Connecticut’s Naugatuck River Valley is rich in clock history, containing such places (with the older name in brackets) as: Winsted (Winchester), Torrington (Wolcottville), Thomaston (Plymouth Hollow), Waterbury (Mattituck), Naugatuck (Salem Bridge), and Ansonia on the east bank nine miles north west of New Haven. The falls in the river provided an excellent source of water power causing industry to locate here.
Ansonia was named for Anson C. Phelps who caused the Ansonia Brass Co. (part of the Phelps Dodge Co.) to be built here. Rolled brass became commercially available in quantity in the United States sometime during the early 1830’s. After 1838 it had generally replaced cast brass and wood for making clock movements. Since clocks provided a market for brass, what could have been more natural for Phelps to do than to start a clock company in connection with the brass operations to use more of his own product. In 1851 The Ansonia Clock Company came into existence as a subsidiary company. It is probable from the clocks and data now available, that even from the very start two firm names were used. Ansonia Clock Co. was one, and Ansonia Brass & Clock Co. was the other; both marked "Ansonia, Conn." It seems they used aggressive sales promotion methods, working on the premise that the more clocks made and sold, the more brass they would use. A store or outlet in Boston is mentioned in the city’s 1854 Directory with the Ansonia Clock Co. name at 43 Hanover Street "nearly opposite Portland St — Manufacturers and Dealers in Cocks and Timepieces of every style and variety!" That last part covers many different clocks if we keep in mind the quantity of differing cases being turned out in Connecticut alone due to the freeing of the designs from the fall of weights as springs became the motive power.
Ansonia clocks proved to be good and saleable. The business prospered until about 1859 when the volume of business justified the separation of the clock and brass companies. In the very tough financial year of 1873, the clock company was incorporated.
Spring wound shelf clocks of many patterns were the principal type of clock produced, although an occasional ogee weight driven with the Ansonia label has been reported. Regulator wall clocks were also made. The cases were all of wood, with mahogany, rosewood or other veneer. About 1870 the name Ansonia Brass & Battery Co. was used on some wood and iron cased marine 8 day and 30 hour clocks.
The year 1878 brought about a complete change of location. For some reason, not now entirely clear, the Ansonia Clock Company acquired a factory in Brooklyn, New York, and transferred the entire operation there. If you find "Ansonia, Conn." on your Ansonia clock then it was made prior to 1878. Subsequent clocks are marked New York. Disaster struck almost at once in the new location for in 1879, the first year of operation, a fire destroyed the Brooklyn factory. Fires are always disastrous and clock plants were particularly easy prey of fire. Most all the larger clock companies suffered one or more. When this happened, the Company records that would help us to know more about their operations were burned too.
The resiliency of Ansonia was good. The plant was immediately rebuilt, and they were back in full production by 1880. They successfully operated until active production in the Brooklyn plant ceased about 1930. Russian interests purchased the machinery and shipped it to Russia. In 1969, the rights to the use of the name, trade marks, and goodwill were transferred to Ansonia Clock Co., Inc., Lynnwood, Washington.
"Early American Clocks"; Edited by Don Maust, 1971
Warman Publishing Co, Uniontown, PA
Ansonia Clock Company
The Ansonia Company was best known for its decorative imitation gold, and ornate novelty clocks. Petulant cupids and angels, deep thinkers, athletes, babies, and languid ladles drape and adorn the ornamental designs, that characterize the name and products of Ansonia.
Anson Phelps founded the Company In Derby, Connecticut. An importer of tin, brass, and copper In the Eastern section of the states, he already owned a copper mill (hence the ormolu). Phelps maintained considerable financial backing, as well as contacts and knowledgeable business associates in his venture. From such formidable beginnings he suffered two serious setbacks. In 1854 the factory burned at a loss of several thousand dollars. At this time the Ansonia Clock Company became the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, as Phelps had little choice but to move the clock facilities into the standing copper mill. By 1879, or thereabouts, the clock company was reformed, and manufacturing operations were moved to the Brooklyn section of New York. Unfortunately this factory also burned, after a scant few months of operation in its new location.
By the late 19th and early 20th century, Phelps had reestablished his name in the clock industry as one of the malor manufacturers. The factory was rebuilt and expanded. Ansonia sales officers and agents could be found all over the world. It was during this time that many different designs of clocks were included in the manufacturing process: alarms, cabinet, carriage, crystal regulators, galley, kitchen, mantel (or shelf), onyx and marble, porcelain and china, statue, etc. Ansonia was in its heyday, at the height of its productivity, fame, and power.
In 1904 the company had attempted to jump on "the dollar watch" bandwagon, perhaps as an ineffectual guard against the first hints of potential financial difficulties, (Ansonia clocks were not cheap.) The idea behind the dollar watch was to make it in the same manner as a cheap clock. This concept bore little resemblance to the traditional, intricate style that went into the handcrafted watch. It did not pan out. Instead, designers turned to the tourbilion watch, concocted by the French genius, Breguet. Watches are difficult timekeepers due to the unstable positions they are likely to fall into. Breguet’s watch had a turning escapement which minimized these errors in accuracy. American designers went one step further, allowing the entire movement to rotate inside the case. The Ansonia Company produced a similar non-jeweled model. They sold millions of these inexpensive watches in the two and a half decades before they went out of business; an interesting comparison to the scrolled elaborate clockwork the Ansonia collector is familiar with.
Just before World War I, Ansonia’s strongest selling point, the novelty clock, became subject to fierce competition. Rather than maintain competitive and realistic prices for their clocks, they attempted to cut their losses, offering clocks at "old pricing." This tactic failed, and Ansonia began a downward spiral that resulted in heavy losses. By 1929 the majority of the timekeeping machinery and tooling were sold to the Russian government and shipped out of the country. This formed the basis (along with the remains of a watch company purchased a year later) of the clock and watch industry in Moscow. None of the major clock industries survived the Depression and subsequent Second World War intact. Ansonia was the first to go under.
See also :
"Your Ulitimate Antique Clocks Bookstore"
Clock Collector Dave Weisbart
National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors