Monday, December 29, 2014

A Rare Find (AKA: The "Mystery" Wooden Works Clock)

I try not to overuse the term "rare" since so many people throw the term around meaninglessly, but in this case, it's not an exaggeration.

I bought this clock earlier this year (May 2014), and I meant to post it here sooner. I came across it on eBay, and since it's just barely even a case, it didn't attract too many bidders. I usually AVOID buying this kind of clock because putting it all back together will cost far more than buying a complete original clock. If you assume that a movement will cost around 80-100$ plus shipping, plus a painted dial to fit, at around 50$ plus shipping, in addition to hands, a bob, a pair of weights, recreating a backboard, fitting antique glass, and rebuilding the missing top, it hardly seems worth the trouble and expense. Especially since it's such a plain case.

HOWEVER, what attracted me to this particular clock case is it's incredible rarity. WHY is it rare? That can be a bit hard to explain, but in short, because of the way that the door is divided, and the lack of columns. More on this shortly.

As a quick side note, I just want to point out that just because an antique is rare, it doesn't necessarily make it more valuable. I would think that if this clock were complete, and placed in an auction, it would fetch about the same price as similar wooden works clocks, but I could be wrong.

The original eBay photos were quite decent, so I've included them along with some of my own.

The latch is a typical "key" shaped one from around the late 1830s, and into the 1840s. It has been damaged and bent downwards.

Here are a few of my photos. The case's main body is close to the size of a standard ogee clock, and not the normal height of a wooden works clock. The main case is 26" x 15 1/2" x 4 1/2". The upper door opening for the dial is 9 3/4" square, so the dial would likely have been around 10" x 10".

The inscription behind the central door panel (enhanced below) appears to read W. C. Kilbreath Cumberland Clock Repairer one year (Good). It would have been nice to have a date with this note. I was able to find one mention of a W. C. Kilbreath in Cumberland Ohio in an old National Tribune paper dated Jan 30th 1896, but that's all I could find.

EDIT: News! I think I found him! Unfortunately there's no mention of clock repair, but it's highly possible he worked on clocks after he retired.

Name: William Calvin KILBREATH
Birth: 18 SEP 1828 in Booths Ferry, VA. (W.Va)
Death: 30 OCT 1900
Burial: Cumberland Cem., Cumberland, OH

After an illness of but one week, with congestion of the lungs the venerable Wm. Calvin Kilbreath died at his home north of Cumberland at about 9:00 p.m., Tues. aged 72. He was born near Booth's Ferry, VA (now W.VA) sept. 18, 1828 and was married to Mary Nelson on Sept. 9, 1851. To this union eleven children were born, nine of whom survive. On the 7th of Aug., 1862 he enlisted in Co. B, 97th O.V.I and served 14 months, mostly as a hospital nurse. He was a faithful soldier, doing duty wherever assigned. Mr. Kilbreath was a member of the Presbyterian Church and was affiliated with the O.U.A.M. and G.A.R. His patriotism knew no bounds and upon every occasion he delighted to honor and display the flag for which he fought. He had been a resident of this vicinity many years and was highly esteemed by all who knew him. Beside his aged and grief stricken wife the following named children and 16 grandchildren remain: Peter N. of Cambridge; James C. of Cadiz; Margaret A. Smith of Spratt; Ella M. Moore of Zanesville; Martha E. Fox of Cumberland; U.G. of North Baltimore; C.A. and Dora O. Yerian of Cumberland and Wm. H. of Buffalo, OH. Funeral at the Pres. Church, 1:00 by Rev. H. C. Morledte. Remains laid to rest in Cumberland Cemetery.

Now, as I said, part of the reason this clock is so rare is because of the way that the door is divided into 3 sections. Very few clocks have doors with narrow panels in the centre. Several will have divisions at the bottom, like the clocks made by Silas Hoadley, which usually have a mirror below the dial, and a small painted tablet at the bottom with the "Time is Money" inscription. Almost no other clockmakers used 3 part divided doors. Many clocks have 2 doors, or built-in wooden panels that separate two doors (or a fixed panel under the door), like Putnam Bailey clocks, but none are divided like this particular clock. It's also highly unusual to see a wooden works clock case without turned columns, triangular columns, flat columns, reeded columns, or even flat/carved columns (like some rare Bishop & Bradley clocks).

I have archived (over the past decade) thousands of photos of rare and interesting clocks, both in the form of books (dozens) and from online sources (private collections, eBay listings, online auction houses, etc) and after hours of sifting through these, I found only ONE very similar clock made by Elbridge Atkins (sometimes misspelled Eldridge Atkins). The clock can be seen here:

It's not identical, only similar. It has a centre divided door, plain side pieces (no columns) and has a painted eagle tablet rather than a mahogany panel. Two other differences are the width of the side pieces flanking the door, and the use of an ivory keyhole escutcheon and "Terry" style lock instead of a simple catch. My clock has evidence that it had top chimneys, splat, and return pieces, but I can only guess what they might have looked like.

Just recently, I came across a second Elbridge Atkins clock which was sold in 2009, and that looks nearly identical to the one above. The main difference is the dial. The hands are not original.

Elbridge Atkins clocks on their own appear to be quite scarce. I have found only a few examples. This one is a typical column and splat wooden works, but it shows the label, and provides another possible splat design.

Lastly, a very unusual find was this very poor photo of an Elbridge Atkins "Bevel Case" clock, with a 3 section divided door. Bevel case clocks are early versions of Ogee clocks, and often have wooden works movements, and date to the 1830s or 1840s.

And that's all the information I've been able to gather. I'll be able to easily recreate some chimneys for the top based on the shadows, but I will have to guess the correct splat and side return designs unless I can find other similar clocks to work from. I'd appreciate any information you may have about this clock (including any other Elbridge Atkins clocks).

Making Mirrors

It's been quite a while that I've wanted to experiment with Krylon's "Looking Glass" spray paint, but unfortunately due to some restrictions, it wasn't being sold in Canada until very recently when I found some at our local Michael's store (I looked for it every time I visited the store).

Over the past several years, I've seen some amazing mirrored projects using this product, and I thought it might be an excellent product for use on antique clocks. Some of the projects I had seen included old leaded glass windows turned into mirrors, as well as many imitation mercury glass vases and bobbles. I thought it might also be fun to use old glass clock bezels and turn them into convex mirrors. The uses for this product are nearly endless. The only requirement is that it should be applied to the back side of any glass surface.

One other benefit to this product is that you can apply a layer of "antiquing" to your clear glass before the silvering is applied. If you search for tutorials online (as I did) you might quickly find that most effects simply call for a mist of water (or vinegar and water) over the glass, followed by the spray paint, and then cleaning off the water drops once the paint is dry.

On most of the tutorials, the effect is WAY too exaggerated and it doesn't look real. I wanted something more believable. I decided to try several other techniques and experiments on some scrap glass pieces. All the samples are backed with flat black paint.

In the photo above, you can see the 5 samples I made (and there are endless other variations or combinations you can try). Each will be explained individually below.

Since mirrors are notoriously difficult to photograph, I did my best to catch a few angles.


In this first sample, I mixed some black and brown acrylic paint, and thinned it with water. I then used a stiff bristle brush to "flick" paint onto the glass. This gives a subtle, yet realistic spotting effect.


Sample 2 is one of the most interesting and visually striking experiments I tried. It's simply a very diluted black watercolour wash. Because the water doesn't easily stick to the glass surface, you're left with a very random pattern of shapes. The effect is transparent, but also has a fairly strong "matted" appearance depending on the angle (see reflection photos above). An entire mirror done with this technique would be pretty unusable, but definitely very interesting (and very old/damaged looking).


This is the standard water mist method, using a very fine sprayer. What's so nice about this method is that it creates very realistic "peeling" edges around each "hole". The only problem with this technique is that it's very hard to create a realistic wear pattern. Either there's way too many spray droplets everywhere, or the droplets are too small, or too large. For this technique, you just spray water onto the glass, apply several thin coats of mirror paint, and then you wipe (pat down) the water drops where the paint hasn't adhered. The paint dries extremely fast, so you only need to wait a few minutes to do this, but be careful not to smear the water around. If you do, there's no way to fix it, and you'll need to start over.


Samples 4 and 5 were the least successful of the 5. This one shows how the glass might look with the water droplet technique from sample 3, with just another light spray of mirror paint applied after wiping off the water (to make the effect more subtle). It might be nice to try this effect on a larger surface. It would likely give pale ghostly dots all over the surface.


This sample was trying to imitate mirrors that have a darkened gradient around the exterior edges. I used spray paint for this, but it didn't come out quite as I had hoped. The spray was too wide, and it may have needed to be darker. This effect might work better on a larger area, and using a better spray paint or nozzle.

Armed with these samples, I decided that the most realistic effect would be a simple pattern of painted dots (sample 1). I had one particular clock in mind, and I decided to go ahead and try it out. The glass had already been cut and prepared for the clock (antique glass), and I just had to clean it. Here are the final results.

As you can see, the painted effect looked much better on the smaller samples. The effect is quite foggy, and not quite as reflective as I had expected. The dots also didn't show up as much as I had expected.

Here's a fairly good close-up of the glass. You can clearly see the spots, as well as the distinct "painted texture" that the mirror paint produces.

One of the only other methods I've tried for making hand-made mirrors is the technique that uses actual sheets of silver leaf (it can be fake silver leaf as well). That method gives much better results, but it's also a lot more time consuming, more difficult/delicate, and the main reason I didn't like that method was that all the edges of the silver sheets show up in the finished mirror. This method follows instructions from Tom Temple's "Extreme Restoration" book. It's an excellent book for learning to properly (and invisibly) repair clocks and other antiques. You can also find other tutorials online for this method, so I'm only going to give a very brief overview on this method.

These are OLD photos from nearly a decade ago. I thought I had them already uploaded to an online photo album, but I couldn't find them, so I dug through my old files and found them again.

The first steps involve laying two layers of silver leaf onto the glass using a special sizing/gilding water.

Second layer:

Once it's dry, the back is polished using soft cotton and gentle pressure.

The back of the mirror is then painted to protect it, and to prevent the silver (or imitation silver) from tarnishing or degrading.

The finished mirror is quite beautiful, highly reflective, and gives a realistic appearance of a mercury glass mirror. As I said before, the only drawback is that the lines between the sheets of silver leaf are visible. Also note that this mirror was done on antique wavy glass.