Time for Some Clock Talk


You might remember my purchase of the little vintage clock with the swinging girl on the right a few months ago. I found it at the L&L Fleatique for $15, and it needed a little work to get it running again. (Cheers to my dad, for his handy-dandy MacGyver sensibilities that helped it to do so).

Then yesterday, at the Ohio River Boulevard antique mall, I stumbled upon another clock in the genre, and at an even lower price... well... I simply couldn't say no.

Of course, this got my brain ticking over just when these were made and what kind of trends spurred them on. So today, I thought I'd share that information with you.

According to the Jitterbuzz antique clock web site, from the 1700s onward, clocks had become a symbol of status and taste, leading to the creation of tall, elaborate grandfather and grandmother timepieces. But as homes transitioned from large family mansions to city apartments and more modest homes, there suddenly was no longer room for the great tall clocks of previous generations...

And this meant that the clock began to double-up with other decorative items-- y'know-- tchotchkies.


By the 1940s, clocks were elaborate figural displays for mantles or walls, including everything from ships and steering wheels, to stagecoaches and horses, and little animated figures like my children on the swings.


The Jitterbuzz site claims that the United Metal Goods company of Brooklyn, maker of my newest clock, "put the schlock in clock." And certainly the appeal of these clocks is subjective. But their depiction of the trends and interests of the 40s or 50s makes them very much a part of their... er... time.

Meanwhile, I found out a bit of information on the clock I already had. According to Roger Russell's well-researched site, my green clock was produced by Mastercrafters Clock and Radio Company in the 1948-49 timeframe.


It's Model 119, and called "Mantle Swingtime" or "Girl on a Swing." It was also the first motion clock to be made by Mastercrafters. Where auction information indicates the United Metal Goods clock plays music for the tiny couple to swing to, this one-- as far as I know-- never did.

But like the United Metal Goods clock, this has a little light, which lights up the scene behind it. And the figure swings in time to the clock motion.


Each clock uses a landscape print-- popular of its time, to create the background for the figures making up the pendulum.

Roger Russell indicates there were two types of prints used in the "Girl on a Swing" mantle clock. One, like mine here, has the little girl sitting in front of a little country house with a separate plastic fence in front of it. In another scene, apparently, she sits in front of a more modern-looking ranch home.

The print is in the Atkinson Fox style-- one of the things I liked about it-- though I have not been able to identify that particular print in my Fox book.

This clock came in two finishes-- "green onyx" as shown here and a "walnut," similar to the faux wood look of the United Metal Goods clock. The Girl on a Swing also came in a wall clock version.

I've also seen the Girl on a Swing clock case used with a bird-figure on a perch.

The material these clocks are made of is called "tenite," which Wikipedia indicates was an early plastic-- a cellulosic thermoplastic, to be specific-- first created in 1929 . It was manufactured by Eastman Chemicals, using softwood as a raw material.

It thought it was also interesting to note that Mr. Russell located the "Girl on a Swing" clock in a Joseph Hagn wholesale catalog around 1950, and it retailed at $15.95. More than I actually paid for the item in 2008!

Well, I hope you all enjoyed this little venture back in...er... time.

And as for me-- it's time to go!

16 comments:

tami said...

i gave you an award- check it out :)

ANDREA said...

I am ga-ga, gaa-gaa (spell??) over those clocks. I have a thing for clocks too. The one that I recently bought plays a different song on every hour and at night, I have to smother it with towels or it would keep us all awake!! I'm headed to the Quad Cities on the Illinois/Iowa border tomorrow and I've found my list of thrift shops. Hope I can sneak some in between church conference meetings!!

Da Old Man said...

My mother used to be into clocks. She had a couple antique ones, a mantle clock (which made no sense since we were mantleless) and a big wall clock that looked like a grandfather clock top, I guess. I never developed the appreciation for them, though.

timethief said...

My husband has restored a clock that has belonged to his great grandfather. He's a bit of a clock nut so we have 4 old clocks now. They all work well but the ticking is so loud that we choose not to have them operating. I really enjoyed this piece on the history of "swinger" clocks, but I won't be sending my hubby the url as I have no space for another clock and without doubt, he would want one.

Jenn Thorson said...

Tami- Oh, gosh- thanks! I'll have to check it out.

Andrea- I hope you get some great thrifting in! And have a safe trip, too.

Da Old Man- Ah, you can have mantle-clocks and be mantle-free. You just put it on the big wooden cabinet of the vintage TV set. :)

TimeThief- Heh, funny that you go by Timethief, and your husband collects clocks-- you're the perfect match! :) And, no, I don't want my post to cause a clock-related domestic. :) I bet his clock collection looks great all together, though.

Pink said...

Wow, kitch incarnate and a nice history lesson. Good finds!

Carrie said...

I love to learn more about decorative objects. Your post is excellent for the history lesson and the detailed photos.

rethoryke said...

Some early plastics [ex: celluloid] have a nasty tendency to spontaneously combust -- are there any special care tips for clocks like these?

Sher said...

LOVE those clocks! Now I want one!

Klay Kisses said...

Awesome clocks. I have one that my father sent me a while back but the glass face is broke. Do you know where to get them from? Also, it seems it does not work. The only info I have on it is inside:
Mayfair is the name on the front.
Franz Hermle
Two (2) Jewels
Made in West Germany
Any info would be great!
Love your site.

Jenn Thorson said...

Pink- Kitsch does tickle me. I kinda wish I could have a kitsch house and a separate tasteful house. :)

Carrie- Hey, thank you. It's always fun to find out the background on items. I figure, I might as well share.

Rhet- If it's a case of getting too hot for the material it's made of, there really isn't much you can do other than don't keep the item turned on at length. I'd research an individual piece to see if there were reports of such combustion before leaving it unattended or plugged in for hours. Also, it's always good to check out vintage pieces for frayed wiring, improper plugs, and ensure replacement bulbs aren't beyond the wattage that was originally intended.

Sher- I've seen a few lurking during my travels, so you very well may come across one!

Klay Kisses- Hm... I'm not really knowledgeable about clocks in general... I'd say you might be able to search Ebay for an appropriate sized glass face for it, and then possibly get it installed more locally by someone who specializes in repairing clocks or possibly even watches.

Caroline said...

Love your clock ladies, and it is always interesting to find out things about your finds.
I have an award for you, if you like you can pick it up from my blog.

Outdoor lighting said...

Your clocks are amazing. I am so jealous.

Sarah Butler said...

I got very emotional when I read about the "Girl on a Swing" clock. My mother had one that needed repairing. She took it to be repaired and the man never returned it and moved to another state. Before my mother died in 2006 she often talked about that clock. My father had given it to her about 1950 before he died in 1959. I would love to find another one of the clocks to have just because of the memories. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

Chelsea V. said...

We used to have this exact clock (the green-ish one), a gift from my Grandma to my parents. It always sat on a table and I loved the little swining girl inside. My Mom sold it a few weeks ago before her move to FL and I was extremely upset about it. I think it's a beautiful clock and holds a special place in my heart. It needed repairing but I wouldn't mind paying for that, as long as I had it. Thank you for sharing, and I hope I run into one again that I can buy.

Nora S said...

We just came across a clock exactly like the green one in your picture and were looking for more information on them and what they are worth. This one still works and is so cute! My father-in-law is looking to sell it eventually.