I am not a huge collector of steeple clocks but I was intrigued by one I found in an old barn. I bought 4 clocks as part of a barn find this past winter (2018). Two including this one are salvageable. The two others are for case and works parts only.
$5 for a clock is a real bargain. This antique American Elisha Manross 30 hour time and strike steeple clock is an interesting variant of the sharp Gothic steeple clock. It looks fairly plain today but it was a striking style for its time. The early Steeple clocks of the 1840s influenced the design of later steeple clocks which were produced in large numbers up to the end of the 19th century.
A unique feature is the 30 hour brass movement with 2 brass mainsprings. Brass mainsprings were used in American clocks between 1836 and 1850. When affordable steel mainsprings arrived the brass mainspring disappeared into history. This clock was made in the Elisha Manross factory in Bristol, Connecticut (USA) August of 1843. 30 hour movements are immediately recognizable because of the proximity of the winding holes to the centre cannon. Eight day movements, which are taller, would have much lower winding arbours.
The good and the bad
The good: the movement, coil gong and dial face are original as is the pendulum bob. The label is in very good condition for the age of the clock. The upper glass tablet is original and shows the waviness you would expect with visible imperfections. The movement works but needs a thorough cleaning. The movement looks good though I will know more once I disassemble it for cleaning.
The bad: the mahogany veneered case is in poor condition with nicks, scratches and gouges on the entire surface. The very tip of the left steeple is broken off. There is a large piece of veneer missing on the right side on the clock base but that piece was found inside the clock and later glued in place. The most critical issue is the missing right steeple and base. The lower tablet is missing. There would have been a Fenn or similar design. Clear glass has been installed in its place. It is also missing the minute hand.
Work to be done
My first task is to clean the case and determine how I should approach finishing the clock case. I decided not to strip the case because there is a certain patina I would like to preserve.
My goal is the have a running clock in presentable condition and that includes replacing the right steeple. Ordering the missing parts from a clock supply house would seem to be a simple solution but unfortunately these parts must be hand made. To address the steeple base and spire I had some decisions to make. I took careful measurements of the left steeple base, cut a piece of pine stock to the same dimensions and clad it in crotch mahogany.
A relatively simple task of veneering took three days as I had to veneer each side, clamp, wait till it dried and trim off the excess before tackling the next side. Hide glue was used for this project. Hide glue is appropriate because it is an organic adhesive and it is the type of glue that would have used at the time.
Once all sides were completed the spire was next. I have never made a finial before so this was a very interesting learning experience. The spire was somewhat more challenging since it involved patterning it off the left spire. As I discovered it is much harder than it looks. I do not have a wood lathe so my metal lathe had to do. I bought a set of wood lathe chisels at my local hardware store at a reasonable price though I discovered that they require sharpening prior to use.
The result was something closer than I expected. Not perfect but until I improve my skills this will do for now. Working with softwood is relatively easy but working with hardwood would be a much greater challenge would think.
The grain in the spire is certainly distracting and it is something I did not anticipate. One more application of stain concealed some of the grain but it is still visible at certain angles. Will a clear coat over the stain bring me the result I am looking for? Hmm!
After thoroughly cleaning the case with Murphy’s soap and Orange Oil I applied a very thin coat of red mahogany stain on the entire case, left it on for only one minute and wiped off all the excess residue. Again, my aim was to preserve the original patina as much as possible but hide numerous scratches. The stain filled in the scratches and I am satisfied with the end result. With the addition of the right final base and spire, the clock now looks complete.
Now to address the spire one more time. I decided that Minwax Poly Wipe was not working very well. The clear coat absorbed into the wood after two applications and still left a dull finish. I then selected a clear spar varnish and it finally gave me the results I was looking for.
The screws holding the movement were so loose they had to be replaced with bolts. The coil gong and base were cleaned and stripped of years of rust. I then oiled the movement, put the clock in beat and attached the dial face. The moon hands look good but are not original to the clock. While I have the hour hand the original needle type minute hand is long gone.
With the cased cleaned and with the addition of the right spire base and steeple the clock now looks presentable. Although I was able to make the spire on a metal lathe it it has certain limitations and I now see the value in using a wood lathe. I am also pleased that the movement is running but at some point it must be cleaned and properly serviced. At the moment there are just too many other projects standing in the way.
A great little project and a test of my veneering and woodworking skills.