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Antique American clocks collector Dave Weisbart

Dave Weisbart, of California, U.S.A., has a passion for rare and antique American clocks, and a phenomenal clock collection to match. I asked him about his collection and his reading.

READERSVOICE.COM: When and how did you start collecting clocks?

DAVE WEISBART: My collecting started just over 10 years ago.
My fascination with clocks began much earlier, in the mid 1970s. (It wasn’t until 10 years ago that I had the discretionary income to start buying clocks.)
Back in the 70s, I made the acquaintance of an elderly couple who had a wonderful collection of old clocks. We became friends and I had many opportunities to examine their clocks close-up.
In 1992, on a vacation trip to Portland, Oregon, I spotted a nice Ansonia Westminster chime tambour clock and decided to buy it. It was all downhill from there. :-)

RV: Why did you decide to specialise in American spring- and weight-driven
clocks in particular?

DW: As I mentioned, my first clock was an Ansonia. I started doing research on the company and found a wealth of material, most of it thanks to Tran Duy Ly, publisher of many clock identification and price guides.
He had taken catalog illustrations from all the extant catalogs and compiled them into a series of books, mostly dealing with American clocks. Early on, I did buy a couple of German clocks, but was able to find almost no reading material on them. Since I wanted to know what I was buying, I decided that it would be easier to specialise in American clocks due to the abundance of books on the subject. Also, there was enough style diversity in American clocks that I knew I would not get bored.

RV: How did you acquire some of your clocks?

DW: I’ve bought clocks from antique stores, auctions, the Internet, and NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) marts. A couple of them were tremendous bargains (e.g., the Ansonia “General” for which I paid 1/4 of “book” price). Some I paid top dollar for because they were clocks that I really coveted.
The longest hunt, which is ongoing, is for American made clocks that have cases made entirely of green (Brazilian) onyx .
Who can say why a particular material appeals to a person?
I sure can’t, but I find green onyx very beautiful, and it is still very rare to see such a clock on the market. I own two: one by Waterbury and one by Ansonia.

I found the Waterbury first, and it was on eBay. I paid a high price for it, but after three years of looking, I was not about to be out-bid. The Ansonia came two years later quite by happenstance. I was bored one night at the office and entered “green onyx clock” in the Google search engine.
Lo and behold, it not only turned up such a clock, but it was Ansonia (my “specialty”) and it was for sale! This clock I got for a good price and it now has an honored spot in my collection room.

RV: Can you tell about the standing clock you’ve made the centrepiece of your collection?

DW: This clock came to me in a most satisfying way. I had seen three of this model previously: one at an NAWCC mart, and one at an exclusive shop in New York City. Both of these appeared at a time in my life when I could not afford such a clock.

By the time I could afford one, there were none to be found. I got a phone call from a clock dealer in Las Vegas whom I had befriended. He said a man in Lancaster, California, had one for sale. The price was good. I rented a van, went to the bank and got a cashiers check, and drove to Lancaster (about an hour-and-a-half drive). The clock was very disappointing. As you’ve no doubt seen, this is a very ornate clock — that’s its appeal.
The one for sale was missing 75% of its ornaments!
Knowing by this time that getting duplicate ornaments was very unlikely, I reluctantly left Lancaster without my prize.

A few years later, at a time when I was offering free clock ID service on my Internet site, I got an email from a gentleman asking for advice on refinishing an old clock. I opened the JPEG attachment and there it was — Antique Standing!
Horrified at the thought of this wonderful old clock being refinished, I wrote back, telling the man not to touch the finish on the clock and asking why he wanted to do so. He said he wanted to sell the clock.
We talked price (I offered him double what he was being offered locally in Hibbing, Minnesota), provenance (it originally belonged to a doctor in Florida), and condition (all original).
After a few more emails, an escrow account, and a couple of moving companies, the clock arrived at my doorstep on Christmas eve.
(Too bad I’m Jewish -that delivery date might have made it more fun. :-) )

I got the clock I wanted, at a good price, and saved it from a horrid fate. It is missing a couple of small parts, which I am in the process of fabricating. But it is a real beauty and a great conversation piece.

RV: About what percentage of your reading would be devoted to clocks?

DW: Probably about 50% of my reading is horological. A great deal of it is the NAWCC publication, The Bulletin, which comes out every other month. In addition, I have my NAWCC chapter’s library of Bulletins going back to the 1940s in my garage, so I have a great reference source at my fingertips. I read books on clock repair as well.
Other than that, I mostly read news weeklies (Time, U.S. News) and an occasional biography.

RV: What sort of books have you read over the years both about clocks and otherwise that were the most important to you and why? (By the way, if you haven’t read a book called Longtitude about Harrison’s I think you would enjoy it).

DW: Yes, I know of the longitude book, but have not had time to read it.
I do enjoy reading about the history of clockmaking and makers.
These are often specialized histories (e.g., Pennsylvania clocks); after reading several general histories, they tend to say the same things. The books I use most often, though, are the identification guides.
I own most of the ones published by Ly. It’s surprising how much you can learn from them. They include the dates of the catalogs from which the illustrations are taken. Studying them, it is possible to see the evolution of clock styles from the industrial revolution onward, which can be an asset when finding and evaluating a clock “in the wild.”

Dave has just completed the clock repair course at the NAWCC School of Horology.
Also, he is looking for Ansonia clock catalogues. His website is personalposters.com/clocks