A Great Canadian Clock Hunt: Recently we came across a rare Canadian clock at an auction, a fabulous Ansonia Triumph mirror clock (above), a top clock made by an esteemed American clock maker in the middle and late 19th century. While most Ansonia clocks in 1880 sold for two, three, and five dollars, the Triumph above, which featured two cherubs in front of tall corner mirrors, sold for $9.50. It became a best seller in well-to-do homes. (right another Triumph that has suffered the indignity of a FART (Fake Antique Reproduction Tarting-up) specialist.
The Triumphs issued in the 1880s generally featured a gracefully rounded movement (right below), and utilized a "long drop" pendulum that swung from a pin at the top centre of the movement, and did a big dog leg around the central clock hand pin. It was loudly stamped Ansonia Clock Company New York, and had "Patented 1882" stamped at the bottom left.
It also had a gong at the half hour, as well as on the hour.
It had a way of backing off the minute hand from top centre, to the nine o'clock position, to advance the number of gongs, if it had to be reset because it stopped from not being rewound.
It often had gilt - gold coloured - cherubs.
Auction Alert: When a Niagara area auctioneer announced that he had one of these, we were intrigued - but not for long... Most Triumphs have been ruined by FARTS; and this one appeared to have lots of problems.
Because we are by nature sceptical, especially about antiques, and more so about clocks, we saw a lot that was wrong with this clock.
- The glass was not the one shown on Triumphs in several Ansonia catalogues of the 1880s which we consulted...
- The cherubs were silvered not gilt...
- The finials seemed out of proportion and in too good a shape...
- The Jenny Lind bronze applique face (right) looked grossly oversized, and was sloppily attached, crookedly and off-centre...
- You couldn't back off the minute hand and advance the gong, a facility which Ansonia famously integrated into their clocks in the 1880s and 90s. (The label on the back said that you could turn the hands counter-clockwise without damaging the movement, something you should never do with other clocks. But the gong didn't advance, in spite of repeated tries... The implication was strong; the original movement which the label seemed to suggest had done this, was long gone, perhaps replaced by some old FART specialist.)
- There was no half hour strike - identified by side by side notches on the lower left wheel - as found on Ansonia clocks from the same period...
- When we took off the dial - YOU MUST ALWAYS DO THIS TO SEE WHAT MOVEMENT (THE CLOCK MOTOR) IS HIDING THERE - we discovered a square looking movement not at all like the customary Ansonia long drop movements - 9+ inches - (shown right). This pendulum had only a six inch drop and was attached just above the centre pin (below right). Though it was signed Ansonia it was written in very small letters, and no New York and no 1882 Patent date.
So someone had ripped out the original movement and put in a replacement from another clock...
Things got worse when we looked further.
At the top of the walnut case, while the right side looked machine smooth, the left side looked like someone had hacked away shavings (see two pics right below). Was this a FARTS work, done while fitting in the replacement movement?
Everything about this clock suggested a FAKE... We were dismayed...
So we started our research...
We got the "proper" long drop movement for comparison. Trouble was it refused to fit in. The dial holes were too wide for the movement, and if we brought in a new dial then the screw holes would not line up on the backboard. We would leave extra holes in the case, a sure sign of FART specialist at work in any clock. We would be starting to leave the tell tale signs of falsifying antiques behind - new holes where none were supposed to be!
The conclusion seemed inevitable; this movement had been with this clock since day one...
Praying for a Movement: We started to look for movements similar to ours in Ansonia catalogues for the 1870s and 1880s because this clearly had the name Ansonia on it. With its square lines it also looked old - older than the graceful Ansonia 1882 Patented movements the company used for decades after.
Then we found it. It was a movement for a clock made by Henry J. Davies for a Crystal Palace Regulator which he introdued in 1874 (below right). This clock under a glass dome was so popular, Ansonia, which had its factories at Ansonia, Connecticut at the time, bought him out. Ansonia may well have been supplying him with these old square strap type movements in those years, which sported their name in small letters (right).
Those clocks also had short drops, and had no half hour gong, just like the movement in our clock.
Had Ansonia decided to first use these movements when they introduced the Triumph line as test versions in protoype models?
During this period Ansonia also decided to move its factories to New York over a period of several years from 1878 to 1883. Could it be that the strap movement in our clock did not say New York because Ansonia had not yet moved, did not say 1882 because it wasn't. (After the move Ansonia decided to retool their movements in the new factory location, with new features, and label them with date and location.)
It appeared that our movement had to be from before that, in the 1870s.
Could we have an extremely rare and early "prototype" clock of one of Ansonia's most celebrated clock lines?
Naaah! Couldn't be...
We began to look the clock over for other clues as to its age... Was it a rare 1870s or a CANFART from the 1880s.
Cherubs: Why couldn't those damn cherubs be gilt like all the others we had seen (like on the Triumph above)? We checked the Ansonia catalogues for 1880 and 1884.
And there it was! The cherubs were supposed to be silver and were always silver when manufactured!
So the gilt ones we had seen were fake, tarted up by clock owners, or FARTS, because gilt and gold looked warmer and more pleasing than the real antique silver ones. Both ruined the antique value of a clock.
So ours were the real ones, not the fakes. When we examined them closer we could see that the gilt had worn off in different places, in different degrees. Time had done that, not a FART; so they still had the original paint without a subsequent repaint. Bingo!
The Mirrors: A fabulous feature of the Triumph is the two mirrors behind the cherubs. In 130 years of use and abuse they often break and are customarily replaced with new ones. But new mirrors look awful on antiques.
When we looked at these mirrors they were extremely wavy - indicative of 19th century glass - and the silvering had worn off in many spots, equally on both. Without any doubt at all, they were each, the original ones that came with this clock, well over a century ago, and neither was a later replacement.
The Bell: The bell (right) that chimed the hour was very spiffy looking, just too brilliantly shiny to be over 100 years old.
We took it off. It was nickel coated, a good sign. And there, all around the edge, where the gong had hit for over century, the nickel had worn off, letting the brass shine through... Inside were mysterious letters: "A.B. & C. CO."
Research corroborated that they stood for the Ansonia Brass & Copper Company, which produced gongs among other things, at a separate plant, at Ansonia, Connecticut, between 1869 and 1877. So the bell was definitely period, and produced in those years!
The Finials: The finials, the wooden pointy things used as decorations on top of clocks, or hanging down from them - the Triumph had both - looked odd in size. Were the top ones (right on our clock) too slim and the bottom ones too big and blocky, and one or both, obvious later replacements?
They were different, also, from the other Triumph (left) we had seen! Better check the Ansonia catalogue for 1880 (right)...
Bingo! Our finials were correct and proper in shape and size with the original Ansonia catalogue. And the ones from the gilt cherub clock top, and left above, were the work of FARTS (Fake Antique Reproduction Tarting-up Specialists). Obviously the top finials - very fragile indeed - had broken off at some point, and were replaced with the fat things that were there now. (You can buy reproduction parts of every kind for just about every wooden clock ever made. But they are not antique; buy only if you are interested in the clock as a decorative item.)
The Dial: The Ansonia dial usually had a logo which our clock did not have. But around the rim it said "PAT MAR 21 - 76" (right). And its mounting holes lined up perfectly with the only two holes in the case. This was the original dial of this Ansonia clock. And it had been patented - and probably manufactured - at the same time - late 1870s - as the bell.
The Glass: The designs on old door glass is often badly worn out (like on the Triumph above). Often too, the door glass has broken sometime or other so it is commonly replaced on antique clocks with reproduction glass manufactured using old designs. But the repro glass is never wavy but tack sharp and clear like all modern glass. Old glass doors are supposed to be full of wavy lines, bubbles, and imperfections.
Clearly our glass (right below) - which was in superlative shape - was wavy, and 19th century, without a doubt.
But was it Ansonia?
We leafed through several catalogues for the 1880s and 90s, but only one glass was shown for the Triumph and ours was not the one...
Then we found our glass pattern, used on an Ansonia Sharp Gothic steeple clock manufactured in the 1860s...
So our glass was Ansonia, and very old - possibly as old as the 1860s or earlier.
The Ansonia catalogues were very useful but also misleading. Obviously the artist who had done the sketches, had simply kept on using the same sketch of the Triumph, without changing the glass to reflect other options.
In not one of the pictures had he drawn in the wind-up holes either. The Triumphs the art department had produced could not be wound!
The Label: The Ansonia paper label, pasted to the outside back of the case, is in completely amazing condition, and gives both the old factory location at Ansonia (before 1880), and the new one at Brooklyn, New York (after 1883). The label would suggest the 1870s date, and Ansonia, as the place of manufacture for this clock. A company heading for New York and the big time, would hardly want to advertise itself as based in Ansonia, Conn. unless, at the time this clock was made and the label attached, it was still based in Ansonia.
On re-reading the label again, it also became clear that it did not say you could advance the gong by turning the minute hand counter-clockwise - as is the case with all later Ansonias - but only that you could turn the hands counter-clockwise without damaging the movement. And that was certainly the case with this movement. We had misinterpreted the label and read more into it than was there. It was entirely the correct label for this movement; again no trace of FARTS about.
The Verge & Crutch: The label also advertises a unique pivoting verge, a highly unusual and rare innovation on this clock which was subsequently abandoned.
The verge is the "C" shaped clip which rocks from side to side, releasing the toothed escapement wheel - and clock motive power - a tooth at a time, giving clocks their ticking sound as the verge slips off, first on a tooth on the left, then one on the right. This rocking motion, transmitted to the long crutch wire - which ends in a loop around the pendulum - sends it swinging back and forth. (The black wire is a pivoting spring that holds the verge in place under the escapement wheel.)
The Pendulum: On this Triumph, Ansonia's label trumpeted a "Patent Self-adjusting Pendulum" mechanism with the verge freely rotating about a pivoting bracket holding it to the crutch (the arm which holds the verge up to the escapement wheel. The label bragged, that with this invention it no longer mattered if a clock was level or not; it would adjust the beat automatically with its loose shaft bracket. (Miraculously this works on our clock which is not on a level surface.)
The pendulum is also highly unusual - in fact unique; there are weights inside each cylinder! (Though sealed, and inaccessible, they can be heard when tipped.) This innovation was introduced, probably because of the short 6 inch drop, to counter the problem of a lighter pendulum from skittering around.
But this rare innovation - pivoting crutch and weighted pendulum - didn't work satisfactorily on other clocks, apparently, as later movements had this feature removed and the verge and crutch soldered firmly together as a one piece unit. And the weights disappeared in the cylinders.
So the label advertised an extremely rare feature of an Ansonia movement. This was again, corroborative proof that this unusual movement in our clock, and this label, were born together in this case.
Amazingly, all the evidence we had accumulated from our sleuthing, on a clock we had suspected of being cobbled together by FARTS, was turning out to be a rare and original antique in every respect... In fact a rare find, in especially fine condition...
The Hacker of 1877: The chopping and gouging marks on the case at the top left of the movement still bothered us. Why would Ansonia factory workers do this to an expensive, high quality black walnut case, if it wasn't the work of a CANFARTIST?
We examined the cuts closely.
Wow! Oddly enough the patina - the toning that the aging process does to surfaces - on the wood on the right side - the nicely machine rounded part - was exactly the same as where a knife or chisel had made the opening wider at the top left side...
So the gouges were period with the clock case manufacture. Why such sloppiness on a classy clock from a classy manufacturer?
Because of a lousy employee!
When we examined the movement, and removed it, we found no other holes of any kind from other movements whatsoever. There were only four original holes, made by the workman who assembled this clock on the production line.
But the movement was not well centred. And thereby hangs a tale...
The workman had drilled his mounting holes too far to the left! When he screwed in the movement, there was less than 1/8 of an inch clearance on the left side (see pic above, right), and half an inch on the right. With the movement screwed in off centre, he found he couldn't get the dial on. The pins for the keys wouldn't line up through the winding holes.
To be able to move the dial more to the left, so it would properly super impose over the offset movement. He had two options: he could redrill the holes, and leave tell-tale holes in the back of the clock, or... he could chop away interfering parts of the case; this hacking would be covered by the staining, as well as by the closed door.
He must have done it when the boss wasn't looking. When the door is closed, the hacker's work is concealed. The movement looks fine.
The Mirrors Again: By examining the mirrors again, and shining a light at an angle we discovered that the person who had silvered them - probably our hacker friend - had left his finger prints all over them, on the rear of the mirrors. The silver had corroded at differential rates where his fingers had left acidic deposits, over time creating his fingerprints in silver.
Progress: Our worker - slovenly all the way - must have been cross-eyed as well. He was the one who put Jenny Lind on, not only off centre but crookedly tilted as well (right).
In fact Jenny Lind is a sign of progress in Canadian and American manufacturing methods in the period. The splat behind her was created by a talented carver using hand tools. In the 1870s men like him were being replaced by machines who mass produced these splats, which were then put together by talentless drones in endless bit-part assembly lines. Modern industrial production lines had arrived; the skilled craftsman, the backbone of manufacture since medieval times, was on the way out in all fields except high end crafting.
So instead of a CANAFARTS' work, and a doctored clock, we had merely confirmed the age and authenticity of this Triumph by discovering a bit of social history.
Ansonia in the 1870s was rapidly expanding production - and hiring anyone it could get for assembly work - finally moving production entirely to New York in 1883. Its New York factory, right, had been put up in 1878, but burned to the ground in 1880, and had to be rebuilt. They used hundreds of workers to assemble clocks.
This clock - just like the Monday morning car at GM - was put together by a less than motivated employee hired because of the need for increased production.
Conclusion: In spite of one, or more, careless workers, the modern Ansonia assembly line had produced a most wonderful clock. At some 130 years of age, our Triumph is still in superb condition because it was well cared for all its life and laterly came from the prize collection of a long time antique dealer in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
That is why it shows not a single sign of tampering of any kind by FARTS or repairmen. It is, with all its parts, exactly as it came from the Ansonia factory in Ansonia, Conn.
The label makes it clear the company is getting ready to move operations to New York but still using its Ansonia address. This, with the patent date on the dial, and the company history of the bell, dates this clock to between 1876 and 1878...
The modest Ansonia signature on the movement - replaced in 1881 by a loud New York address in a completely retooled and dated movement means this clock and movement combination was an extremely early and rare prototype.
The unique movement, featuring a patented crutch, holding up a weighted pendulum, confirms this.
After Ansonia's move to New York, this clock model was modified to include a more accurate, long-drop movement, and one which included the popular half-hour strike as well. And the advancing gong mechanism done by turning the hand counter-clockwise.
What we have is obviously a very early prototype of the Triumph model built in the Ansonia, Connecticut plant.
An extremely rare clock in extremely fine condition and from a Canadian home.
Triumphs rarely come on the market; ones in original condition - like this one - virtually never do.
Several years ago we saw one, offered at an auction to which clock dealers had been alerted, finally sell for $1,900. With the usual mark-ups that clock sellers use, this clock went on the consumer's market for between three to five thousand dollars.
A Great Canadian Treasure!