This is the only true gingerbread clock I have in my collection, temporarily. By this summer (2019) it will be returned to a family relation.
Can you get this thing working, my sister said? Sure, I said. Grand Assortment is an odd name for a Sessions clock, I said. The name certainly lacks imagination, but this particular clock is one of three in a series and sold for $4.00 in 1915 and could be configured with alarm and/or cathedral bell. This particular clock is Grand #3.
My personal view is that gingerbread clocks are unattractive and gaudy. Thousands of these steam-pressed oak-cased clocks were made, all are now over the 100+ year mark and they can be had for almost nothing today. This one was purchased at auction for $20 and listed as a non-working clock. Is it worth fixing? Yes, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the movement and the case is in decent shape. Quite often the crown is broken or cracked but this one is in good condition overall, except for the dial face.
Gingerbread clocks, also called “kitchen clocks,” were introduced after the American Civil War and remained popular until the end of World War I. The term is derived from the tradition of making decorative gingerbread houses which began in Germany in the early 1800s. The broad application of the gingerbread style applied to almost anything included clocks.
As mentioned, the clocks’ cases were steam-pressed oak and occasionally other hardwoods were used. Various designs were pressed by a heat-bond process which was quite advanced for the time. It was not only a real time-saver; spectacular designs were pressed within seconds but it saved on labour costs. The door appears to be original though usually these clocks have a monotone tablet design. This one is in four colours and not anything like the designs in the promotional pamphlet. It looks hand colorized.
The label on the back is 100% intact and below it in pen it says, “Benson Clock, Main St. Hudson Que, purchased at their auction on sale in late 1940s”. There are three factory drilled holes in the inside floor. As they were “packed six in a case” my guess is that the clocks were bolted together for shipping.
The clock is 22 inches tall, ten inches wide with a 6 inch dial. It is a time and strike movement striking the hour and half hour on a coiled gong.
I am not a huge fan of Sessions movements, particularly from this vintage. Too many helper springs, poorly designed clicks, frustrating to re-assemble and setting up the strike side is always finicky. But once set up properly they will run reliably for years and they are reasonable time-keepers.
When I received the clock both mainsprings were fully wound. I always wonder what condition the springs are in particularly if they have been in the fully wound position for several years. If the mainsprings are set they should be replaced as they will have insufficient power to run a full cycle. However, once on the spring winder and unwound they appeared to be in very good shape. Minor rust on the outer part of the mainsprings was easily removed with steel wool and WD-40.
All parts were placed in the ultrasonic cleaner and I was impressed with how clean and shiny everything turned out including the lantern pinions.
There was wear typical of clocks of this age. The movement required 4 bushings; T2 front, T3, T4 rear, and S3 front though fewer than I expected.
Poorly engineered clicks frequently cause mainspring failures in Sessions clocks. Unless there is additional damage to teeth and arbours, simply replacing the click, rivet and spring is all that is required. The clicks on this movements are in very good condition and re-assembly went without a hitch.
Grand Assortment gingerbread clocks can be had for very little money. Having said that I saw one listed recently on Kijiji (Canadian on-line for sale site) for $300 and another at this antique store in British Columbia for $349. Am I missing something; are they that valuable? I would never pay that kind of money for any gingerbread clock but others will.
I cleaned up the case with Murphys Soap without disturbing the patina. Or, is patina just another word for dirt as reader Bob G suggests.
This is a family members clock and I don’t mind doing the work but if they want a better dial they will have to source it themselves. The colorized tablet, well, that’s one I’ve never seen. Personally, I do not think it is worth spending any more money on this clock and I am fine with how it looks and certainly happy with how it runs. I know my sister will be pleased.