R.O. Schmitt Fine Arts, Manchester, New Hampshire
More Record Prices for Howard Clocks
By Jeanne Schinto
Photos courtesy Schmitt
R.O. “Bob” Schmitt’s clock sale at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire, on April 26, was one of the strongest he has had in his nearly 30-year history, with a tally of $1,098,750 (including premiums) and only four of 416 lots unsold. “No recession here,” said an amazed participant.
“One night, the fax machine ran all night long,” Schmitt said. “It seemed that it used up about half of five hundred sheets.” In the end, he received 215 absentee sheets by fax and other methods. Another 327 bidders registered online, and 176 bidder cards were issued to people who came to the sale in person.
Surveying the crowd, one could get the idea there would be no bargains on this day. Dealers John Delaney Jr. of West Townsend, Massachusetts, and Lindy Larson of Westminster, Vermont, were lined up in front. In middle rows were collectors Tom Grimshaw of Cheshire, Connecticut, and his fellow Nutmegger, Howard Cohen of Guilford. Towards the back, dealer Ralph Pokluda of Houston, Texas, was sitting next to Robert Cheney of Brimfield, Massachusetts, on a busman’s holiday from Skinner’s one-man clock department. Plenty of other important players in the clock world here and abroad were at home waiting to pick up the phone.
The collection of the late Dana J. Blackwell of Naugatuck, Connecticut, generated part of the excitement, with more supplied by additions from the estate of Dr. Bernard Pasquali of Albany, New York.
One of the most notable items in Pasquali’s collection was a Chelsea ship’s bell clock with a 10” diameter dial made for Tiffany & Co. in the 1920’s and designed to be hung on the wall with a thick, bronze chain. Andrew Demeter of Topsfield, Massachusetts, co-author of Chelsea Clock Company: The First Hundred Years (2003), said only half a dozen examples of this clock are known, and Pasquali’s was the only example he’d ever seen with its chain intact.
Still, Demeter said he was “flabbergasted” when a phone bidder took it for $20,900 on a $7500/10,000 estimate. Bob Schmitt identified the buyer as a New Jersey collector who bought at least half a dozen other items in the sale. (Lot #149)
Blackwell’s estate featured a number of clocks made by E. Howard & Co. It’s a name that has been in other auction-story headlines lately. (See, for example, “Record Howard Regulator Clock” by David Hewett, M.A.D,. April 2008.) The original company of Howard & Davis was founded in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1842 by Edward Howard and David P. Davis. Howard apprenticed to Aaron Willard Jr., so a genealogical line can be drawn from that celebrated American maker to Howard.
“Howards are one of the few clocks that were consistently good from the very beginning,” said Schmitt. “The designs, with only slight modifications, have been high-quality from the start. For instance, a No. 5 banjo made in 1842 is very little different than one of the last examples that might have been made in 1956.”
E. Howard & Co., E. Howard Clock & Watch Co., E. Howard Watch & Clock Co. (note the words are transposed): these name variations and others, listed in standard histories, hint of a complicated company chronicle; so it’s all the more remarkable that product consistency was maintained.
The clocks are signed. “Howard was also very consistent about identifying the clocks clearly,” said Schmitt. “So people can feel reassured about what they’re buying.”
Collectors particularly covet the two types of products that the company produced in the greatest numbers: regulators and weight-driven wall clocks. Many of the latter have distinctive fruitwood, cherry, or walnut cases with variations on black, gold, and red throat glasses and tablets. The red is a precise shade of brick, such that at the preview a couple of restorers were trying to match it up with swatches from a paint-store color book.
As Schmitt noted, clock production all but ceased at Howard in the mid-1950’s, having slowed with waning demand. In the meantime, in 1934, Howard Clock Products had been formed in order to concentrate on the precision screw- and gear-cutting business. Blackwell (1917-2007) became that company’s vice president and chief engineer in the mid-1970’s.
For decades, while pursuing a first career as a teacher and then as a designer of aircraft instruments, Blackwell had been passionate about horology. His collection began in boyhood and once the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors was founded in the 1940’s, he became one of its earliest members.
When Howard was sold in 1977, after which it went bankrupt, it was Blackwell who saved many of the company’s early records. Nineteen boxes, dated 1862-1930, were donated to the Smithsonian Institution, available to researchers by appointment. There are certain other records he was thought to have retained, but they didn’t surface at this auction. Hopefully, they will somewhere, someday.
All told, Schmitt offered 36 Howards and two Howard & Davis clocks, about half of them Blackwell’s. The rest, consigned by anonymous others, included some of the better examples. One of them was the extremely rare Howard Kosmic, made circa 1885 with an automatic 24-hour dial, whose numerals are three-dimensional, like dice, and flip over at midnight to show roman numerals instead of Arabic ones.
Tom Grimshaw characterized it as “the ultimate Howard in terms of rarity and movement complexity.” Aware of this particular clock for 36 years, he went to the sale without any real hope of acquiring it, but in fact he did buy it, for $23,650, which wasn’t too much past its high estimate. (Lot #90)
He considers it “a steal,” noting that since his purchase several people have made him offers for it, “all substantially more than I paid.”
Meanwhile, several, better known Howard models sold for higher prices. A Wisconsin collector, bidding by phone, paid the top Howard price, $61,600, for a circa 1875 E. Howard Regulator No. 12. (Lot #96)
“There’s no known sale of that clock exceeding the price that we got,” said Schmitt, whose estimate was $15,000/20,000. Ordinarily these 60” tall, round-headed clocks are meant to hang on a wall. As you’ll see in the picture, this one sits on a special base, purpose-made by Howard, that turned it into a floor-standing clock.
In the catalog, Schmitt described the clock as being in “overall excellent original condition.” He doesn’t use the phrase lightly, taking pains to describe a clock’s every blemish or blot. The result: by his count, since 1979, only five clocks have been returned to him because of descriptive errors or oversights, and that’s from a pool of over 30,000 items sold.
Howard Cohen did not buy a Howard, although he arrived at the sale thinking he would try for the large (50” tall) No. 1 banjo, circa 1890, in a fruitwood case with rosewood graining, original finish, and factory label. Instead, the Wisconsin man took that one too, for $22,000, another probable record. “I’m not aware of another one ever bringing more than that,” said Schmitt. (Lot #91)
John Delaney Jr. was among the underbidders for the No. 1, but Cohen wasn’t. By that time, he had decided to go for an unsigned banjo of the same size, made much earlier, circa 1835. Successful, he paid $23,100. (Lot #92)
Cohen always brings tools to previews. That’s why he took a second look at the unsigned banjo in the first place. Robert Cheney wanted to pull the dial; Cohen supplied the implement, then stuck around to hear what was said about it. He started to understand that the movement was “to die for.”
“What I think is unique about my clock,” said Cohen, “is that it is an astronomical regulator, so it’s a precise timekeeper that probably would have had some scientific use; for example, it may have been used in an observatory. Most astronomical regulators I’ve ever seen are much more Victorian, which is not to say they didn’t make early ones. But it’s very rare to see one as a wall clock as opposed to a floor-standing clock. It’s a very high quality movement, the most impressive one I’ve ever seen. Bob Cheney suggested it might have been a custom-made movement out of New York City and then purchased and put into this case in Boston.”
In the past, Schmitt’s sales have been two-day affairs at which “starter” clocks were sold on one day and clocks for advanced collectors the next. This one-day sale featured no starters. Those were offered on May 24 in Salem, New Hampshire. It was a live auction only, with no absentee, phone, or Internet bidding. For more information about that sale or about Schmitt’s next one in Manchester on November 9, when he will offer the collection of the late Sheldon Hoch of New York, call (603) 432-2237 or see the Web site (www.roschmittfinearts.com).
Lot #96: A Wisconsin collector, bidding by phone, bought this circa 1875 E. Howard & Co. Regulator No. 12 in a walnut case for $61,600 (est. $15,000/20,000). It’s actually a 60” wall clock in a purpose-made special-order base that brings the overall height to 87”. Its pendulum stick had its original golf leaf and mercury-filled cut-glass jar. All that kept it from being in truly outstanding condition was a paint flake near numeral 12. The top lot of the auction, it was also the top Howard lot in the sale.
Lot #57: There are steeple clocks and then there are exceptional examples like this oversize one, 22 1/2” tall. Made by Chauncey Jerome, New Haven, Connecticut, circa 1848, it is a signed, eight-day time-and-strike fusee movement in a mahogany veneered case with original finish, original dial, and original tablet showing the Connecticut state house. A Massachusetts collector was the buyer at $3520 (est. $1250/1750).
Lot #65: This large (26” tall) ogee octagon wall clock, made circa 1870 by Atkins Clock Co., Bristol, Connecticut, sold to Tom Grimshaw for $5225 (est. $3500/4500). The collector said he owned one in 1972 and sold it that year for $350. This is only the second one he’s seen with its original dial. It also had its original finish, dial, and hands, and a good label.
Lot #71: This is a public clock by E. Howard, made for a lobby or station platform, with two 24” marble dials back to back, each of which retains its original hands. Dating from circa 1890, the clock measures 26” x 60” overall, including its wooden ceiling mount in restored white paint and gilding. A New Jersey collector bought it on the phone for $3410 (est. $3000/4000).
Lot #74: E. Howard’s circa 1880 Boston Regulator No. 11, nicknamed the “keyhole” model, sold on the phone for $8800 (est. $6000/8000). Its buyer was the Wisconsin collector, who bought, among others, the top lot of the sale. Except for its repainted tablet, the eight-day weight-driven wall clock in a 31” case was in original condition, including signed Howard crank.
Lot #87: This circa 1880 Ithaca Calendar Clock Co., 60” tall, sold to Tom Grimshaw for $15,400 (est. $6000/9000). The eight-day double-dial perpetual calendar wall clock, known as the No. 0 Bank, was in all original condition except for its replaced bottom 3” trim piece.
Lot #89: This eight-day office regulator, made circa 1890 by the Boston Clock Company, is in a 38 1/2” tall cherry case that retains its original eagle crest. Chosen as the cover lot, the timepiece sold on the phone for $18,700 (est. $10,000/15,000) to a buyer that Bob Schmitt identified as a Virginia-based collector.
Schinto photo #0743: Andrew Demeter, looking at the cover lot with collector Deric C. Wien of Waltham, Massachusetts. Schinto photo.
Lot #90: This exceptionally rare Kosmic by Howard is a 24-hour version of the company’s No. 70 Regulator. Unlike that model, this one has numerals that flip over at midnight to show roman numerals instead of Arabic ones. It was invented and patented in 1885 in response to demand for a clock that would avoid misunderstandings in train time. Pictured in Brooks Palmer’s Treasury of American Clocks (1967), it is in a 31 1/2” walnut case with original tablet, and sold to Tom Grimshaw for $23,650 (est. $10,000/20,000). Those who want to see one of the few other known examples can visit the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, Connecticut (www.clockmuseum.org).
Schinto photo #0755: Close-up of Kosmic’s dial. Schinto photo.
Lot #91: A Wisconsin collector took this circa 1890 Howard No. 1 banjo for what appears to be a record-setting $22,000 (est. $9000/12,000). The eight-day clock in a 50” fruitwood case was in original condition, including dial, iron weight with cast-in “1,” hands, and factory label.
Lot #92: This circa 1835 Willard-school banjo clock with an astronomical movement sold to Howard Cohen for $23,100 (est. $10,000/20,000). In its original 50” solid mahogany case with old finish, it retains its original hands and dial. Note that the smaller, inner rings show hours and seconds, while the larger, outer one shows minutes – a more useful display for astronomers needing to time celestials events.
Schinto photo #0752: Here is the unsigned banjo with its dial off. Studying it (from left) are Howard Cohen; Robert C. Cheney; Ralph Pokluda; and Chris H. Bailey, curator of the American Clock & Watch Museum, who helps prepare Schmitt’s catalogs. The other clock is the Howard No. 1 banjo, bought by the Wisconsin collector. Schinto photo.
Lot #93: It took two people to carry out of the hall this circa 1875 Howard No. 17, with a 24” white marble dial. The man on one end was a Massachusetts collector, who bought it for $2970 (est. $2000/3000).
Lot #94: A Wisconsin collector bought this circa 1880 Howard No. 6 Regulator for $35,200 (est. $17,500/22,500). The eight-day timepiece was in a 58” refinished walnut case with original dial and throat tablet.
Lot #95: This circa 1880 Howard No. 7 Regulator, part of a series known for obvious reasons as a “Figure 8,” sold for $23,100 (est. $10,000/15,000). The eight-day timepiece in a 50” walnut case, with lower tablet replaced, was bought in the room by an agent bidding for a collector.
Lot #97: A circa 1874 Howard Regulator No. 42 sold to a collector’s agent for $27,500 (est. $8000/12,000). The 46” black walnut carved case retained its old finish, original dial, original key.
Lot #107: A circa 1880 Howard Regulator No. 72 timepiece in a 64” black walnut sold on the phone for $12,100 (est. $7500/10,000). Bob Schmitt identified the buyer as a California collector.
Lot #119: This Timby Solar-Timepiece, made circa 1864 by L.E. Whiting of Saratoga Springs, New York, sold in the room for $6875 (est. $6000/8000). A consignment from the Pasquali estate, it may have gone higher if a would-be phone bidder in Berlin had been able to get through. The refinished case is mahogany, with double 12-hour dial, 6” terrestrial globe, and minute dial below. Theodore R. Timby was the clock’s designer; not more than 500 or 600 Timbys were made.
Lot #120: This J. C. Brown shelf acorn clock with fusee movement, made circa 1845 by the Forestville Manufacturing Co., sold to a Connecticut collector in the room for $15,400 (est. $14,000/16,000). The very clock is pictured in Brooks Palmer’s Treasury of American Clocks (1967), where the height is mistakenly given as 36”. It’s actually 20” tall.
Lot #147: Andrew Demeter of Topsfield, Massachusetts, paid $2420 for this ship’s bell clock and barometer desk set, made circa 1929 by the Chelsea Clock Company (est. $750/1000). The dials are 6”; the case is heavy bronze. Known as the “Columbus,” it is pictured in Demeter’s book, Chelsea Clock Company: The First Hundred Years, all 1000 copies of which have been sold. Two used copies are listed for $153.94 and $251.99 plus shipping on Bookfinder (www.bookfinder.com). The original price was $68.50.
Lot #149: Here is the Chelsea Clock Company’s rare ship’s bell “Chain” clock that retains its bronze hanging chain. Made circa 1926 for Tiffany & Co., it has a 10” dial; with chain, the clock measures 29” tall. In overall excellent condition, the rarity sold to a phone bidder for $20,900 (est. $7500/10,000).
Lot #166: Here is a real curiosity, a glorious fake, laboriously described as such in the Schmitt catalog. Consigned by a New York dealer, it is a girandole, attributed to the notorious Joseph Conlon, circa 1935. The movement is by E. Howard, but the logo on the front plate was ground off in the days when the name was considered to be a liability. In its place someone applied the name Lemuel Curtis, who made famous the girandole form in the 1830’s. Real Curtis girandoles go for six figures. This one, estimated at $12,500/17,500, made $7700.
Lot #203: John Delaney Jr. spent $22,000 for this Massachusetts shelf clock, which was made circa 1825 by Aaron Willard Jr. (est. $20,000/30,000). The 35” tall mahogany case retains its original fret and finials, and, perhaps, its original finish. The dial is called “kidney-shaped” by collectors, even though it really isn’t shaped like one.
Lot #210: Dana Blackwell’s electric self-winding master clock with two pilot clocks in a 60” golden oak case was made circa 1910 by E. Howard. It sold for $3740 (est. $1000/1500) to a phone buyer identified by Bob Schmitt as a New Jersey collector.
Lot #211: Blackwell was a tinkerer, precision-oriented, not so much worried about a clock’s purity, say those who knew him. To that end, he sometimes replaced traditional pendulums with rods made of invar, an iron-nickel alloy that expands very little when heated. This circa 1810 Scottish tall clock with a round, silvered dial in an 86” mahogany veneered case, made by James Whitelaw of Edinburgh, had an invar replacement. The clock sold on the phone for $5610 (est. $2000/2500).
Lot #314: Dr. Pasquali’s circa 1890 German novelty clock with wagging tail and panting tongue sold to the Internet for $1063.75 (est. $250/250). Its repainted body had been broken from the base and re-glued. The tail was a substitute. The dial had chips. Even in this condition, it brought the price that all-original examples usually go for. Fifty other lots went to the Internet for a total of $72,450.
Schinto photo #0733: This is a detail of a hand-painted blueprint survey of the E. Howard Co.’s factory in Waltham, Massachusetts. It’s dated 1912, the year that production was moved there from the original factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Produced by the Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies, Boston, it shows the floor plan with boilers, gasoline tank, coal bin, bicycle shop, and much more. In a 28” x 34” frame, it sold to Ralph Pokluda for $660 (est. $600/900). Schinto photo. (Lot #142)
Schinto photo #0736: Blackwell’s horological library of 674 items– over 1000 lbs of books – sold for $1482.80 (i.e., $2 each) to the American Clock & Watch Museum. In 1979, Blackwell took a position there as a conservator. He subsequently became vice-president and eventually president of the museum. Schinto photo. (Lot #395)
(Re this price: the lot was estimated at $4-6 each x 674 items; since the final bid was $2, I was faced with a fraction, and decided to report it using old system, i.e. no rounding!)