan. A long descriptive list indicates how varied they are, and the different purposes for which they were conceived. They include French cartel clocks, a U.S. shelf clock, a Swiss spherical watch, French mantel clocks, a German figural clock, an English musical clock, French urn clocks, an Ansonia Pottery clock, an English reproduction of an ancient water clock, U. S. shelf clocks, French bracket clocks, French wall clocks, a Swiss silver miniature clock, a German table clock, a U. S. crystal regulator, a French figural clock, an English coach watch, a German pedestal watch, a Swiss spherical watch and a Japanese inro clock. In addition to keeping time, many of these clocks had unique features such as the English reproduction of an ancient water clock, which was a very early means of timekeeping; a Seth Thomas clock with an alarm, a French figural clock designed with a sleeping Venus and Cupid, and a regulator clock designed in the Tiffany style. A German table clock, 1550-1650 has a carousel with 12 Turkish figures and a French mantel clock made in 1785 has an enameled dial with a calendar, moon phase, and identification of the day of the week. The Japanese inro clock demonstrates the Japanese system of hours used before 1873. A Swiss birdcage clock of 1780 includes a music box and chirping bird, and a 1783 French mantel clock incorporates early ballooning in its design. A German figural clock of 1600 is a lion's head with movable eyes and jaws, and the handsome Ansonia Pottery clock of 1900 was hand painted with flowers in the Talisman pattern. What a nice collection as well as a happy blending between the sciences and arts.

As the hours of the 19th century ticked away, one thing became obvious to Americans and Newarkers. There needed to be some standard system of time. Since there was no exact time, it was becoming increasingly difficult to run the railroads, and not knowing what time it was to the minute made it painfully hard to do all sorts of things in the 'modern' business world of Civil War-era America. In 1875, William F. Allen of South Orange was appointed secretary of the General Time Convention, which set about to bring railroad clocks into concert as trains were now able to travel from coast to coast. On Nov. 18, 1883, the nation's railroads agreed to divide the country into four time zones, so that 'proper time could be established' throughout the nation at least for rail services. This decision brought all sorts of reactions as well as people out of the woodwork. Wild-eyed clergymen accused Allen and the railroads of ‘tampering with God's law,' and Congress, through the Attorney General, said it couldn't be done without their blessing. Additionally, a bunch of old- fogie American mayors protested they would revert to the use of the ancient sundial which was 'good enough for them.' Fortunately, good sense prevailed, and in 1883 Congress passed the suggestion into law. Imagine Congress being pressured into a good thing and accepting an idea it didn't conceive. William F. Allen of South Orange and his railroad colleagues literally stopped America's clocks. Once Standard Time had been established over the objections of the farmers and others, it was in effect until World War I, when Daylight Saving Time was begun to help the war effort. Twelve European countries had already enacted legislation which guaranteed to save fuel and power, afford time for victory gardening, and improve conditions for training fighting forces. Daylight saving had been suggested much earlier by Benjamin Franklin, who said it would save candles. William Willett of Great Britain wrote of 'The Waste of Daylight,' and American builder Robert Garland wrote that 'only man is so stupid as to deprive himself of an extra hour of sun by sticking to a rigid system of time.' During World War II, Daylight Saving Time was in effect from Feb. 9, 1942 until Sept. 30, 1945. In 1946, Chapter 97 of the Laws of New Jersey returned New Jersey to Standard Time, but Daylight Time has since continued on a national basis. Next week we will take at public clocks, old and new.