Early advertising clocks: time to buy

Boasting strong color and graphics, this scarce clock advertising United States Tires made by William L. Gilbert Clock Co. sold for $12,000 + the buyer’s premium in January 2016 at Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK – Advertising is ubiquitous and has graced such objects as calendars and signs to tins, pocketknives and more. Advertising clocks have long been a popular collectible with wide crossover appeal, interesting to both clock and advertising collectors as well as those who collect whatever genre said clock was promoting.

Foot traffic in stores, hotels, doctors’ offices and other places where people would congregate drove the need for businesses in the 19th century to advertise their wares where people could see them. And the advertising clock was born. They were made by several companies in America to be used in businesses, and advertising was sold on the clock.

Among the leading companies that specialized in advertising clocks, starting in the late 1800s, were two firms both based in upstate New York: the Sidney Advertising Clock Co. in Sidney, N.Y., nearly an hour northeast of Binghamton, N.Y., and the Baird Clock Co., based in Plattsburgh, N.Y. near the Canadian border. In the 1940s, a few other companies got into the act. This rare clock (above) for United States Tires was made by Connecticut’s William L. Gilbert Clock Co. Its clock face reads “Tire-ly Satisfied” and bears the likeness of an early motorist. It fetched $12,000 + the buyer’s premium in January 2016 at Morphy Auctions.

This rare Sidney wall clock brought $7,500 + the buyer’s premium at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. Photo courtesy of Fontaine’s and LiveAuctioneers

The shapes, materials and styles of these clocks, mostly designed to be mounted on the wall, were as diverse as the products they hawked: razors, leather-softening oils, tonics, tea, tobacco and more. The advertised product or company name, and often slogan, were often inscribed onto the clock case but some clocks contained rotating advertising cards creating extra advertising marquees. “The Sidney Advertising Clock Company took out a patent in 1886 for the rotating cylinders in the bottom of the case that change the ad every 5 minutes,” according to The Clock Guy.

Baird clocks usually were round with a large circular face for the clock and a smaller circle at the bottom, underneath were the mechanisms to wind the clock. They were made of molded papier-mache and early examples were painted fire-engine red but later they were stained/painted to give them a faux mahogany or rosewood finish.

Sidney’s “cylinder” clocks were rectangular, often having gothic pierced decorated gallery tops with turned finials, and stood about 70 inches tall.

A rare Baird Coca-Cola advertising clock with 12-inch paper dial and eight-day movement fetched $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in August 2018 at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. Photo courtesy of Fontaine’s and LiveAuctioneers

These clockmakers usually sold these clocks to companies who often gave them away to business partners to drive business to the advertised firm. If the clock was free, a fee was charged for the custom advertising on the clock.

A razor company would take advertising clocks, for example, and then install them in barbershops, advertising their razors, or a soda company might have an advertising clock made for them and then put them in markets, drug stores, soda fountains etc. to persuade people to choose their product. A fine example is this tall jewelers regular advertising clock by unknown maker but with a label on back from W.E. Haines & Sons of Abbottstown, Pa., cigar manufacturers, and a notation that it was shipped to Crane Cigars, a large tobacco shop on Coney Island, N.Y. The clock has a porcelain dial and is festooned with various tobacco and cigar labels, including Lucky Bill and Spana Cuba. It realized $10,000 + the buyer’s premium at Showtime Auction Services in May 2019.

This 1920s jewelers regulator clock topped with a carved wood Indian chief’s head and surrounded by U.S. Clubhouse cigar labels is quite large. Standing 126½ inches tall, it made $10,000 + the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Showtime Auction Services. Photo courtesy of Showtime and LiveAuctioneers

Longtime collectors Jerry and Millie Maltz of New Rochelle, N.Y., were passionate collectors of advertising clocks and Jerry even wrote the definitive book on the subject, Baird Advertising Clocks. In October 2010, Morphy Auctions sold nearly 30 clocks from their collection and in August 2018, Fontaine’s Auction Gallery sold another group of clocks that the Maltzes had once acquired.

In 2018, Maltz described how he and his wife became clock collectors by chance after buying a desk in a New York City antiques shop and buying a clock on a whim. They were bit by the collecting bug and quickly specialized in Baird advertising clocks. “I started to collect advertising clocks years ago when nobody wanted them,” he said.

Among clock highlights are an 1889 Baird Coca-Cola clock that sold for $15,000 + the buyer’s premium at Fontaine’s in August 2018.

Advertising its own advertising clocks is this scarce Baird calendar wall clock that made $13,000 + the buyer’s premium in August 2018 at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. Photo courtesy of Fontaine’s and LiveAuctioneers

While Baird made thousands of clocks for other companies, it even created a clock for itself, selling its services as a maker of advertising clocks. One example in a rustic figure eight style case inscribed “Advertising Clocks for Clothiers, Etc. – Baird Clock Co., Write for Price Lists, Plattsburgh, NY” sold at Fontaine’s for $13,000, also in August 2018. On average, Sidney clocks go for a few thousand dollars each, with one selling for up to $7,500.

Today, there are countless places and media sources for companies to advertise but advertising clocks were created in a time when those opportunities were limited, especially in a small town. The clocks now serve as a reminder of companies and products long forgotten (Acme Hair Dye and John R. Dickey’s “Reliable Eye Water” to name but two) and tell interesting stories about consumerism and material culture in America.