Saturday morning, September 22
When the symposium convened at 10AM in the Ford Museum's Anderson Theater, Bob Frishman rose to introduce the 54th James Arthur Lecture. He explained that the James Arthur Lecture series had begun in 1932, as part of the bequest of noted horologist, collector, machinist, and patent model maker James Arthur (1842-1930), to New York University (NYU), and had featured as speakers many illustrious scientists, philosophers, and horologists.
By 1983, however, NYU was unable to continue fulfilling the donor's vision. A portion of the James Arthur collection was gifted to the Smithsonian, and NYU presented the rest to the NAWCC. Since 1984, NAWCC has kept James Arthur's memory alive by continuing the Lecture as the centerpiece of its annual symposium.
Bob thrilled the audience by introducing Sarah Caudell, James Arthur's great-granddaughter, who has been working with Bob and his wife Jeanne to supply little known details about her ancestors. Through her kindness, Bob was able to show a number of never-before-seen photos of James Arthur, before introducing the Symposium's James Arthur Lecturer: Robert C. Cheney.
A lifelong horologist, author, and former director of the clock department at Skinner Auctions, Robert Cheney is presently Curator and Executive Director of the Willard House Museum, Grafton, MA. The title of his talk was “Collecting Antiques Long Before It Was Cool”. Robert began by explaining that he likes to disabuse people who otherwise enjoy antiques of the notion that clocks are difficult to comprehend.
Courageous early collectors inspired others to become interested in America's past. Robert recounted colorful stories of eccentric collectors George Sheldon (1818-1916) and Cummings Davis (1816-1896), whose collections formed the basis for the Pocumtuc Valley Memorial Association at Deerfield, MA, and the Concord [MA] Antiquarian Society, respectively; and of George Rea Curwen (1832-1900) and George Francis Dow (1868-1936) who created early period rooms for the Essex Institute at Salem, MA. Another collector, J. Cheney Wells (1870-1960), assembled the clock collection now at Old Sturbridge Village. They and others like them laid the groundwork for collecting to become fashionable during the first three-quarters of the 20th century.
By the 1980s and 1990s, many wealthy collectors considered fine antiques as status symbols, and even (hazardously) as investments. Since 2000, however, prices, markets, and apparent interest in all categories of antiques, including historic homes, have plummeted. Museums and collecting clubs struggle to remain relevant to a new generation. Robert's often satirical presentation did much to encourage and sustain today's collectors and historians at this time when antiques seem to have lost their appeal.
The next presenter was Merritt Roe Smith, distinguished Professor of the History of Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who shared his thoughts on the origins of the American system of manufacturing in the Connecticut River Valley, and the relationships between early mass-produced clocks, firearms, watches, and automobiles. By 1813, the U.S. government had become intensely interested in obtaining firearms with “uniform parts”. Talented individuals working at the Middletown and Berlin, CT factories of Simeon North (1765-1852), and at the U.S. armories at Springfield, MA and Harper's Ferry, VA, collaborated. Exactly when they succeeded in producing firearms with interchangeable parts is unclear. However, working at the Smithsonian, the late Edwin Battison (1915-2009) took apart a number of North's Model 1813 contract pistols produced ca. 1819-1820, and found their locks to be interchangeable.
Simeon North worked closely with his brother-in-law, clock maker Elisha Cheney (1770-1847). Since Eli Terry is said to have received post-apprenticeship training from members of Cheney's immediate family, Terry's ideas for gauging, milling, and interchangeable parts may have come via the Cheneys and Norths.
The U.S. government required its contractors to share information with interested parties. In 1859, the Springfield Armory's Ambrose Webster (1832-1894) became watch factory foreman at Waltham, MA, where Henry Ford likely studied mass production, machining, and interchangeable parts.
Our next speaker was Johannes Graf, Curator of the German Clock Museum at Furtwangen. By 1814, a cottage industry in the Black Forest produced as many as one million wooden clocks per year for export. During the 1870s, members of the Junghans family adopted American manufacturing technologies. Arthur Junghans' (1852-1920)10 son Oskar collaborated with Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900) to develop a speedometer in 1905, about the same time the firm Doxa patented a way of fixing watch movements to automobile dashboards. Junghans produced the first true car clock ca.1908. When hyperinflation destroyed Germany's economy in 1923, few people could buy cars, so few car clocks were made. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, Kienzle had begun producing a large assortment of car clocks, some with unusual features.
After WWII, East Germany became a center of stop watch production. In West Germany, many factories made and wholesaled car clocks and speedometers. The firm VDO produced the first quartz car clock in 1969. As screens replaced dashboard instrument panels in the 1990s, some 30,000 displaced German workers found new jobs in the clock industry as new products were developed. The Black Forest, now known as “Gear Valley”, supplies advanced gearing to all over the world.