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NAWCC Museum visit and research on a Tho. Norton tall clock

Larry T

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Jul 5, 2021
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My wife and I took a trip to the NAWCC museum in Columbia, PA on Thursday. Great collection. We both enjoyed the walkthrough. A docent demonstrated the Engle mechanical clock and automatic organ. There were maybe 8 visitors in the museum all afternoon....masks optional. There is a lot to see. It is interesting to see the wide variety of escapements that clockmakers used over the years. You could spend the day there if you get into the details. Get caught in the library and you might be there for days.

While at the museum, I did some research on a Tho. Norton tall clock with the name "Twellsbury" below the maker's name. It resides at my local Quaker Meetinghouse. A young fellow named Benjamin helped me look up some references to find the maker's information and location. It appears the clock was made in Philadelphia by Thomas Norton even though someone put an index card in the clock stating "Thomas Norton - Twellsbury England, Made clocks between 1700-1720". I think this is incorrect in two ways: I find no Thomas Norton in the comprehensive list of British clockmakers and there is a Thomas Norton listed in a book of American clockmakers from Philadelphia who made tall clocks c1790. So both origin and date of manufacture seem wrong on the index card. I do not know what "Twellsbury" means yet. I find no location by that name. Perhaps it is the model name of the clock. (like the Seth Thomas "Hudson" model).

I do hope to get the Norton Tall clock running. It seems to be intact and I did get it to tick for a short while and give me one chime on the large bell inside at 1:00. I have attached a couple of pictures. I am think that the half-circle of numbers is a day-of-month indicator.

Larry

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DeanT

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Hi,

Given painted dials weren't used before about 1770 it certainly wasn't made in early 1700's.

The estimate of 1790 seems reasonable for the style of dial (both Arabic and Roman Numerals) together with the style of the corner pictures. Often the dial painter's name is on the back of the dial so I'd have a close look at the back of the dial and the false plate which it probably has.
 

ToddT

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Loomes shows the following: 20210906_054518.jpg

A google search on Twellsbury doesn't seem to turn up anything. Of course, if Twellsbury was either a tiny hamlet that dissipated into nothing or was quickly absorbed by a larger urban area, there may not be many references to it.

I second Dean on the dating based on style.
 

jmclaugh

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If you google Twellsbury there is a longcase for sale with Thomas Norton Twellsbury on the dial, PA, 18th C at bidsquare.com.
 

Andy Dervan

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Benjamin Errickson is NAWCC Library Archival Assistant.

Spittler, Spittler, and Bailey note a Thomas Norton working around Philadelphia, PA 1790- 1811.

The case has a Pennsylvania look to it. He might have immigrated to US and brought dial and movement with him and had it cased after he arrived here. That happened occasionally.

Andy Dervan
 

Larry T

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Thanks to all for the responses. I am starting to understand that clock mechanisms might be from one maker and the clock cabinet from another. So Thomas Norton of Germantown, PA may have built the case for a mechanism made elsewhere, including England. Makes sense that one had certain skills and not another. I see that the Thomas Norton Tall clock on BidSquare site had an Ashwin & Co movement.

I will get a chance to take a look at the Thomas Norton tall clock mechanism today. I'll look for additional markings and document what I can.

Larry
 

Andy Dervan

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It is called "movement" not mechanism. Thomas Norton built the movement; he probably brought it from England.

He contracted some Pennsylvania case maker to built the case for his movement.

Andy Dervan
 

Larry T

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It's a movement, not a mechanism, got it.

I wanted to take a look at the movement in the Norton clock today. After removing the head of the case (I am sure there is a name for that), I removed the weights and the pendulum. I pushed up on the wood cross member lightly and the clock movement and face then fell onto my face and caused a slash to my forehead and my glasses took the weight and caused a cut to the bridge of my nose. I did save the clock movement and face from serious damage though and I have the face to prove it. The slender pin holding the hour and minute hands in place was bent about 30 degrees because my face stopped the clock from falling by catching it by that pin, thank you very much. Good save though if I must say so myself. I did not expect the movement to fall forward. I saw that at one time there were two wood screws to hold the wood cross member and the entire movement and face onto the frame and they were missing. Gravity alone held the clock movement in place. Tilting the clock case forward might have been catastrophic with the movement and face falling forward through the glass door and dangling by the cords attached to the weights. I will find appropriate screws to fasten the movement to the case. If I do nothing else, it will be a good thing I have done.

So needless to say, my thoughts shifted from getting details of the clock to... OMG, what have I done, to... Wew!, I just want to get this thing back together. No pictures. I will make other arrangements. I did look quickly for an inscription or name on the movement brass... nothing that I saw.

Did you hear the one about the incompetent amateur who learned by experience? (see above)

I will regroup and approach the clock once again. My time with the clock was coordinated with another fellow who has the key to the building, so I am beholding to him for his time on this holiday and that was one of my other concerns....not to abuse his time.

You have not heard the last of me.

Larry
 

tracerjack

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Wow! Thank goodness you both survived relatively unscathed. After reading through such an interesting thread I hope we haven’t heard the last of you.
 

Bruce Alexander

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masks optional
Fortunately the Museum is large enough to allow for a LOT of social distancing. Glad you enjoyed your time there.
It's a movement, not a mechanism, got it.
I've heard the machine referred to both ways. You're not "wrong" to call it a mechanism. We're just used to calling it a movement. In a larger sense, the entire clock is a mechanism.
caused a slash to my forehead
Ouch! I'm told that many older Tall Case Clocks didn't use seat board screws/fasteners. Moving them requires someone with knowledge.
In any case, thanks for sharing. We look forward to hearing more from you. If you have any provenance information on how the clock got its current home that would be fascinating as well.

Regards,

Bruce
 

daveR

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After removing the head of the case (I am sure there is a name for that),
Well as yes as it happens, it is more commonly called the hood, In this case it seems more important that you are not too badly knocked about. It is advice often given that longcase clocks be attached to the wall as they are so top heavy especially when wound. Also the seatboard ( theres those names again!) holding the movement is not always screwed to the case, but relies on the eeights to keep it in position.
David
 

DeanT

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Thanks to all for the responses. I am starting to understand that clock mechanisms might be from one maker and the clock cabinet from another. So Thomas Norton of Germantown, PA may have built the case for a mechanism made elsewhere, including England. Makes sense that one had certain skills and not another. I see that the Thomas Norton Tall clock on BidSquare site had an Ashwin & Co movement.

I will get a chance to take a look at the Thomas Norton tall clock mechanism today. I'll look for additional markings and document what I can.

Larry
Ashwin & Co weren't the movement maker of the clock in that link but in fact the dial painter who worked in Birmingham UK. Thomas Ashwin traded as Ashwin and Co between 1787-91. In 1791 he was murdered in the Birmingham riots. There is a lot of information available written by John Robey about him.

Its quite common for American longcases to have either an imported dial and/or movement from the UK. They were then housed in a locally made case which yours would appear to be. That is why I suggested checking the back of the dial and false plate for any signatures to help identify the likely source of the dial and maybe even the movement.

Cheers
Dean
 

jmclaugh

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Thanks to all for the responses. I am starting to understand that clock mechanisms might be from one maker and the clock cabinet from another. So Thomas Norton of Germantown, PA may have built the case for a mechanism made elsewhere, including England. Makes sense that one had certain skills and not another. I see that the Thomas Norton Tall clock on BidSquare site had an Ashwin & Co movement.

I will get a chance to take a look at the Thomas Norton tall clock mechanism today. I'll look for additional markings and document what I can.

Larry
These painted dials were produced by specialist suppliers and as Dean has said Ashwin & Co were one of those, suppliers very often but not always marked the back of the dial and falsplates with their name. I don't think it was common practice at the time this clock dates to but later dial suppliers also supplied movements to the trade. It is uncommon to find a maker's name on longcase clock movements. Cases were usually made by a cabinet maker not the clockmaker whose name appears on the dial which would have been added by the dialmaker after it was ordered. There were a number of suppliers involved in producing a complete clock.
 

Larry T

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I will use my newfound horologic terminology to relate my recent experience:

I removed the hood to expose the movement. Unfortunately, the seatboard was not secured appropriately, so after removing the weights and the pendulum, I inadvertently knocked the movement forward. Caring less about my own safety than for the preservation of the falling antiquity, I pushed my face into the projected path of the sharp-edged metal mechanism. The distance of the fall was sufficient to build a momentum that could deface intercepting objects, including a human face. Some of the energy of the fall was absorbed by the bending of the clevis pin that retains the minute hand. The rest of the energy was dissipated by tearing through the skin of my face, luckily. In that split second of watching the tilt increase with my hands safely secured and out of the way behind or under the movement and not in the running to prevent the pending doom, I made a fateful decision to save the clock, and got clocked in the process.

I thought I would have the sympathy of my wife, but alas, her sympathy quickly turned to questions of my ability to function as a human being. I would consider knitting as an alternate hobby, but for the sharp needles.

Larry
 

Larry T

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Jul 5, 2021
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Thanks for all the comments on the Thomas Norton tall clock. It gets more interesting.

I took some additional photos of the Thomas Norton tall clock. I made two 2" pins from 1/8" solid copper rods that I had lying about. It seemed stiff enough. I carefully positioned the movement and face to be centered and flush with the hood frame and pegged the movement in that position. No more tilting forward to scar faces.

I found no etchings or marks of any kind on the movement itself. There were some notations on the back of the face and on the moondial. I noticed that the clock weight was about halfway down the case, so the clock must have run about 3-4 days since I left both weights all the way up.

The chime movement does not function at this point. I did hear it strike 1 o'clock a few weeks ago. Nothing since. My time with the clock is in little spurts because of its location and some access limitations.

If you can enlighten me on the maker or anything about this clock, I am all ears. There is some writing on the back of the face and moondial that I cannot make sense of (see photos).

It appears to be a clock of Thomas Norton of Germantown, PA near the Rising Sun (tavern). The note inside says that the clock was owned by descendants of Tobias Leech, who purchased land directly from William Penn. I found the following at a website on the history of Cheltenham Township PA, where I live (3 miles from the clock's current home). So there is possibly some pedigree associated with this clock.

Larry

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First Purchasers
Cheltenham Township was created in 1682 as part of Philadelphia County. It was not until September 10, 1784 that Montgomery County was formed and Cheltenham became its smallest Township. William Penn deeded land grants to fifteen fellow Englishmen. Each was deeded a small parcel of land in the City of Philadelphia and a larger area, comprising of between 100 and 500 acres, in Cheltenham Township.

Two of the "First Purchasers," Tobias (Toby) Leech and Richard Wall, settled in the Township and became instrumental in its early beginnings. They are considered to be the Township's Founding Fathers. Both were actively involved in the religious, political and social growth of the new community. Toby Leech was a successful businessman and was involved in many enterprises upon his arrival in Cheltenham. He established a corn and fulling mill along the Tookany Creek, which gave Mill Road its name. One of the structures built by Leech across from his tannery and bake ovens was used to house his enslaved workers. It still stands today on Church Road. Another house Leech built for his grandson Abraham remains at Old Soldiers Road and Ryers Avenue. In addition to the tannery and bakery in Cheltenham, Toby Leech was involved in land transactions in Philadelphia, Delaware and Chester Counties.

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ChimeTime

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My wife and I also toured the NAWCC museum today. What a fantastic place.
 
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