Cars, Clocks & Watches: NAWCC's Grand 2018 Ward Francillon Time Symposium!

by M. J. Dapkus

The 2018 NAWCC Ward Francillon Time Symposium, “Cars, Clocks & Watches” took place September 20-22 at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI. Speakers explored the relationships between 19th century New England clock and watch manufacturing, and advances in auto manufacturing conceived by American inventor, industrialist, and collector Henry Ford (1863-1947).

Credit for organizing this outstanding educational event belongs to Symposium Chairman Bob Frishman, and to Symposium Committee members Katie Knaub, Rick Merritt, and Dug North, with help and support from Bob's wife, Jeanne Schinto The fruit of two years of intense preparation, the symposium brought together scholars, collectors, curators, conservators, horologists, and automotive experts, who shared information and enjoyed fellowship and hospitality. A total of 104 attendees registered for this event.

The Henry Ford Museum occupies a 250-acre parcel adjacent to Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge factory. In addition to exhibit space, it features the Benson Ford Research Center; the Conservation Center; and a total of 80 furnished historic buildings and landscapes that together comprise Greenfield Village. An eminently suitable venue in terms of beauty and comfort, the Ford Museum attracts 1.7 million visitors annually. Of particular interest to NAWCC members was that Ford himself had been a collector and repairer of clocks and watches. Presently numbering some 3,000 objects, Ford's horological collection focuses mainly on 19th century American-made items.

Thursday, September 20

Symposium events got off to a brisk start on Thursday morning, with an optional tour of Ford Motor Company's Rouge F-150 truck plant. At 10AM, 15 pre-registered attendees toured the Shinola Factory in downtown Detroit, where (among other manufacturing projects) high-tech watch movement assembly is conducted.

Thirty attendees enjoyed special behind-the-scenes tours of the Benson Ford Research and the Conservation Center, respectively. Curator of Decorative Arts, Charles Sable, and Research Specialist Stephanie Lucas, introduced the history of the museum and its collections. Stephanie outlined the challenges posed by library, archival, storage, and care for some 26 million artifacts. In addition to Ford family and Ford Motor Co. papers, holdings include antique furniture, engines, firearms, trade catalogs, manuscripts, books, and advertising materials, representing the evolution of American culture and innovation.

Notable items viewed on the Research Center tour included a “Red Agate” crystal [i.e. stone] plate “Exhibition” Waltham pocket watch. Dating to 1887, the 16-size watch has 17 jewels, “all being set on gold; held friction tight in agate plates”. It was one of a collection that Henry Ford purchased from Waltham in 1926.3 There was also a 20-size, 2-mainspring, 19-jewel, 8-day pocket calendar watch, stamped: “D.S. MARSH ROXBURY, No. 1852” on the movement back plate. The watch's enamel dial features a center minute hand with a smaller, Roman numeral hour dial below; a small seconds dial above; and day of the week and day of the month subsidiary dials to the left and right. In 1852, during Waltham's early days, Aaron Dennison enlisted David S. Marsh to design an 8-day watch; however, it soon became apparent that the company's future lay in 30-hour watches. In addition to the watches, tour attendees viewed notable early American tall case clocks made, for example, by Gawen Brown (1719-1801), Boston, MA; William Claggett (1696-1749), Newport, RI; Benjamin Willard (1743-1803), Grafton, MA; and Isaac Brokaw (1746-1826), Bridge Town, NJ.
Ford Museum Senior Conservator Clara Deck provided an overview of technical and ethical considerations in caring for a collection of such extraordinary depth and breadth. Senior Conservator Minoo Larson explained functions of the paper conservation lab. Conservator Mary Fahey introduced the textile lab.

A highlight of the Conservation Center tour was a Lawrence Earnshaw (1707-1767), Cheshire, England, astronomical desk and bookcase clock ca. 1760, with terrestrial and celestial dials and globes. The clock, with an 8-day brass, weight, movement, strikes twice per year on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Its dials show time on the left, and on the right, months of the year and signs of the Zodiac. Smaller auxiliary dials in the center of the right [celestial] dial indicate: “Gold[en] Num[bers] / The Epact”; “Cycle Sun / Dominical Letter”; and “Roman Indication”. The conservators shared information about ongoing restoration of the clock's case.

On Thursday evening symposium attendees were treated to a private after-hours reception, strolling dinner, and exclusive access to the Ford Museum. After dinner and welcoming remarks by Symposium Chair Frishman, and by NAWCC Board Chairman Rich Newman, and NAWCC Executive Director Tom Wilcox, Donna Braden, the Ford Museum's Curator of Public Life, stepped to the podium to deliver the opening lecture.

Donna described the museum's origins and its role in Henry Ford's life, with emphasis on his interest in clocks, watches, tinkering, and repairing. She then outlined her own experiences working with the Museum's horological collections, including, for example, the discovery that visitors defied conventional wisdom by preferring detailed content in the clock exhibit labels. She also observed that over the course of time, Americans have experienced conflicting desires for ever more speed, while at the same time longing for slower, less stressful, lives. Indeed, Americans' ardor for early automobiles was due in part to the sense of freedom they afforded from rigid railroad timetables.

Afterward, symposium attendees perused the museum, stopping to examine its car, machinery, and technology displays. Of special interest was the Clockworks Exhibit, which included choice examples by American clock makers Terry, Jerome, the Willards, and others.

Friday morning, September 21

The symposium reconvened at 10AM Friday morning in the Greenfield Village pavilion. In his opening remarks, Chair Bob Frishman noted that the village had been the site of many past NAWCC chapter meetings, regionals, and even the 1957 National Convention. He then described and illustrated a number of sumptuous vintage cars with dashboard clocks as tangible links between cars, clocks, watches, and their respective manufacturers. His symposium research had led him to photos of Henry Ford's antique clock ornamented offices of the 1910s and '20s. Bob also located transcripts of interviews with longtime Ford Motor Company employee Clem Davis, a watch and instrument maker, who spent many hours repairing clocks and watches with Henry Ford. In addition, records of Ford's special order purchase of a Waltham floor clock in 1924 suggested that a visit to Waltham had taken place during Ford's quest to improve Model T mass-production technologies.

The morning's first presenter was Jessie Swigger, Director of the Public History Program at Western Carolina University, and author of the award winning book History is Bunk: Assembling the Past at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village. She began by explaining that Ford had been strongly influenced by a rural upbringing and Victorian values.

During the early 20th century, many Americans including Ford felt threatened by the millions of immigrants from Eastern Europe, who clung to their own traditions in urban enclaves. Part of the motivation behind Ford's collecting, and for starting the museum, therefore, was to preserve and promote small town American culture and values.

The next lecturer was Ben Colman, Associate Curator of American Art at the Detroit [MI] Institute of Arts. Edsel Ford (1893-1943), the only child born to Henry and Clara Jane (Bryant) Ford, was instrumental in assembling the Institute's important art collections, including numerous clocks and watches. Among the highlights Ben presented was a very fine 18th century tall case clock by Thomas Harland (1705-1807) of Norwich, CT, made for Elias Brown of Preston [CT], and passed down to Brown's descendants. Its ivory trimmed, shell-carved case demonstrated Newport, RI influences.

Ben's talk provided much to entice a visit the institute and its collections. For example, he explained that the medieval Great Clock with rooster automaton at Strasbourg received international publicity during the 1780s, and was likely the inspiration for the splendid rooster finial on the hood of the Institute's fine 1780s Frederick Maus, Philadelphia, PA, tall clock.

Dr. Tim Kelly, an organizational psychologist, and his wife, Carrie Kelly, an associate professor of nursing, presented the next lecture, entitled: “The Model T Ownership Experience: Henry Ford Reincarnated?” Tim explained that the Kellys had owned and restored a number of Ford Model T's, including a 1919 “barn find” running chassis, a 1922 truck with a top speed of 15-16 mph, and a 1917 crank start, single seat runabout. Carrie described the pleasures of going for a ride in a Model T. Traveling at a leisurely pace with neither seatbelt, heat, nor radio was very relaxing, but she said that if you set out for brunch you had better pack some food! Often she and Tim met nice people who waved - or offered the couple a ride home.

Tim concluded that the Model T was both a revolutionary invention and a very simple and dependable car, but demanded intense focus and commitment from its owner. Much like Henry Ford himself, the Model T could be exhausting to know and to work with.

Friday afternoon, September 21

After a picnic lunch, attendees set off on self-guided tours of Greenfield Village. Notable features included the Menlo Park [NJ] laboratory, where between 1876 and 1887, Thomas Edison (1847-1931) invented the world's first incandescent light bulb filament. A bicycle shop from Dayton, OH, had been the site of the Wright brothers' development of their prototype airplane. An historic 1840s court house from Postville, IL, had witnessed the young Abraham Lincoln practicing law.

Symposium attendees marveled at the buildings and antiques. They tranquilly rode the restored 1911 carousel, complete with mechanical pipe organ and drum. They toured the grounds in chauffer-driven Model T's, and rode the steam train around the Village with old friends and new.

Thirty attendees enjoyed a special tour of the village given by Curator of Historic Buildings, Jim Johnson. At the historic Sir John Bennett Jewelry Shop (London, ca. 1846), they examined the 3-train tower clock movement with deadbeat escapement and drive for automata depicting Gog and Magog, mythical protectors of Britain. They also viewed the automata in operation.

The next stop was E. Grimm's 1880s jeweler's shop. Inside they were greeted by Master Presenter Shirley Gant, who explained that Henry Ford often visited the shop, formerly located on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, to purchase watch parts. Preserved essentially as found, the shop features a selection of period watch repair tools, watch chains, collar pins, clocks, and other mass-produced American goods.

                                                         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.

                                                      Saturday Evening, September 22

On Saturday evening, symposium attendees gathered for a farewell candlelight dinner at the 1831 Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village. After dinner, NAWCC Board Chair Rich Newman rose to thank Bob Frishman for his efforts in bringing the Symposium to fruition. NAWCC Executive Director Tom Wilcox recognized our organization's members for their commitment to research, community, and volunteerism. He also remembered James Arthur, Sarah Caudell, previous Symposium Chairman Jim Cipra, Symposium Committee members, and the weekend's presenters, for their hard work and dedication. Robert Cheney graciously awarded door prizes, and introduced two students who were sponsored to attend the symposium. It is hoped that student scholarships will be awarded for the 2019 Symposium. Persons interested in acting as sponsors are encouraged to contact the Symposium Committee.

The banquet speaker was David Lucsko, Professor of History at Auburn University, AL, whose talk drew upon his recent book entitled: Junkyards, Gearheads, and Rust: Salvaging the Automotive Past.14 David's success at an early age in repairing a broken auto speedometer led not only to a lifetime of mechanical pleasures and pursuits, but also to a deep affection for junkyards.
The rise of automobile ownership in 20th century America produced several generations of auto repair, restoration, and customization hobbyists. David traced the fascinating history of America's junkyards, car clubs, hot rods, street rods, and automotive swap meets. Today, sensory and emotional experiences of junkyard exploration are often romanticized, and auto junkyards are now mined for clues to a vanishing cultural past.

After dessert and brief concluding remarks, symposium attendees said their goodbyes and started for home, taking with them much inspiration and many fine memories to sustain them over the coming year. (For those who were unable to attend the symposium, like the 2017 presentations, the 2018 lectures will soon be available to watch via professional video recordings streamed from the NAWCC website.

                                                       The 2019 NAWCC Symposium

Plans are now underway for the 2019 Ward Francillon Symposium, “Time - Made in Germany: 700 Years of German Horology”, a collaboration between the NAWCC and the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Chronometrie, to take place September 12-15, 2019, at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany. Presentations are planned on topics ranging from medieval monumental clocks, to the earliest use of clocks for astronomical observations, the origins of Black Forest clock making, luxury watches from Glashuette 1870-1920, Riefler precision pendulum clocks, the role of Germany in making affordable watches, and the German quartz revolution.

The 2019 Symposium will feature rare and important horological items, a historical backdrop, state-of-the-art conference facilities, tourist attractions, and a range of comfortable lodgings. Stay tuned for registration information.


Special thanks are due to Bob Frishman, Bill Ellison, Ron Price, Tom McIntyre, Judy Stropus, Tom Manning, Robert C. Cheney, and Andy Dervan for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Lawrence Earnshaw

Waltham agate plate

Curator Donna Braden

museum clock gallery

research center tour

conservaton center tour

Saturday afternoon, September 22

The next presenters were George de Fossard, a professional clock maker and conservator, and his wife Cornelia, a professional cabinet and clock case maker. Now in business together, Cornelia and George de Fossard began collaborating in 2013 to design and build a unique clock commemorating the 300th anniversary of the British Parliament's 1714 Act of Longitude.

It took the de Fossards four years to design and build their Solar Time Clock, during which process George adapted technologies invented by John Harrison (1693-1776), Thomas Mudge (1715-1794), and George Daniels (1926-2011). The clock reads both Greenwhich mean time and local solar time. It features longitude and latitude setting dials; a solar time dial with a 24-hr. hand adjusted for the equation of time, showing day and night length, sunrise and sunset, and local solar noon. Additional features include a year calendar; hand-painted spherical moonphase indication; and a state of winding indicator.

Comprised of 750 individual handmade parts, the de Fossards' Solar Time Clock movement features sapphire pallet stones on a Brocot-type escapement, and an Invar pendulum that links to the movement by a jeweled connecting rod. The wheel work is gold-plated. The hand-finished case, with French polished ebonized pearwood veneer and brush-finished stainless steel metalwork, is equipped with magnetic dust caps for the winding and setting squares.

The next speaker was award-winning author Andrew (“Andy”) Dervan. A volunteer at the Benson Ford Research Center, Andy's talk, entitled “Transcribing and Analyzing the Samuel Bemis Watch Book 1785-1795”, drew upon a set of account books in the Research Center's holdings.

Samuel Bemis (ca. 1754-1818), the son of Philip and Lydia (Dix) Bemis of Cambridge, MA, a trained clock maker, purchased a wheel cutting “ingine” from Simon Willard in 1776. A fragment of a brass MA shelf clock dial dating to ca. 1785-1790 is known, bearing Bemis's signature at Cambridge.
As an itinerant watch repairer, Bemis traveled between Cambridge and Lexington, MA, Westmoreland, NH, and Brattleboro, VT. He recorded not only customers' names, but also the numbers and makers of their watches, including: “Gawen Brown No. 213”; “T. Harland No. 614”; “Julien Le Roy A Paris No[.] 5670”; “Rep[ea]ting Watch Tompion No. 280”; and four signed watches indicating Dublin [Ireland] as their place of origin. Andy provided analyses and statistics from the Bemis accounts, including numbers, types, and prices of repairs.

Noted auto racing personality Judy Stropus spoke about her career in auto race timing. During the 1960s and '70s, only three or four individuals in the world had mastered the art. Judy described what it was like to manually record and calculate lap number, lap time, and total time for each car during a race, using only a pencil and a chronograph stopwatch. The earliest watches Judy recalled using were Heuer chronographs. Then came a large, fancy, gold-cased watch that was too heavy to be practical; Accusplit watches [probably digital and quartz]; and later, a compact timer with a cord and remote push-button.

With the advance of computer technology, Judy's job became more complex and less enjoyable, so she moved on to new challenges. Today all race cars carry transponders, and auto race timing is completely computerized.

Carrie Kelly

Tim Kelly

Bob Frishman, Symposium Chair

Ben Colman

Jessie Swigger

Sir John Bennett Shop

village carousel

Grimm jewelry shop

Gog & Magog

Bennett clock movement

Robert C. Cheney

  Tom Wilcox, nawcc executive director
Sarah Caudell, James Arthur descendant

Johannes Graf

MIT Professor Roe Smith

George & Cornelia de Fossard
     & their solar time clock

Judy Stropus

Andy Dervan

Dave Lucsko

Henry Ford

Nuremberg museum

Heinlein watch in Nuremberg