American Jacob Custer, unusual mechanism 8 day tall clock

Discussion in 'General Clock Discussions' started by Jim DuBois, May 25, 2019.

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  1. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    #1 Jim DuBois, May 25, 2019
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
    Jacob Custer, Norristown, PA, was a clockmaker like no other. He made a fair number of clocks, all of which were more or less "one offs." To suggest he marched to the beat of a different drummer would be a kind understatement. His work defies conventional wisdom.

    Custer was working at the end of clocks built by single artisans in America. Mass production using sheet brass had already sounded the death knell for wood works clocks and clocks were being built by very few makers still using hand worked cast brass parts and pieces. Custer was an exception, on more than one level.

    This particular clock is circa 1830 +/- a bit. It features a very unusual "helicopter" strike mechanism. It is rack and snail controlled, but unlike any other seen in American clockmaking. It uses the teeth on the strike side great wheel as rack teeth. The snail rides between the plates, as does all the motion works.

    Another anomaly is the time train is on the left side of the movement. While setting the time, the time side weight descends as the hand is cranked around. The clock also has a form of deadbeat escapement.

    Please see the following short videos showing the strike and time setting behaviors. Sort of something you need to see to believe it.



    Why Custer went to these lengths to build his clocks is not clear, other than he wanted to do something different. How he conceptualized and executed these does defy my wisdom, for certain.

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  2. rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

    rmarkowitz1_cee4a1 Registered User
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    That's fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Given where he was working (PA) and his ancestry (German?) I wonder if there might have been a Northern European/German precedent for the things he did?

    Custer also made some wonderful shelf clocks. The movements of those clocks incorporated some of the features you illustrate above as well. See LaFond and Harris, "Pennsylvania Shelf and Bracket Clocks: 1750-1850", pages 43-48 and the figures therein.

    Funky movements! Those folks from PA did some interesting things. Some of what they did, e.g., Heisley, influenced CT industrial clock making.

    RM
     
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  3. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    #3 Jim DuBois, May 25, 2019
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
    It is interesting that Custer made a number of tower clocks also. They are quite conventional as compared to his work on both tall clocks and mantle/shelf clocks. This clock seen above is the third Custer to come this way. Its strike mechanism is working but some sorry repairman messed up the lever positioning for the rack count. So the hour count is way off. And it is not easy to work on or adjust. And of course, Uncle Fixit applied sufficient solder to correct all ills?

    I am working on some notes regarding Frederick Heisely and the effect of his A frame movement on Conn. clockmaking. And Heisely made tower clocks too. All just FYI. And RM, yes, Heisely's contributions are not widely known or appreciated. Yet he seeming provided the blueprint for rack and snail striking clocks by E.C. Brewster, Brewster & Ingraham, Chauncy and Noble Jerome, Jeromes and Darrow, R. & JB Terry, Charles Kirk, Joseph S Ives, and a few others.

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  4. Uhralt

    Uhralt Registered User
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    Neat little solder job! Almost invisible....

    Uhralt
     
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  5. Chris Radano

    Chris Radano Registered User

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    I think that Jacob Custer was also an "inventor", but not a whole lot is known about him. He's not even the most famous Norristown native (that would be Tommy Lasorda).
    One of my favorite clock books. Clockmakers like Jacob Custer are a hidden treasure. I have seen maybe 2 clocks by him offered for public sale since I've been collecting clocks, and I believe they were both at the same auction. So, an ordinary person (like me) who likes clocks with no connections, would have very limited opportunity to even see a clock made by Jacob Custer. So threads like this from people like you, Jim, are appreciated.
     
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  6. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    #6 Jim DuBois, May 25, 2019
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
    These shelf clocks use a similar strike set up other than the hammer rotates in a vertical plane rather than horizontal like the tall clock movement. There are at least 4 of the Custers in local collections. All of them were quite expensive in the recent past.

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  7. jmclaugh

    jmclaugh Registered User

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    An interesting and unconventional clock by a maker who obviously liked to do his own thing and I've not seen a 'helicopter' strike mechanism before.
     
  8. John Cote

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    Mr Custer made a few watches too with the same eccentric and odd sort of techniques. He was a really big deal in the history of American horology.
     
  9. PatH

    PatH National Program Chair
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    As I recall, also known for clockwork items for lighthouses, correct?
     
  10. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    Yes, he was quite the innovator, inventor, and all around contributor to unusual mechanical devices. He built tower clock and lighthouse mechanisms along with better-known people like Aaron Dood Crane, and George Stevens. He built everything from watches to tower clocks, with tall clocks and shelf clocks in the mid-sized ranges of his work. I have only had 3 of his clock movements in the shop. While he was extremely innovative, his expertise in innovation vastly exceeded his skill in clockmaking. His movements often show a lot of misplaced arbors and relocation of both small and large parts of the mechanism. His craftsmanship was mediocre to poor in those I have worked on as well as those I have seen in other places.

    Not to disparage the man, just an observation we need to consider when reviewing his work. The movement pictured above has had a column post of the movement relocated after the plates were well underway. The relocation of the post then required a large and deep relief cut in the post. Why the post was relocated is unknown as the mechanism could seemingly have worked properly with the post in its original position. And the post would have not required the large relief cut. (It appears he moved the post to keep the weight cord well away from the post) There is a filled hole in the back plate a bit above the post as well as the hole where the post was previously positioned, so this looks like Custers 3rd attempt for positioning the post.

    The front plate where the verge pivots show a similar modification. There was evidently a triangular shaped hole in the plates previously, reasons unknown. Now, less than precisely filled. Custers original layout lines can be seen in one photo. It is interesting to note both holes are a bit off the layout center line. The clock has its original deadbeat escapement so while there is a later bad bushing job the triangle

    These sorts of working modifications have been seen on all Custer clockworks I have had. Great innovation. Sloppy implementation. (very)

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  11. Bill Ward

    Bill Ward Registered User
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    Yes, Custer was an unusual man- more of an inventor than a practical clockmaker. Nonetheless, the company he founded survived as a jewelry store on Main St. here in Norristown until the depression. A former mayor of Norristown, Bill DeAngelis, reminisced to me once about the going-out-of-business sale, which he attended with his mother. Upstairs, in a store room, were dozens of tallcase clocks, priced at about $200. Bill's mother was excited to buy one, but his father firmly nixed that idea.
    Apparently, the Custers, who still figure in local politics and law, descended from Nicholas Kuster, b. 1706 in Germantown (probably a Mennonite or Amish) but was baptized as a Lutheran in 1745 by Henry Muhlenberg. This might have been when the spelling was changed. Nicholas died, leaving 11 children, in Limerick in 1784, the same year that Montgomery County was split off from Philadelphia, and Norristown named the county seat. There were so many Germans drifting West from Germantown that in 1790 over 90% of residents of the new county spoke German.
    Although Tommy Lasorda might be more famous now, for almost two centuries, Montgomery County's most famous son was another clockmaker, David Rittenhouse, of another family from Germantown.
     
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  12. Jim DuBois

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  13. Lightwood House

    Lightwood House Registered User

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    I am new to this forum, and will try to figure out how to attach photos. I have a very nice Jacob Custer tall case clock, dated 1836 on the case door. I also have the original bill of sale signed by Custer. The dial is by Williams Jones. The clock is all original, except for a few new bushings, and is in very good condition. It has a cherry case, with very nice, slim proportions. The clock come from the Arnold family of Ardmore, and was in the childhood home of WWll 5 star general Hap Arnold. I will see if I can post some photos.
     
  14. novicetimekeeper

    novicetimekeeper Registered User

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    I find the most reliable is to have them on the device you are using and then use the from pc button below. Sizing is automatic.
     
  15. Lightwood House

    Lightwood House Registered User

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    9CEFA0B3-DB86-46EC-9753-E1ADCC094568.jpeg I 47DB4C77-13FB-46FA-B8AD-10CDAEA7EB29.jpeg 8379BBE9-9D81-4B11-AECA-EE360731CE99.jpeg I hope these photos of our Custer clock come through, Dated 1837 on the case, Dial by William Jones. We have the original bill of sale signed by Custer
     
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  16. Lightwood House

    Lightwood House Registered User

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    Sorry- Dated 1836 not 1837
     
  17. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    I would love to see your clock. They are quite rare and to the best of my understanding no two are the same.

    And welcome to the board! Enjoy!
     
  18. Lightwood House

    Lightwood House Registered User

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    Thanks! I inherited the Custer clock (I posted photos above) , and it was all over after that happened- I was bitten by the antique tall case clock bug. I became somewhat obsessed, I confess. To me they are the most vibrant connections to the past I know. They are literally "time machines" and beautiful ones at that. I now have 6- two painted dial and 4 early brass dial ones. I just posted photos of a posted movement, early 18th century 30 hour clock made by William Element of St Albans. I look forward to further discussions. Thanks,
     
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