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"The Master Clockmaker" Joseph Ives of Connecticut

By Lockwood Barr

Hobbies - The Magazine for Collectors, January, 1939

Ives Wagon Spring

      Soon after Eli Terry had arrived at volume production of his 30-hour wooden shelf clock, between 1816 and 1820, Joseph Ives began experiments with a spring driven mechanism to attach to this wooden movement and take the place of the weights. It was a novel and ingenious power plant - original in conception and unlike anything ever used before or since in the art of clockmaking. The springs were multileaf flat steel strips. There were links, levers and cams to equalize spring pressures as the clock ran down. There were drums to compound the pressures, as pullies had been used to compound the weights in the tall clocks.

      There exists a wagon spring clock - an experimental but advanced working model - made apparently by Joseph Ives sometime between 1816 and 1820. It is owned by Howard Palmer of Westerly, R. I., a discriminating collector of the Briwtol type of shelf clocks. This experimental model has a 30-hour wooden movement with wooded roller pinions to reduce the friction. It is housed in a Terry scroll and pillar type case. If Joseph Ives succeeded in developing this wagon spring power plant as a driving mechanism to displace weights in the Terry type shelf clock, examples of his commercial output have not survived. This one experimental model is the only one known.

      Joseph Ives, for reasons unknown, went to New York after 1825, and his name applears in the city directories including 1830, as a clockmaker on Poplar Street, Brooklyn. There are some fine eight day brass clocks with frames of the movement made of rolled brass strips crossed and riveted, and with roller pinions driven by the multi-leaf flat wagon springs. On the dial is, Joseph Ives, New York, and in the case is a printed label..."Manufactured and sold by Joseph Ives, Brooklyn, Long Island, New York."

      In the Connecticut Courant of June 29, 1830, there was an advertisement by a New York City clock dealer, offering clock peddlers the Ives Patent Lever Spring Clock. These clocks made at this tme had cases which show the influence of Duncan Phyfe, the great furniture maker of New York of that day.

      Joseph Ives was a poor business man, and usually was in financial difficulties. According to tradition, he was unable to meet his obligations around 1830, and faced debtors' prison in New York. John Birge, one of the great Bristol clockmakers, is supposed to have gotten him out of trouble, and persuaded him to return to Bristol. Soon after 1830, Joseph was back in Bristol working with C. & L. C. Ives, who were using his type of strip rolled brass frame clock movement with roller pinions.

      On August 27, 1834, a group of Bristol clockmakers headed by John Birge, for $10,000 purchased from Joseph Ives the "...benefits and privileges of certain inventions and improvements in the structure of clocks which benefit was secured to him, the said Ives, by Letters Patent being dated April 12, 1833..." These patents covered the Rolling Pinions, and Birge firms and Ives Firms made these clocks.

      After Joseph Ives returned from Brooklyn, he continued to work on his wagon spring clock, and Birge & Fuller (1844-1847) took over the rights to manufacture fine eight day brass clocks, driven by the wagon spring mechanism. These clocks have the double steeple gothic cases, and many examples are running perfectly today.

      On February 24, 1845, was issued to Joseph Ives the first patent covering this unique wagon spring idea. It seems passing strange that in this patent, no reference was made to the fact that for at least, twenty-five years this mechanism was in process of development and was utilized by Joseph Ives in his manufacturing between 1825-1830. No reference was made in that patent of 1845, to the existence of a previous patent covering this general principle - if such a patent had been issued to Joseph Ives or others as has been generally assumed.

      The exact date that coiled springs began to be adopted in Connecticut is not a matter of published record, but the shift from weights to coiled springs was well under way when Joseph Ives in 1845 secured his first wagon spring patent. The bulk of the clocks made in Connecticut after 1845 were driven by coiled steel springs, and these cost much less, obviously, to build than the clock with the wagon spring mechanism. Nevertheless, in spite of the severe competition of the cheaper clocks the wagon spring clock continued to be built up to 1860.

      It is passing strange that there exist today so few clocks with labels showing the name of Joseph Ives - especially since he was connected with so many firms in various capacities and so many firms manufactured under his patents. Sometime after Birge & Fuller (1844-47) stopped making wagon springs, Joseph Ives was in business by himself in Plainville, Farmington, Conn., making a cheap brass 30-hour movement driven by a single leaf bow shaped spring which like a horse shoe was above and around the morement. The case was shaped something like an hour glass or the famous Acorn clocks of J. C. Brown - Forestville Manufacturing Co.

      The actual date of the manufacture of those Ives clocks can not be ascertained, but apparently were made between 1847 and 1850. The interesting thing about these clocks is the label which reads: "Improved patent brass clocks manufactured by Joseph Ives, Plainville, Farmington, Ct." These movements had roller pinions and a long pendulum. Very few of these clocks are known to exist at this time.

      After Birge & Fuller (1844-47) ceased to manufacture eight-day clocks under the Ives patents, Irenus Atkins and his associates formed Atkins, Whiting & Co., and in 1850 made an agreement with Joseph Ives to work under his patents. That arrangement continued until 1856 when Joseph Ives terminated it because of non-fulfillment of the contract.

Submitted by: Samuel Kirk (##)

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