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19th Century J.C. Brown "Ripple Front" Clocks

My relationship with J.C. Brown goes back to when I saw my first “ripple front” clocks as a teenager while being given a tour of an advanced clock collection. They looked distinctive and high-styled, but not quite what I called beautiful. There were several lined up in one room. I was told they were rare and unusual.

I was fascinated with ripple moldings of rosewood and those unusual etched glass door panels. This may have been a moment when I questioned the tastes of the 19th Century America, although through the years I have tempered my discontent and acquired the taste.

This company with its bold, even radical, case designs has been an enduring interest of mine because of the bold, creative nature of the cases. This ripple molded clock by J C Brown was made between 1845-1855. It was among the first of the “shelf clocks” using coiled steel springs instead of weights.

The “Beehive” clock, whose form J C Brown’s firm takes from, used plain moldings and featured a reverse painted glass showing a beehive with bees to symbolize the then American culture of prosperity achieved through industrious work. J. C. Brown added his creative talents with several patterns of “ripple” moldings, and his own ideas of design with the variety of etch glass panels.

Making etched glass door panels, another new innovation of decorative arts, was possibly a cottage industry. To this day it is not exactly known what kind of machine at the factory could have carved these patterns. And we may never know, since fire in the factory destroyed all records of how the moldings were cut and the machines themselves.

Besides creating clocks with creatively designed cases, J. C. Brown Co. produced a wide selection of shelf clocks that were more or less standard tastes of the day. Some of these included other fantasy designs, including the famous acorn clocks.

Our 19th Century English clockmaker counterparts cherished the traditional aspects of craftsmanship and strict adherence to stringent guild specifications; the goal of American clockmakers in the 19th Century was different: make “Yankee Movements” that told pretty good time, use materials sparsely, make the product durable, and price low enough to be affordable. They were fit with pressed brass plates and gears and steel, held together with taper pins instead of screws. They are remarkable for their simplicity, inexpensiveness, and the fact that many, many are still running well today testify to their quality as practical timepieces.

This example comes with original, old, finish, untouched. Original etched glass panel in the “hearts” theme. Original interior label and an untouched dial.


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