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"The Master Clockmaker" Joseph Ives of Connecticut

By Lockwood Barr

Hobbies - The Magazine for Collectors, January, 1939

Joseph Ives

      Joseph Ives left his imprint indelibly upon the clock industry, but he did more. To him is due the credit for first developing ways and means of rolling brass into sheets and strips for use in clockmaking; and from that grew the rolled brass industry which, incidentally, is located principally in Connecticut.

      Joseph Ives, being a younger brother, began working in the Ives shop in Bristol. In 1812, he was in business for himself making wooden movements for tall clocks. Some of these were 30-hour, and others 8-day movements, and in these later he placed wooden rollers on steel wires held in place by two wooden rings or collars - called rolling pinion. During 1819-1823, Joseph Ives was in the firm of Ives & Lewis, his partner being Levi Lewis. Clocks with the label of that firm are rare. They made 30-hour wooden movement shelf clocks in which there were roller pinions. The pendulums were long so that a case taller than the conventional scroll and pillar case was required. This case had the broken arch across the top with brass urns. There were no feet since the clock was designed to sit on a shelf or stand on the mantel. The door was the whole length of the case and below the dial there was a looking glass. At the bottom of the glass was a narrow panel of painted glass containing the peep hole for the pendulum. In general, this case was a modification of the cases used on his 1818-1819 clocks with plates of iron and brass wheels and roller pinions.

      In 1822, Joseph Ives obtained a patent upon a looking glass clock case and, incidentally, the case of this Ives & Lewis (1819-1823) clock is almost identical with the cases used by Jeromes & Darrow soon after they were organized in 1824. These cases appear to have been made by the same case maker - perhaps it was Chauncey Jerome since he, at that period, was essentially a casee maker, but the patent on the case was issued to Joseph Ives.

      It was not until 1833 that Joseph Ives secured his patents upon his famous brass rolling pinions but as has been indicated, he had used roller pinions in nearly all the movements he had produced during the 20 years prior to the issuance of the patents.

      When Eli Terry patented, in 1816, his 30-hour wooden shelf clock, most of his contemporaries quickly "pirated" his plan for a clock. But there is no evidence that Joseph Ives followed suit.

      When the tall clock with wooden movements went out before the cheap 30-hour wooden shelf clock, Joseph Ives began making fine brass eight day clocks with cast-brass wheels. And to the end of his days, he devoted his time and attention to creating fine mechanisms and was never interested in the mass production of cheap clocks with wooden or brass movements.

      Seldom did Joseph Ives do anything in the conventional manner, and he refused to follow the set pattern in clockmaking, as is evidenced by his radical departures from the orthodox - such as his Wagon Spring driving mechanism to take the place of customary weights - his rolling pinions; and, his introduction of rolled strip brass. Under the old method, clock frames were laboriously cut individually from cast brass plates which had been hammered and filed to the desired thicknesses. Joseph Ives made the plates or frames from rolled brass strips crossed and riveted, so that the arbors went through both thicknesses of the two strips where they crossed. In his patent of 1833, covering his roller pinions, there is a line drawing of a brass movement with the frame built up of strips crossed and riveted, which definitely dated this development before 1833; and there are Joseph Ives clocks made before 1830 that have such movements.

      Chauncey Jerome, in his autobiography written in 1860, records "...an Ives family in Bristol were quite conspicuous as clockmakers. They were good mechanics. One of these, Joseph Ives, has done a great deal towards improving the eight day brass clock..."

      And Jerome might have truthfully added, that had not Joseph Ives introduced the use of rolled brass before 1833, and had not the brass industry gotten under way in Connecticut about that time, the clockmaking industry in Connecticut could not have developed so rapidly as a result of the 30-hour cheap rolled brass clock introduced by Jerome after 1838. Incidentally, it was the competition from Jerome's cheap brass clock which kept Joseph Ives in financial trouble all the rest of his life - for he specialized in fine brass clcoks.

      In his books entitled, "Connecticut Clockmakers of the 18th Century", Penrose R. Hoopes wrote: "...the true significance of Joseph Ives' invention was not appreciated by the inventor or his contemporaries. It lay not in the rolling pinion principal, nor in any of the other details of mechanical design, but in the application of a new material - rolled brass - in the construction of clocks. This was an achievement of the first magnitude, and while it cannot be asserted that the idea was not anticipated by German clockmakers, Joseph Ives is certainly entitled to the place of the founder of the American rolled brass industry..."

      The making of the tall clock with wooden movements came to an abrupt end in Connecticut soon after Eli Terry developed his scroll and pillar 30-hour wooden movement shelf clock, (patented in 1816). While fine cast brass eight day movements for both tall clocks, and wall clocks continued to be made even after the War of 1812, the number was limited, and grew less year by year. Finally, the tall clocks ended but the fine 8-day wall and shelf clocks with brass movements continued to be made in spite of the growing competition from the low priced wooden movements.

      Joseph Ives in 1818-19 developed an 8-day movement with plates of iron and the wheels cut from cast brass. These movements had rolling pinions. The strike train was actuated by the rack and snail mechanism. Because of the fall of the weight and the very long pendulum (39 inches), these clocks required a case about 5 feet tall. They were made to hang on the wall, stand on a shelf or on the mantel. This was a very accurate timekeeper, and the case was very handsome. The retail price of this clock must have been quite high in comparison with the 30-hour wooden clocks which sold for $15, and not a great many of this type were made. However, it was the beginning of a series of inventions which had a wide influence upon the clock, as a piece of mechanism. On March 21, 1822, Joseph Ives was granted the patent, upon what he termed a "Looking Glass Clock Case," and these are the cases in which the 1818-19 movements are now found. In reality this Ives clock was a step in between the tall clock and the brass shelf clock as it was developed after 1816.

      Coiled Main springs had been used in England, and on the Continent for both clocks and watches during the 17th century. Because of the prohibitive costs of coiled springs, and the fact that weights afforded a more accurate source of driving power, the New England clockmakers were quite content with weights. It was not until between 1840 and 1845 that the American clock industry began to change over from weights to coiled steel springs for the driving power.

Submitted by: Samuel Kirk (##)

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