If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you’ll know I do a lot of living in the past. Not socially - I’m not dressing up in a mourning coat and going to tea parties, but I do wear the good old rose-tinted glasses when viewing some parts parts of history and I live in a house filled with antiques, which brings me to the subject of this post.
I’ve always had a love of clocks. I think it started with the funky flip-card clock my mother bought at a garage sale. I remember sitting in my room and watching the small, spinning second wheel in anticipation of the next card falling. From there my horological obsession progressed to the grandfather clock that sat in my brother dining room house and spread out to just about every antique clock I’ve ever met which means it’s no surprise I’ve started collecting my clocks of my own.
My collection began about twenty years ago with a little Sessions mantle clock that I bought at a property sale. It’s a simple camel-backed clock that sits in our hallway and still bongs out the passing hours. Next came a cathedral Kenmore (yes as in washing machines) early electric clock. It’s old enough that the motor has to be hand-started when the power goes out. And the latest addition is the real reason I’m writing today.
I’ve been looking for a nice wall clock with some presence for a while and recently I found a promising one in an online auction. I put in a bid and lo and behold, we had a new addition to our family. After a few weeks and negotiating the minor rapids of shipping fragile antiques across state lines, a huge and heavy box arrived and we unpacked the long anticipated delivery.
In the auction the clock was simply listed as an “Antique German Wall Clock” and described as “working when left house”, however there’s always a risk when buying sight unseen. The clock arrived not only not working, but with the minute hand lodged between the glass and wood of the front case so that it couldn’t be opened. It didn’t take long to realize that the movement had shifted, sliding upward during shipping and jamming the hand. I managed to open the case without tearing a hand off the movement and discovered I had a project on my hands.
A case clock essentially consists of an exterior housing (the case) which contains and protects the mechanics of the clock (the movement) and dial. The movement is either mounted to the case or it sits on a shelf which may or may not be removable. In my clock this shelf had been replaced sometime in the past with a relatively flimsy piece of what looked like paneling. This had broken in half and subsequently been shoddily repaired which had, either prior to or during shipping, the repair had given way. Closer inspection also revealed that the hammers which strike the chimes had been badly bent, probably when the movement slid up inside the case. Relatively simple repairs (I hope).
My first move was to remove the movement from the case and detach it from the shelf, easy enough. I then made a preliminary effort to straighten the hammers, something I’m sure I’ll need to make adjustments to align the hammers with the chime bars once I remount the movement and put it back into the case. In the meantime I thought I’d do some research on the clock itself.
Often a clock will have the maker’s mark on the face of the dial, however mine only contained the words “Made in Germany”. I removed the movement to replace the shelf, so I checked the back and found a mark - a clock face with wings. A little internet wizardry revealed that this is the mark of the Kienzle Clock Company. Kienzle was founded in 1822 by Johannes Schenker and by the 1890’s had branches in Milan, Paris, and London. They started producing pendulum wall clocks, but eventually branched out into watches and alarm clocks and, by 1900, they were making time clocks. The company was innovative, adopting the “American Method” of making clocks with standardized parts and producing some of the first European wristwatches. Near the end of the thirties, Kienzle produced two of its most iconic clocks: the Zodiac and the World Time Clock, designs that reflected the Art Deco principles of streamlined, geometric design. But there’s always a problem when looking into the history of German products - World War II and the Nazis.
Kienzle’s hands aren’t clean when it comes to committing atrocities against the peoples of Europe. During the war they manufactured wrist and pocket watches for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe as well as chronograph 8-day clocks for use in Messerschmitt and Heinkel aircraft. Their factories employed slave labor from Poland and other conquered areas, meaning any watch or clock produced between 1933 and 1945 probably was produced by labor drawn from concentration camps and its cogs are likely oiled with the blood of oppressed people. You can probably understand my relief at finding the trademark on my clock dated its production to sometime in the 1890’s.
Kienzle survived the war, going on to produce dashboard clocks for Rolls-Royce and Bentley as well as some of the first self-winding, solar, and quartz clocks. In 1997 Kienzle was taken over by Highway Holdings Group, but it returned to Germany five years later as Kienzle AG. Where it used to have offices around the world, it now employs just 450 workers in Hamburg where it originally began.
So, now I embark on repairing the old 120 year-old ticker. With luck she’ll keep good time for another 100 years, marking minutes long after everyone’s forgotten my name. I’ll keep you updated on her progress.