Dorrin K Mace, Horologost

Dorrin K Mace, Horologost
The Clock Man in a pensive moment

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Ansonia Clock Company

Many customers will bring heavily ornate clocks for repair into the clock shop.  Many of the best examples of opulence are from the Ansonia Clock Company.  This post looks at a brief history of this manufacturer.

The Ansonia Company was best known for its decorative imitation gold, and ornate novelty clocks. Petulant cupids and angels, deep thinkers, athletes, babies, and languid ladles drape and adorn the ornamental designs, that characterize the name and products of Ansonia.
Anson Phelps founded the Company In Derby, Connecticut. An importer of tin, brass, and copper In the Eastern section of the states, he already owned a copper mill (hence the ormolu). Phelps maintained considerable financial backing, as well as contacts and knowledgeable business associates in his venture. From such formidable beginnings he suffered two serious setbacks. In 1854 the factory burned at a loss of several thousand dollars. At this time the Ansonia Clock Company became the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, as Phelps had little choice but to move the clock facilities into the standing copper mill. By 1879, or thereabouts, the clock company was reformed, and manufacturing operations were moved to the Brooklyn section of New York. Unfortunately this factory also burned, after a scant few months of operation in its new location.
By the late 19th and early 20th century, Phelps had reestablished his name in the clock industry as one of the malor manufacturers. The factory was rebuilt and expanded. Ansonia sales officers and agents could be found all over the world. It was during this time that many different designs of clocks were included in the manufacturing process: alarms, cabinet, carriage, crystal regulators, galley, kitchen, mantel (or shelf), onyx and marble, porcelain and china, statue, etc. Ansonia was in its heyday, at the height of its productivity, fame, and power.
In 1904 the company had attempted to jump on "the dollar watch" bandwagon, perhaps as an ineffectual guard against the first hints of potential financial difficulties, (Ansonia clocks were not cheap.) The idea behind the dollar watch was to make it in the same manner as a cheap clock. This concept bore little resemblance to the traditional, intricate style that went into the handcrafted watch. It did not pan out. Instead, designers turned to the tourbilion watch, concocted by the French genius, Breguet. Watches are difficult timekeepers due to the unstable positions they are likely to fall into. Breguet’s watch had a turning escapement which minimized these errors in accuracy. American designers went one step further, allowing the entire movement to rotate inside the case. The Ansonia Company produced a similar non-jeweled model. They sold millions of these inexpensive watches in the two and a half decades before they went out of business; an interesting comparison to the scrolled elaborate clockwork the Ansonia collector is familiar with.
Just before World War I, Ansonia’s strongest selling point, the novelty clock, became subject to fierce competition. Rather than maintain competitive and realistic prices for their clocks, they attempted to cut their losses, offering clocks at "old pricing." This tactic failed, and Ansonia began a downward spiral that resulted in heavy losses. By 1929 the majority of the timekeeping machinery and tooling were sold to the Russian government and shipped out of the country. This formed the basis (along with the remains of a watch company purchased a year later) of the clock and watch industry in Moscow. None of the major clock industries survived the Depression and subsequent Second World War intact. Ansonia was the first to go under.

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