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The First Anniversary Clocks: A Reason for Divorce?

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If you come across a mechanical clock with its dial set above a horizontally rotating weighted assembly that hangs by a vertical wire or thin ribbon of steel, the whole clock set under a glass dome or in a glass-sided case, then you will probably have encountered what is generally known as an anniversary clock - more technically termed a torsion pendulum clock. It is my purpose here to provide reveal the true inventor of these clocks and so introduce the earliest models produced. Tempting though it may be, please do not send me any of these nightmare contraptions as gifts or as an appreciation of this topic, in spite of their marital optimism in being designated as "anniversary clocks." I will explain later.

 

 

Aaron Dodd Crane torsion pendulum clock dating to about 1846 in an ebonized, gilt brass and frosted glass case. This clock uses a sprinbg-powered fusee movement and has a six-ball pendulum. The original paper dial has been replaced with a cut-out version, and the clock measures 21.25 inches high by 12 inches wide and 8 inches deep (pic from p1.liveauctioneers.com):

51293191_1_x.jpg?version=1487821491

 

 

I shall start with a succinct description of the generality of the torsion pendulum clock before taking a more detailed look at the invention of this timepiece, and rather than craft my own brief initial outline, I quote here below from Wikipedia's useful description.

According to Wikipedia:

 

"A torsion pendulum clock, or torsion clock (also known as 400-day or anniversary clock, is a mechanical clock which keeps time with a mechanism called a torsion pendulum. This is a weighted disc or wheel, often a decorative wheel with 3 or 4 chrome balls on ornate spokes, suspended by a thin wire or ribbon called a torsion spring (also known as a "suspension spring"). The torsion spring rotates about the vertical axis of the wire, twisting it, instead of swinging it like an ordinary pendulum. The force of the twisting torsion spring reverses the direction of rotation, so the torsion pendulum oscillates slowly, clockwise and counterclockwise. The clock's gears apply a pulse of torque to the top of the torsion spring with each rotation to keep the wheel going. The wheel and torsion spring function similarly to a watch's balance wheel and hairspring, as a harmonic oscillator to control the rate of the clock's hands."

 

Most older torsion pendulum clocks encountered today tend to have been made in Germany, and will date to the twentieth century. The reasons for this will become clear in the course of this topic, so let us begin.

The origins of the torsion spring clock go back to experiments by Huygens in the 17th century, followed a century or so later by Robert Leslie's patent for the torsion pendulum of 1793. Activity in this field of horology continued more intensively subsequent to Leslie, especially in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, in the USA. Thus, during that period, we find US patents by Aaron Crane (1841) and Silas B.Terry of Plymouth Connecticut (1852) pertaining to torsion pendulum clocks, and although both of these men were responsible for the manufacture of torsion pendulum clocks, it is Aaron Crane who is credited with their invention. It should just be noted that a John Hile of Waterville Kansas, also patented a torsion pendulum movement in the States, in 1872.

 

 

The unusual and novel Kaiser Universe Clock, a rather more complicated form of the usual post-War anniversary clocks. This model, based on a Badische patent (approved 1955) has an active moonphase indicator and the globe below the dial sits above a normal type torsion pendulum hidden in the base (pic from antiqueclockspriceguide.com):

nov9~238.jpg

 

 

Aaron Dodd Crane (1804-1860) of Caldwell, New Jersey, was a highly inventive clockmaker, working outside the mainstream. Most clockmakers of the time were mainly producing clocks that were technically uninteresting but Crane thought outside the box, and one of these thoughts involved the use of Leslie's patented torsion pendulum. Crane realised that a key advantage of using a horizontally rotating pendulum is that because the pendulum rotates slowly one way and then the other (usually 12, 15 or 20 seconds per oscillation), it uses very little energy between windings, and therefore a clock of this type would require winding up only infrequently. Crane was also to use his horological skills to create his own design for the escapement and produced a relatively friction-free torsion pendulum timepiece that would run for a year without the need for winding.

Aaron Crane advertised his torsion pendulum clocks as "month clocks," "twelve-month clocks," and "376-day clocks," and he liked to refer to himself  as the "One Year Clockmaker." Most of his clocks were installed by him in unpretentious rectangular cases, but in the last decade of his life, he built a number of ornate, fine quality examples. Five of these survive, and the example in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, is designated as "Astronomical" and incorporates a number of complications - the day of the year, the position of the sun in the zodiac, the phase of the moon, the length of day and night, and the time of the tides.

 

 

Superb brass and marble "astronomical" torsion pendulum clock made in Newark, New Jersey by Aaron Crane in about 1850, in the collection of the Smithsonian and mentioned here in the text (pic from ids.si.edu):deliveryService?id=NMAH-83-9985&max=1000

 

 

In addition to his clocks, Crane attempted to market various other inventions though a number of businesses in Newark, New York City, and Boston. However, he met with little commercial success. After Crane had made his last torsion pendulum clocks, there seems to have been a hiatus in the use of the torsion pendulum, and it has been asserted that a certain Anton Harder reinvented the torsion pendulum clock independently (apparently inspired by the rotation of a chandelier after its candles had been lit), with the centre of activity in this horological area of timekeeping shifting to Germany.

 

 

The inside of a wood-cased Crane torsion pendulum clock using an assembly of eight oscillating brass balls to form the pendulum weight, showing the Crane promotional sticker (pic from images.skinnerinc.com):

1117973_view%2002_02.jpg

 

 

In 1879, a relevant German patent was taken out by Jehlin - then passing in the same year to Anton Harder, who immediately set about improving his patent such that workable and marketable torsion pendulum clocks could be produced, taking out another German patent in 1880. Harder claimed that his inspiration came from watching a chandelier rotating after its candles had been lit. He first linked up with the German clockmaking firm of A. Willman & Company, hoping that the firm's expertise could assist him in solving certain technical problems with the clocks. The clocks were made using a variety of escapements but problems of reliability and timekeeping accuracy remained, and when the large-scale Becker clock firm started becoming involved, via Willman, Harder decided to look elsewhere for the help he needed with his clock.

Ultimately, Harder teamed up with the small Fortuna Clock Company from Triberg in the Black Forest, and then with August Schatz, who suggested some improvements to Harder's "400-day" torsion clock. In 1881, Harder, under Schatz's leadership, became part of a newly-established company, Jahresuhren-fabrik (Jfk), operating from Triberg and almost certainly incorporating some employees from the Fortuna concern. After 1945, the firm was designated, "Schatz," to celebrate its founder and business guru. The first torsion pendulum clocks from Jfk were produced in 1882, and in December that year, Harder repeated his German patent in the USA. However, in 1884, he sold his rights to deGruyter of Amsterdam (who took out a striking patent in 1885) and the patent was allowed to lapse in 1887, with the result that competitors now entered the market with their own torsion pendulum clocks, most notably perhaps, Badische Uhrenfabrik, from 1889. Apart from Claude Grivolas in France, the pre-War competition came solely from Germany, and Japan did not enter the field until after 1945.

 

 

A fine French torsion clock garniture by Grivolas showing his characteristic pendulum shape, probably end of the 19th century (pic from aussieclocks.com.au):

Grivolas-B.jpg

 

 

I do not wish to delve deeply into the escapement mechanisms used in various torsion pendulum clocks, which evolved by and large into an anchor-type assembly. A few notes might be of interest with regard to the power sources used for torsion pendulum clocks, however. A clock by Aaron Crane from 1842 and now in the New JerseyStateMuseum is weight-driven, but the vast majority of torsion clocks use a mainspring. With the advent of electrical power for clocks, some electro-mechanical torsion clocks were made, and with regard to electrical/electronic clocks, one must beware of quartz clocks that have what seems to be a torsion pendulum - these are not true torsion clocks. Interestingly, the Atmos clock by Jaeger LeCoultre, based on the 1928 invention by Jean-Leon Reutter (acute on 'e') is a type of  torsion clock that needs no winding or visible power source; instead, a bellows mechanism translates small changes in atmospheric pressure and external temperature into power to wind the spring, and the clock can run for years with no human intervention.

 

A current model Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos clock with additional moonphase and months complications. Priced at a sale discount at just under $6000 (pic from cdn2.jomashop.com):

jaeger-lecoultre-atmos-classique-phases-

The term "400-day clock" was apparently first used on the dials of striking anniversary clocks by Jfk. As for the term, "anniversary clock," this was first registered as "Anniversary," in 1901 - a trademark for Bowler and Burdick, a retailer from ClevelandOhio, with the idea that the clock would be wound once a year on some annual event. The name stuck, and these clocks became popular anniversary gifts. My own feeling is that these clocks are more a reason for divorce than for anniversary celebration. The problems are that torsion pendulum clocks are inherently delicate and difficult to adjust; also the notion that they can be wound up once a year does not mean that they automatically keep good time over that period, and they are best wound once a month. Although some of the problems inherent in the mechanism and type of escapement were resolved, such as temperature differences affecting the spring, the general run of torsion clocks were for ever somewhat problematic. The rate of oscillation of the pendulum can sometimes be adjusted by a screw mechanism that moves the weighted balls in or out from the vertical axis - the closer the balls are to the centre, the faster the rate of oscillation - and the "level" of the clock is also an important consideration, often requiring fine tuning that is often executed by individual screw adjustment in "bun" feet beneath the base.

 

 

A typical post-WW2 torsion pendulum anniversary clock by Schatz, made in Germany (pic from i.pinimg.com):

3e46c34900c6963cff56aea3df8ca9b8--annive

 

 

I am sure that there are collectors of anniversary clocks, but I am not one of them. For members of the Forum who wish to pursue this line of horological enquiry in more detail my first go-to reference would be Peter Wotton's book entitled, "Anniversary Clocks," published by Shire Publications (2009).

 

 

Kundo anniversary clock with brass dome, made by Kieninger and Obergfell, a well-known German producer of anniversary clocks. This one probably dates to the early post-War period (pic from media.liveauctiongroup.net):

6743050_1.jpg?v=8C93FA95F5F4F50

 

 

 a one-month torsion pendulum clock using Crane's 3-ball pendulum movement - the rarest type of Crane torsion clock - by J. R. Mills & Co., New York, c.1845 (pic from roschmitt.com):

10969_A.JPG

 

 

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A nicely covered subject!!

I do collect them / repair them as well.

The German "Kern" company also did some lavish heavily gilded clocks with large ornate heavy brass cases, as well as the ones with four china figurines instead of brass pendulums

Jahresenfabrik also did enamel dial and enamel balls as well, so a bright red guilloche face with red enamel pendulum, there was about six different colours in the series. Sadly these high end clocks go into private collections / museums so it is difficult for us "joe public" to get our hands on them. A broken Grivolas wooden wall clock came up for auction last year, battered case, china dial smashed, went for £3,000 :rolleyes:

The temperature compensating wire for the pendulum greatly improved the time keeping, the deadbeat escapement locks when the pendulum spins, and most be in beat with equal turns either way or the clock will stop. Will put some pictures up once i get my photobucket sorted out 

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As usual, a comprehensive and interesting topic. I have a Kaiser in excellent condition. The Americans killed it off as a major market for the Germans. Bought mine for £5 sans spring and have seen them for sale for £350 A useful book is Kaiser World Clocks, 4th Edition by Pam and Peter Wotton.

Another useful help is by Mervyn Passmore called Anniversary Clock Adjusting.

mike

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very interesting info.  good show.  i hate those clocks !   vin

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