- Nov 26, 2009
Thought I would begin to post some of the clocks in my collection made by Charles Alvah Smith, a 20th century maker of wood-movement timepieces (and yes, maybe a clock or 2). I think it's pretty obvious why his timepieces certainly deserve a place on the MB when one considers the words of the immortal Ward Francillon in his foreward to John M. Anderson's Charles Alvah Smith: Vermont maker of Unusual Wood Clocks:
"Indeed, Charles A. Smith of Brattleboro, Vermont...produced in volume a wall timepiece at least equal to, or possibly better than, the products of the historically recognized [wood-movement] makers who worked between 1745 and 1845...Smith's design, handcrafting and manufactering methods are as interesting and worth studying as the techniques of the earlier makers."
Finally, I think Ward got to the heart of it when he also wrote:
"...Smith's [timepieces] are considered treasures by those fortunate to have one...To be a custodian for a little while of a Smith timepiece is to recognize him as a legitimate member of the company of American
Smith was quite the interesting character. The most complete reference about his life and work so far is the NAWCC monograph by Anderson which is referred to above. Much more information can be found there. Just too much to cover here. He was also the subject of a Bulletin article accessible to members by clicking here . Some additional information about Smith can also be found in Allen H. Eaton's book Handicrafts of New England, pages 266-7.
Mr. Smith appears to have had a competitor, a Mr. Gately. For more about him, see a Bulletin article by our own Peter Nunes by clicking here . Interesting story, a maker worth knowing about, his clocks are rarer, but in this instance, I don't believe rarity trumps beauty.
The general picture that emerges is of Mr. Smith is of a fine craftsman engaged in a number of hobbies who was meticulous about just about everything from his work, dress (he wore a 3 piece suit, shirt and tie to hunt wood chucks!), work habits, and record keeping. Well, he kinda had OCD I think.
Smith produced about 614 timepieces from 1931 or 1932 to 1945 the year he succumbed to a stroke. The bulk of his production was during the years of WW II when metal for household clocks and the factories which produced them were diverted to producing products for the war effort. Smith numbered and dated his timepieces and kept a record of the disposition of most of them, ie, sold or traded or given as a gift, etc. There are 12 clocks the fate of which is not recorded. Watch for a future posting which will solve the mystery of at least one of those 12.
Timepiece number one was believed to have been produced in late 1931 or early 1932. His time piece production (and his wood chuck assassination rate) per year is show graphically on page 12 of Anderson. 1/2 of Smith's total production was made between 1943-5.
No two timepieces are exactly alike, especially his earlier production. His later war years production does achieve a certain amount of standarization and uniformity.
The first clock posted is an example of his early production, possibly within the first 1-2 years. This clock bears his rubber stamp signature and is number 16 and is dated "Mar.1933". For comparisons, please see Anderson, pages 28-30 the the figures therein which discusses timepieces # 8 and 9 and pages 33-6 and the figures therein which discusses clocks # 22 and 24. These references provide for a nice "bracketing" of our clock #16.
The style of this clock is the #2 style. The case is bird's eye maple with walnut string inlay. The bonnet does not have raised side panels as is found with the early timepieces reported in Anderson. The finial pin to secure the bonnet is much simpler than that used on later models. The pull-up handle is turned, long, and slender unlike the later shorter inlaid ones. The pendulum is not inlaid, has an flat acorn drop at the end of the stick, and the bob is held in position by a friction mechanism rather then a regulating nut as on later models. The weight has a birds eye maple and walnut string inlaid faceted outer case. The case front is not glazed to protect the dial as in later models. The dial is cardboard (supposedly from the laundry which washed his shirts) nailed to a wood board. It is not decorated as were some of Smith's early dials nor with a spirographic decoration as were the later ones. The hands appear to be ebony and of an earlier style.
The clock mounts on a beveled block that is first attached level to the wall. it is not quite the same form as found on the earlier clocks, but may be original.
Note the red painted wheels and other highlights of the movement and movement plates. This too is characteristic of his earlier models. Sometimes green paint was used. Note the "swiss cheese" wheels. I suspect the weight cord is "renewed".
I hope this stimulates others to post their CAS clocks as well as compare them.
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