Early Mechanical Timekeeping

Early Mechanical Timekeeping


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Collective Skills


The standard clock produced in the colonies during the 18th century was a brass-movement tallcase clock. Many skills were required to build this type of clock, skill passed down through an apprenticeship, usually seven years of training. Although the earliest craftsmen probably carried out all processes themselves, in the latter part of the century an increasing number of rough castings of metal components for movements and cases were available from England.


As clockmakers became more numerous and specialized skills more diverse, clocks were more and more frequently the product of collective labor. In their book, Clock Making in New England, 1725-1825, Philip Zea and Robert C. Cheney shed light on many trades involved in the production of a tallcase clock.


A brass and lead founder cast parts of the movement, pendulum, and the weights; a bell founder cast the resonant tone into the metal; a brazier made the sheet metal of the dial; a die maker cut the screws; the maker of springs allowed the lever in the movement to perform; an ironmonger stockpiled material of appropriate grade; and a blacksmith made iron fasteners like nails and pins.


Even the most self-sufficient clockmakers rarely did their own casework as cabinetmaking was a separate craft. Cabinetmakers constructed cases in size, fashion, and ornamentation to suit the buyer and his pocketbook. Clockmakers and cabinetmakers often worked in tandem so that the finished clock could be fitted to the new case before delivery to the customer.