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What are Gingerbread Clocks?

Being on time was important to the Victorians. As more people were working outside the home, they had to keep more precise schedules. To be on time, people needed a way to tell the time. And with an increase in the availability of affordable, factory-made clocks, timepieces found their way into just about every home. 

 

“Gingerbread Clocks” were decorated with intricately carved wood that resembled a gingerbread-style house. It might seem like these clocks would have been costly treasures, but inventions like the scroll saw in the 1880s meant that these clocks could be easily and cheaply made. These clocks are also called “Kitchen Clocks” because having a well-managed household started in the kitchen. 
 

Black and white historical photograph of Akeley Hall in Grand Haven taken around 1920. There are small groups of girls milling around in the yard in front of the building dressed in what is likely school uniforms with long skirts and blouses with sailor-style bibs. The building is in the highly decorative Victorian style with “gingerbread” wooden trim around the eaves, windows, and doors. The wooden trim is painted in different colors. The exact colors are not clear since the image is in black and white.

Tasty Trim

The wooden decoration along the roof line of Akeley Hall (seen in this photograph)  is called “Gingerbread” because it looks like a gingerbread house.

 

Gingerbread Clocks used similar carved designs to imitate this style of architecture.

Akeley Hall

c. 1920

Photograph

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What Makes

a Clock a Clock?

The word “clock” comes from the French word for bell, “cloche.” That means, a true clock not only displays the time, it also chimes on the hour.

 

A clock that only gives the time is called a “timepiece.” 

Clock

Waterbury Clock Company, Connecticut

C. 1883

Walnut

H 23" x W 14.75"

“This clock, along with most others in my collection also has an alarm feature.  The alarm is set by turning the small brass wheel-shaped dial in the center of the face. 

 

The times are in Roman numerals, and to set the alarm, you turn the ‘wheel’ so that the time you want to awaken is lined up with the hour hand.  Then, you wind the alarm inside the case, located toward the bottom of the clock.”

 

Close up photograph of the brass alarm mechanism. It is a wheel that is situated in the center of the primary clock face. Around the circular edge of the wheel are the roman numerals 1-12 where the user can set the time for the alarm. The wheel is connected to the center by six spokes. Visible behind the wheel are gears and mechanisms for running the clock.
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"All these have 'faux front' tops adding height to the clock.

This was popular in commercial buildings during the last quarter of the 19th century, as seen on the front of the Akeley Building as well as others in downtown Grand Haven."

"It has been refinished because I'm the one who refinished it! I bought this many years ago when I was in college, and it was painted light blue."

Clock

Ingraham Clock Company, Bristol, Connecticut

C. 1880

Walnut

H 24" x W 15.5"

"The case has two unusual added features seldom seen on clocks: A thermometer (toward the top of the case), and a level (in the base)."

Close up photograph of the top decoration on the clock. Between added wooden decorations is a small mercury thermometer mounted on a brass plate. To the left of the thermometer is a scale from 10 - 110 degrees, and on the right, there is an “F” to indicate that the temperature is being measured in fahrenheit.
Close up photograph of the base of the clock. The focus of the image is a small, horizontal level mounted with a decorative brass plate. The level contains clear liquid with an air bubble to indicate whether the clock is resting on a level surface.
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Who Decides

the Time?

Did you know that time wasn't standardized in the United States until 1883? Before that, people might set their clocks by referencing a sundial.

Who was it that got everyone on the same schedule? Train companies, of course! They wanted to make sure the trains ran on time.

"It's one of the most ornate clocks I've seen"

Clock

Ingraham Clock Company, Bristol, Connecticut

C. 1880

H 24" x W 16"

"What sets this walnut clock apart from the others is that this is designed to hang on the wall, instead of the more common style case intended to be set on a shelf, piano, or another surface"

Why an 8-Day 

Clock?

 

Mechanical clocks like these had to be wound regularly to continue working. Some clocks had to be wound every day.

But 8-day clocks like these became popular because they only had to be wound once a week.

Why 8 days when there are 7 days in a week? Clockmakers gave people an extra day in case they forgot to wind the time. 

 Photograph of a clock. Unlike the other clocks in this collection, this one hangs on the wall. The frame is made of walnut and is intricately carved. This clock in particular makes use of negative space with multiple openings carved within the frame. The clock face is white with painted black roman numerals. In the center of the clock face is a smaller gold-colored wheel for setting an alarm. Hanging down from the clock face is an elaborately decorated pendulum that is gold colored with a smaller silver colored circular design in the center. Covering the clock face and pendulum is a glass window with an intricately painted design of flowers and leaves with some architectural designs at the bottom all painted in gold.

Clock

Seth Thomas Clock Company, Thomaston, CT

C. 1880

H 26.5" x W 15"

"It's referred to as a 'Mirror Side' clock, and this style was made by several American clock companies. This features the mirrored sides set at angles to reflect the cast metal cherub figures. In the top pediment is a cast metal figurehead of "Columbia" referring to Columbus ("Columbia, Gem of the Ocean" was a popular song.)"

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Close up photograph of the top of the brass colored metal frame round the clock face. At the top of
Close up photograph of the top of the brass colored metal frame round the clock face. At the top of

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Close of photograph of a metal cherub mounted on the right side of the clock.
Close of photograph of a metal cherub mounted on the right side of the clock.

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Clock

Ansonia Clock Co. New York

C. 1880

Walnut

H 24" x W 16"

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Clock

Sessions Clock Company, Forestville, CT

C. 1903

Maple

"By the late 1890s, the cases for these clocks were being surface pressed, a technique used on the backs of oak chairs from this period as well. The wood often used was oak, but this case is made of pressed maple , stained to look like walnut."