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It's All a Matter of Taste
by Bob Brooke


QUESTION: 
 

I 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 end.


Thanks,
Russell

________________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

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.



The 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 Manufacturing Company.

The 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.

These 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.


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