Today, December 15th, is my second day back at the museum. Had a bit of a health scare but surgery was successful and no bad news for the future. What to share with you was my dilemma as I did not wish to immediately jump back into the 1853 narrative of the surveying teams.
We have in our Collection a lovely old clock which I just yesterday placed in a permanent exhibit case to share with visitors, so, I believe that will be a nice reboot of the blog.
“One Day” “Pillar & Scroll” Shelf Clock
American, Eli Terry, Jr. Circa 1830’s.
Based on the label, this is likely an Eli Terry, Jr. clock as the label reads:
“Made and Sold at Terrysville, Conn.”
Further Eli, the elder, labels read “E. Terry” not “Eli”.
Having been trained by his father Eli Terry, Sr., his son’s clocks contained the wooden gears and other features of the elder Terry’s clockworks.
The clock face and glass are the original, however the lower glass section is not. The original would have had a “reverse painted” image similar to the one shown below:
Reverse Painting: the artist would paint the image from the interior side of the glass, beginning with the forefront images, then painting in layers into the background. Basically, the reverse of traditional painting where the background is usually first, followed by the foreground. Further, the style would not be as finished or sophisticated; more “Americana” and less European.
Eli Terry (Senior), perhaps not the household name like “Ford”, aided in the ignition of America’s industrial revolution. Specifically, he started the enormous clock-making industry that thrived in small towns and cities throughout Connecticut in the 19th century into the 20th.
Terry taught the art of clock making to other master clock makers; names we recognize today: Seth Thomas and Chauncey Jerome are two. Jerome brought mass manufacturing to Bristol, making 200,000 clocks a year in the 1840 – and making Bristol the clock making capitol of the world. Jerome’s firm also started the Waterbury Clock Company, which later formed TIMEX. Like many of the inventors and greater minds of his time and generation, he was once mocked as a foolish man with improbable ambition. Terry dreamed of making affordable clocks so that any family, rich or poor, could have a timepiece in their home.
Wooden gear clocks at the time were not really intended to last more than about 20 years. Eli Terry’s wooden gear clocks are still keeping perfect time today over 200 years later.
Photograph of Terry's factory workers courtesy of Mattatuck Museum via connecticuthistory.org
Brief Biographical Timeline:
· 1786: At the age of 14 Terry was apprenticed to clock maker Daniel Burnap.
· 1793: After his apprenticeship ended, Terry moved to Northbury where he married Eunice Warner (1773-1839) and purchased land from her father where he built his house, which still stands today. They had two sons, Eli Jr. and Henry. His first clock shop was a 20-foot square workspace on Niagara Brook, which flows just behind the house.
· 1795: Terry is manufacturing 200 clocks simultaneously in his factory.
· 1797: He received the first clock patent granted by the United States Patent Office.
· 1802/1803: Terry devised ways to harness waterpower to operate his factory. It was the first water-powered clock factory in the United States. Northbury split from Watertown to form the Town of Plymouth in 1795.
o He was making typical eight-day brass tall case clocks (grandfather clocks). At this time, clock makers in the area began producing wooden gear clocks instead of brass gear clocks. These primitive clocks were made of local wood and cut out with a simple saw or knife. Wooden clocks were far more affordable than any brass clock.
o Terry used interchangeable parts in his clock factory. Clock gears were made as many as a dozen at a time, and women were hired to paint the clock faces. He occupies an important place in the beginnings of the development of interchangeable parts manufacturing. Terry is considered the first person in American history to create interchangeable parts with no government funding.
· 1807: Contract with Edward and Levi Porter of Waterbury, Conn., to make 4,000 clocks in three years. Terry spent the first year planning and building the machinery. The second year he produced the first thousand clocks. The third year he produced the remaining 3,000 clocks. Terry’s Porter Contract was one of the key kickoffs to the American Industrial Revolution.
· 1809: Terry semi-retires, though continued a private business for himself. His specialty was then the manufacture of “One Day” wooden shelf clocks, designed in 1814 and patented two years later. “One-day” meant you had to wind the clock mechanism daily to keep it running.
· 1810: Terry sold his Porter Contract factory to Silas Hoadley and Seth Thomas in 1810 and moved to the Naugatuck River.
· 1813: New prototype clock: ‘The Box Clock.’ These clocks had a square case, and there was no dial to cover the gears, so numerals were painted directly on the glass door. The exposed gears added to the charm of this shelf clock. The popularity of these clocks set a new standard for Connecticut-made timepieces.
· 1823: Eli Terry & Sons is formed, initially producing around 6,000 clocks per year. Eventually the number would increase to 12,000.
· Eli Terry, Jr., left the firm in 1828 and formed his own company in the eastern section of Plymouth (CT). In the 1830’s the village was renamed “Terryville” or “Terrysville” in his honor. Eli died in 1841 from either “over work” or tuberculosis. To date, I have not been able to locate an image of Eli Terry, Jr.; just his father. Henry left the firm in 1832 to start a silk factory. Unfortunately his endeavor was not successful.
· 1852: On February 24th, Eli Terry, Sr. died. His last clock, a box-shaped wall clock, hangs in the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol, CT.
Plymouth Historical Society, Tom Vaughn