Terry - A few notes about the works of this famous American clockmaker

By J. E. Coleman

(Courtesy Horological Magazine)

HOBBIES - The Magazine for Collectors, January, 1938

      Like most of the partnerships to follow in the Connecticut Valley, that of Terry, Thomas and Hoadley was short lived. For about the latter part of the year 1813 Mr. Terry sold his interest to Thomas and Hoadley and moved to Plymouth Hollow. It was about this time that Terry began to experiment with the "Shelf Clock."


      Speaking of his father's activities up to this time, Henry Terry says, "The wooden clock with the long pendulum, adapted to a long case, being the only kind they made and for which there was any demand." In the photo (Fig. 1) four wooden movements are shown. Number one is a shelf clock (short pendulum) and numbers two, three and four are movements for long cases. All are thirty-hour movements. There were very few attempts to make an eight-day wooden clock, and still fewer of these are in circulation today. It can readily be seen from the photo that the shelf movement has five wheels in the time train. This, with the extreme heavy loss of power natural to the heavy construction of the cumbersome wooden wheels, make them very unsatisfactory time-keepers.

      In a special study of wooden clocks covering nearly twenty years I have seen only three eight day movements. I find this is very nearly the same average for other clockmakers familiar with the wooden clock. I know of some who are fairly familiar with them and who have never seen or heard of the eight-day movement, believing all wooden clocks to be thirty hour.

      Many writers have much to say relative to Terry's improved clocks, but few discuss accurately just what the improvements were. Chauncey Jerome in his book says, "Mr. Eli Terry, in the year 1814, invented a beautiful shelf clock made of wood which completely revolutionized the whole business." Mrs. N. Hudson Moore says, "It took Mr. Terry several years to perfect a wood clock which satistied him but in 1814 he had succeeded. This clock ran thirty hours. The construction was quite new, for both time and striking trains had a greater number of wheels, and it was so radically different that it was substantialy a new manufacture. The two inventions which made this clock such a novelty consisted in placing the dial works between the plates of the frame instead of between the front plate and the dial. The other novelty was the mounting of the verge on a steel pin inserted in one end of a short arm, a screw passing through the other end and into the front plate." Both Mrs. Moore and Jerome are at variance with the patent offices in placing the date at 1814, for we saw recently that Terry's first patent applying to wooden clocks was granted July 12, 1816. This might be explained in the light of Mrs. Moore's statement, "it took Mr. Moore several years------" and that Terry only patented the type of clock "which satisfied him" which has naturally come at the end of a period of experimentation, or at the patent office date of 1816.

      There can be no doubt but that much of the time between 1813, when he sold out to Thomas and Hoadley, and the granting of his patent in 1816, was devoted to experimentation and the perfecting of the shelf clock or short pendulum clock. It is the firm belief of this writer that the idea of the shelf clock was originated by Terry. The shortening of the pendulum was certainly not new. Clocks with pendulums much shorter than the Royal (Seconds beat) were quite common in England and other countries, while the Willards had been using a short pendulum since about 1800. The English table clcks were finished in back as well as in front, often having fancy engraved and decorated back plates and glass back doors. The Banjo clocks were not finished at the back as they were intended to hang upon the wall.

      In the photo, movements one, three and four are seen from the front while number two shows the back plate of the long pendulum type and the count wheel mounted thereon, also the verge or crotch wire protruding through the pack plate, for in the long case clocks the pendulum was suspended from the back plate, very much in the same manner as the English type of hall clock for this same period.

      Terry not only put the dial train between the plates, but he took the count wheel from the back plate and mounted it on the front side of the front plate and dial. This left the back plate entirely devoid of any working parts and enabled him to place the movement in his shelf clock flush with the back and greatly reduce the thickness or depth of the shelf clock case. The wheel sizes of both trains were reduced about 50 per cent, but the addition of one wheel in the time train and two in the striking side left little leewey to reduce the plate sizes. The plates on the long pendulum type usually run about six and one-half by eight inches. The former followed the English style by having the stirke hammer extend upward and the bell mounted on top of the movement, while the perfected type placed the hammer in the bottom of the movement, extending downward and mounted on the back of the case.

      Each step in the evolution of the perfected short pendulum, wooden clock during this period (1813-1816) must have been very interesting. However, very little is definitely recorded and we have to arrive at conclusions very much like the naturalist who visions whole prehistoric animals from a few bones or fossils. Through the courtesy of L. V. Lockwood we are permitted to reproduce the photo of Terry's very first model of the short pendulum clock. A study of this shows that the strike portion was omitted entirely and that no effort was made to build a case. The hands and dial are those from the then current, long case clock and it is reasonable to suppose, of the same size. Those dials were approximately eleven inches wide by seventeen inches high. Note the counter balance on the back of the minute hand. This indicates that the question of power which confronted Terry was no small problem.


      We also note that this movement is in a "pillar and scroll" case. Jerome and a few other writers mention the pillar and scroll case as being made as early as 1814. The final model for this style of case was approximately four inches taller, but of about the same width. This additional height was made by making the painted glass panel of the door higher. Both clocks carried the same dial sizes, approximately eleven by eleven inches.

      Since the weights of the perfected movements were not compounded, and we know that Terry's principal problem during the steps from this type to the perfected type was to secure sufficient run for the weights, we conclude that the additional four inches were added to give the necessary run rather than from the standpoint of design, although the taller model is much more graceful and a better looking clock. From this to the perfected movement was but a few short steps and if we place the pillar and scroll case at 1814 they covered only two years, the principal change being the addition of one wheel to the time train and two to the strike train. Some time during this period Terry turned out several shelf clocks in the same short pillar and scroll case with substantially the same movement construction as seen in Figure 3 with one exception. The escape wheel was mounted upon a much longer staff and extended through the dial immediately over the numeral XII, the verge and pendulum were also mounted on the front side of the dail in full view. It was in this clock that Terry first mounted his verge by means of the disk. Some of these clocks had holes cut in the bottom of the case to permit the weight to pass on through to the shelf upon which the clock rested, thereby gaining an additional three inches or so in the run.

      Terry also used this same movement in a few other clocks which he produced during this same period. The cases were plain rectangular box-like affairs about the same size as the short pillar and scroll cases minus the feet and all top trimmings. There was no division on the door and the glass extended the full length and was not painted. No dial was used on these clocks, instead the numerals were painted on the back of the glass. The hands traveled in the usual place but behind the numerals on the door to register the time leaving the full movement exposed to view.

      It is quite possible that this type of clock was built before those which had the escape wheel visible and that Terry got the idea of exposing it from the clock without a dial.

Fig 1 Fig 2 Fig 3 Fig 4 Fig 5

Submitted by: Samuel Kirk (2006-07-02 14:32:32)

      Comment: One of the pictures was placed in the Magazine Upside Down. Kind of neat to find these tiny errors after so many years.