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The Buyable Past

June 2024
1min read

Calendar Clocks

Starting around 1865, clocks told not only the time but the day, the date, and even the month. The calendar clock had been a mechanical possibility for centuries, but in America after the Civil War, it took hold, and inventors peppered the Patent Office with improvements. With one dial or two separate ones, it was a gadget suited to the age, equally popular in schools, offices, and front parlors. A Connecticut inventor named Daniel J. Gale patented clocks that kept track of the number of years until the next leap year, the week number (out of 52), the moon phase, and the sunrise/sunset times on a latitude he described only as “New England.”

After 1915 the craze for calendar clocks of all types faded, just as quickly as it had once taken hold. By the end of the 1920s, almost none were being manufactured in the United States.


SIMPLE CALENDAR CLOCKS: The date and time could be shown on the same dial by means of a fairly simple attachment. Typically, the numbers 1 to 31 were placed in a circle outside the numerals for the hours; an extra hand pointed to the current date. Companies often charged only 50 cents or a dollar to add a calendar to a standard clock. Today, a simple calendar clock is regarded as more of a novelty than a mechanical wonder ($200-$500).


COMPLEX CALENDAR CLOCKS: The movement for the calendar was separate from that for the time of day, and typically the date was displayed on a second dial ($500-$!,500). The majority of complex clocks, though, were even more complex than that. Perpetual calendar clocks automatically adjusted for months of different lengths. Many also kept track of leap years ($500-$15,000). Nearly all grandfather, or tall case, clocks beginning in the late seventeenth century were equipped with date-of-the-month calendars, yet the term calendar clock does not normally refer to them. Instead, a calendar clock is a wall or table model, presented in wood, metal, or porcelain. The “skeleton” models made by one of the leading companies in the field, Ithaca Calendar Clock, were enclosed by glass domes or glass-sided wooden cases ($10,000$13,000). They offered something irresistible, a long look at what made them tick.

—Julie M. Fenster

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