Chauncey Jerome 30 hour Ogee – a 156 year old American clock that is a tribute to the man himself

I bought four wonderful clocks at an estate auction several weeks ago, this and three other Ogee clocks plus a parlour clock. This clock is no less interesting than the other three but I was lucky enough to research its maker and date the manufacture to within a year or two.

Noble Jerome’s invention showed that with the one-day brass movement, clocks could be mass produced economically and in great quantities

I wish I knew its provenance, how many hands it passed through, where it has been, what homes it has been in and even its last owner. All that is a mystery to me, nonetheless this clock is an excellent example of the classic Ogee weight driven shelf clock and a well-cared-for time-keeper.

Chauncey Jerome 30 hoir Ogee clock
Chauncey Jerome 30 hour Ogee clock with J.C. Brown house in lower tablet
Chauncey Jerome: The greatest and most far-reaching contributor to the clock industry

Chauncey Jerome 30 hour Ogee weight driven time and strike clocks are not a rarity. Thousands upon thousands were made. However, no-one can deny Chauncey Jerome’s historic contribution to the American clock industry in the 18th century when he substituted brass works for wooden works. He was “the greatest and most far-reaching contributor to the clock industry.” Although he made his fortune selling his clocks and his business grew quickly his company eventually failed in 1856.

Chauncey Jerome (1793–1868) was one of many pioneer American clock-makers. Jerome began his career in Waterbury, Connecticut (USA), making dials for long-case clocks. Jerome learned what he could about clocks, particularly clock cases, and went to New Jersey to make seven-foot cases for clocks. In 1816 he went to work for Eli Terry making “Patent Shelf Clocks,” and learned how to make previously handmade cases using machinery. His venture into business for himself eventually led to making cases and trading them to Terry for wooden movements.

In 1822 Jerome moved his business to Bristol, Connecticut opening a small shop with his brother Noble, producing 30-hour and eight-day wooden clocks. By 1837 Jerome’s company was selling more clocks than any of his competitors. A one-day wood-cased clock with wood movement sold for six dollars and had helped put the company on the map. A year later his company was selling that same clock for four dollars. As profits began falling combined with a general malaise in the manufacturing sector, it was not long before Noble Jerome’s patented clockwork innovation, the 30 hour brass weight driven movement introduced in 1839 changed clock making in America. The design was proposed by Chauncey in response to the 1837 nationwide depression that closed many clock factories. Noble’s invention showed that with the one-day brass movement, clocks could be mass produced economically and in great quantities.

Jerome also made clocks according to what he termed the “systematic approach” where selected workers made one part of a clock while other workers simultaneously constructed other parts in the same factory, a precursor to the assembly line method of manufacture.

Coil gong
Coil gong, polished, incorrect position in this photo

In 1842 Jerome moved his clock-case manufacturing operation to St. John Street in New Haven, Connecticut. Three years later, following a fire that destroyed the Bristol plant, Jerome relocated the entire operation to Elm City. Enlarging the plant, the company soon became the largest industrial employer in the city, producing 150,000 clocks annually. In 1850 Jerome formed the Jerome Manufacturing Co. as a joint-stock company with Benedict & Burnham, brass manufacturers of Waterbury. In 1853 the company became known as the New Haven Clock Co., producing 444,000 clocks and timepieces annually. Jerome’s future should have been secure but in 1855 he bought out a failed Bridgeport clock company controlled by P.T. Barnum, (a good read, it is a very tangled story) which wiped him out financially, leaving the Jerome Manufacturing Co. bankrupt in 1856. Jerome never recovered from the loss. By his own admission, he was a better innovator and inventor than a businessman.

In the years following he traveled from town to town and took jobs where he could, often working for clock companies that had learned the business of clock making using Jerome’s inventions. Returning to New Haven near the end of his life, he died, penniless, in 1868 at age 74.

The ticking of a clock is music to me, and although many of my experiences as a business man have been trying and bitter, I have satisfaction of knowing that I have lived the life of an honest man, and have been of some use to my fellow men
Chauncey Jerome 1860

This the number 11 Ogee was the last of the Jerome clocks made no later than the fall of 1855 when Jerome Manufacturing Co. failed. Mike Bailey, a Chauncey Jerome clock collector has an excellent blog in which he meticulously details and dates Jerome cases and movements. After researching his site I was able to determine that my clock is a number 11 Ogee made just before the Jerome bankruptcy in 1855. It is the Jerome patent 30 hour brass movement number 1.314. The movement appears to be original to the case.

Chauncey Jerome one-day movement type 1.314
Chauncey Jerome one-day movement type 1.314, yes, very dirty

The clock has a zinc dial and an image of JC Brown’s house in the lower tablet. Jerome was the first to introduce the zinc dial. It might have originally had a mirrored lower tablet. However it now features the JC Brown’s home. The J.C. Brown home in Forestville was featured on the tablet of many of his (Brown) Ogee clocks and it is unclear why it is on this clock. From 1847-1855 Brown conducted business without partners as the Forestville Manufacturing Company or the Forestville Clock Manufactory.

Rear of zinc dial
Rear of zinc dial

On the back of the zinc dial are inscriptions that I can barely make out. It says 1860 April 9???  on the top of the dial and 1866, Feb 2 and UPO 477 on the bottom. I tried to enhance it as best I could. Could this dial be a later replacement?

Overall the veneer is in excellent condition though it has been covered at some point with a clear coat of varnish. The weights appear original with the strike side having the slightly lighter weight as one would expect. The pendulum bob is consistent with the age of the clock and the label is largely intact. This was the last label Jerome used before his company went bankrupt.

Label showing Benham Printer, 56 Orange Street, New Haven
Label showing Benham Printer, 55 Orange Street, New Haven at bottom center

The movement is not running reliably. It is very dirty and long overdue for a cleaning, plus, the movement has had some poor repairs over the years.

Much of the information for this post is from Chauncey Jerome’s autobiography entitled History of the American Clock Business for the Past 60 Years, a free copy which you can find here.

Next up is servicing the movement which I will cover in a separate post.