Clocks are supposed to keep time, but one piece of history, that spent a large part of its life in Memphis, may have been better suited as a calendar or even a map. After traveling more than 5,000 miles in its 130 years of work, the clock that adorned the south side of the Memphis city square in front of McClain Jewelry and Laird Jewelry stores, finally officially was retired in January when it was purchased by the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, PA.
Museum director Noel Poirier stated the clock was purchased from an estate in Florida. The museum has undertaken a research project to trace the timekeeper’s history, which dates back to its creation in the 1880s by the Ansonia Clock Company out of Brooklyn, New York.
“The clock has an unbroken provenance from its first home in Quincy, Illinois until it came to us,” said Poirier. “We are going to be undertaking an extensive conservation and restoration effort that will hopefully return the clock to its 1880s appearance and condition.”
The Ansonia Clock Company was a huge part of the industry in the late 1800 and early 1900s. At its pinnacle in the 1910’s the company had more than 400 clock styles on the market, before ultimately falling victim to the Great Depression and being sold and relocated to Russia.
Museum research revealed that the clock traveled from New York to its initial display site in Quincy, IL in 1884 after it was purchased by Heinz and Rosenthal Jewelry. The clock was installed at the store’s location at 500 Maine Street on the southeast corner of Fifth and Maine streets.
Three different jewelers maintained the clock during it’s nearly 40 years adorning the Quincy, IL location.
Memphis entered the picture in 1932, when jeweler W.B. McClane purchased the timepiece and it was relocated to the south side of the Memphis city square, where it remained until 1969.
Sometime in its later years in Memphis, the clock was damaged in the midst of a severe snow storm when the pole it was atop was struck by snow removal equipment knocking the clock from its perch.
Ultimately the clock was sold to a private collector from New Mexico. In 1969, Charles Bottom transported the clock to Los Alamos, NM, where Bottom rebuilt the timepiece and displayed it at his residence.
Restored to working order, the clock returned to commercial life in 1984, traveling across country to Florida after being purchased by Stan Good. The clock became a center piece of signage for the Stan Good Clocks store in Tampa Bay, a post it held for the past 30 years.
When Mr. Good passed away in October of last year, the clock was ultimately sold to the National Watch and Clock Museum.
Poirier said the museum is planning on having the Ansonia studied and restored to its original appearance as best as can be determined. In the next couple of months the Museum will send out two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for two distinct phases of work. The first will address the study, conservation and restoration of the cast iron components of the clock base, column, head and decoration as well as reproducing appropriate dials and hands for both sides of the clock. The second RFP will address the engineering and installation of the clock in the Museum’s Rotunda.
“We don’t have a time-frame for the completion of either of these and the clock’s mechanism itself will be addressed separately,” he stated.
The museum is hoping to add to the clock’s display with the help of community members.
“These are the kinds of clocks that people often took pictures of due to their size and beauty and we’re hoping that people or organizations in the communities in which the clock resided for some time might be able to locate images of the clock that could help our effort as well as tell a little bit of their own story,” said Poirier. “That’s one reason we set up a facebook page about the project: https://www.facebook.com/AnsoniaStreetClock.”
Anyone wishing to share photos or comments regarding the clock history can also contact Poirier at the National Watch & Clock Museum www.museumoftime.org.
The National Watch and Clock Museum was officially opened to the public in 1977. Today, the museum is recognized as the largest and most comprehensive horological collection in North America.