It's All a Matter of Taste
by Bob Brooke
have a clock made by United Metal Goods Manufacturing Company,
Inc., in Brooklyn, New York, in the shape of a pirate ship. Can
you tell me who made my clock and when? It has three chrome
masts, each with three sails, a ship’s wheel containing the
clock dial mounted on the front, and a light imbedded in each
Your ship clock is an Art Deco stylized
version of a pirate ship, made in the mid-1930s. United Metal Goods
Manufacturing Company produced unique and decorative timepieces as well
as staple clocks and timepieces, mostly electric with reliable electric
motors produced by the Westinghouse Corporation.
foundation of most of these clocks was a remarkable electric motor and
gearing designed by Anthony William Haydon between 1931 and 1939. His
power system allowed these clocks to also perform other functions, such
as twirling a cowboy's lariat or moving a figure in a graceful Hula.
United Metal Goods made an astounding variety of animated clocks by
using the Haydon patents.
Abraham Levy founded the United Clock Company in Brooklyn, New York in
1905. He remained president of the company until his death in 1961.In
August of 1968, United bought the inventory, equipment, and tools of the
Sessions Clock Company of Forestville, Connecticut, and for a short time
marked clocks made at the Sessions factory “Sessions-United.”
Eventually, United expanded its operations and became United Metal Goods
clocks that United Clock Company produced became known as "Carnival”
clocks because carnival owners gave them as the "big" prizes at carnival
games. Most of the time, however, players were never able to win these
clocks because carnival owners often rigged the games. They eventually
earned the monicker “schlock” clocks for their tasteless design.
United cast many of its clocks from spelter, a zinc alloy, including its
ships clocks. The company offered its clocks in a variety of styles
including the banjo clock, leaf sculpture clock, wagon wheel clock, and
the traditional wall clock. Mantel clocks included a carriage and horses
clock, Statue of Liberty clock, scales of justice clock, and an animated
light-up fireplace clock. United also made other styles of clocks for
the home including trophy bowling clocks, ship clocks, teddy bear
clocks, and train clocks. They even produced pocket watch clocks that
hung on the wall or from the ceiling.
often tasteless clocks became a necessary decorative accessory for
mantels in the homes of prosperous young couples in the 1930s and 1940s.
The tradition of a ship model on the mantel comes from New England,
where older families made much of their wealth in whaling. In that case,
the ship model represented a constant reminder of the source of the
family wealth. It was natural that the ship model eventually merged with
the mantel clock.
As people moved to apartments in the cities, space for the tall clock
vanished, leading to the popularity of mantel clocks. Often,
manufacturers combined these clocks with figurative elements such as
dogs, horses, goddesses, or whatever, limited only by imagination and
their bad taste. United Metal Goods produced a long line of cheap,
tasteless clocks that have since become cultural icons.
Back to Readers Ask Archives
Next Article >