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Bohemian Tango Cordial Set

Quality First
by Bob Brooke


Talk to antique clock collectors or dealers or repairers about E. Howard & Company’s clocks, and they’ll all agree that Edward Howard put quality first. Howard was a Boston area clockmaker who struggled to keep various clock and watchmaking enterprises afloat during the 19th century and never compromised quality for profits.

Today, Howard’s clocks are often known as the Cadillac of clocks because he machined them so well and so accurately. With a Howard clock, you get what you pay for. Generally, prices for his clocks run into four figures or higher.

The Beginnings

Howard established his reputation with high-grade weight-driven wall timepieces and regulators. In clockspeak, a "timepiece" is a time-only device, with no striking mechanism. A "regulator" is a timepiece with an extremely accurate movement made with superior materials. Howard’s clocks are just that.

He designed his high quality regulators to compensate for expansion and contraction of wood and metal components that would otherwise cause a clock to run too fast or too slow when the weather changed. In fact, Howard’s regulators were so good, they were used for setting other clocks—thus the name—for dispatching trains, and for maintaining time at astronomical observatories. While many people call long-drop pendulum wall clocks regulators, and the word "Regulator" may even appear on the case, they don't generally meet the rigorous specification of Howard regulators, which were known for having variations of less than 10 seconds per month.

Though Howard clocks most often seen for sale today are the smaller wall clocks and regulators, but they are by no means the only ones manufactured by Howard's companies. He also produced tower clocks, sidewalk clocks, tall case or grandfather clocks, and mantel clocks. His companies also made watch clocks used by security guards to record visits to specific locations, and program clocks for schools and factories, which needed to ring bells at pre-determined times.

Describing his own penchant for perfection Howard said, "Workmen who left me or who were discharged, complained that I was exacting and expected the impossible, because I would not tolerate a botch of any kind. They couldn’t understand that the clock was the end I sought, that I would give everything I possessed, even life itself, to see all work out as I had planned."

With a passion for exactness and experimentation along with a history of financial difficulties, Howard never became one of the giants of American clockmaking like Seth Thomas. Today, he's better known by many people for his watches than for his clocks. In his lifetime he was best known as a maker of scales and balances. But thanks to a good teacher and a commitment to quality, the clocks he made survived the test of time.

His teacher was Aaron Willard Jr., the youngest of the four famous clockmaking brothers in the Willard family. Edward Howard's father died when he was 12 years old. At that time Howard left to help support the family. After two years working with his uncle, a wheelwright and plow manufacturer, Howard spent two years mackerel fishing. In 1829, at the age of 16, he went to Roxbury, Massachusetts, to begin a five-year apprenticeship in Willard's shop.

Besides instructing his apprentices instruction in the making of clock movements, he also taught them cabinetmaking so they could make cases as well. A fellow apprentice with Howard was David Porter Davis, the man who later became his business partner making clocks under the name Howard & Davis. While still working for Willard, handcrafting clock parts, the. two planned how they could automate the process and make certain parts by machine.

Howard went into business in the early 1840s, making clocks and balances with his partners, David P. Davis and Luther S. Stephenson. The group established a factory at Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, in 1845. Two years later Stephenson left the company and the firm became Howard & Davis.

Howard's Watch and Clock Companies

In 1850 Howard formed the Boston Watch Company with Aaron L. Dennison. While Howard pursued the perfect watch and a factory that made use of the concept of interchangeable parts, Davis remained heavily involved with clock production and other sideline businesses. Beset by financial problems, the companies were forced to reorganize. By 1859 they had restructured as E. Howard & Co. Over the years continuing financial difficulties caused further reorganization with the company name changing to The Howard Clock and Watch Co., The Howard Watch and Clock Company, B. Howard Watch and Clock Company, E. Howard Clock Company, and finally, Howard Clock Products Inc., established in 1911 and which remains in business today.

While the name was changing on the product catalogs, the names on the clocks themselves remained more constant. Prior to the formation of E Howard & Company in
1859, Howard marked his clocks "Howard & I Davis, Boston." From that point forward, he used E. Howard & Company, Boston" on the dials and movements to identify his clocks. Howard clocks are also found with dials bearing the names of dealers or specific buyers, and some original dials have no name at all. Two names associated with Howard clocks and found on dials are those of William Riggs, a Philadelphia sales agent for Howard, and Webb C. Ball, a Cleveland jeweler who developed an inspection system for railroad clocks and watches known as Ball's Standard.

The various models of Howard clocks are identified and referred to by their model numbers, for example a No. 70. or a No. 10. Sometimes, Howard gave clocks with approximately the same look but in different sizes separate model numbers, but sometimes not.

Howard Wall Clocks
Most Howard wall clocks have wooden cases constructed from a variety of woods including black walnut, oak, mahogany and cherry, the latter often stained to look like rosewood. Case styles range from the simple lines of the figure eights and banjos to the elaborate carving typical of the Victorian era. Some models have cases made of marble. Howard marketed these in the company catalogs for use in public spaces, touted for their ease of keeping clean since they had no glass.

Though some parts were interchangeable and probably made in advance, Howard made most clocks to order: A model number categorizes a clock by general shape- and a specific size of case, movement and dial. A clock case for a particular model could be made from different types of wood with variations in decorative moldings and styling of glass tablets. Dials might be enameled zinc or other metals, silvered electroplate, marble or even over zinc on some of his earliest clocks. The weight of a Howard dock usually had the model number cast in the metal.

Collecting Howard Clocks
Clock prices for Howard clocks can vary widely for the same model because of condition, competition, and the desire of individual buyers for a particular item. Though Howard made some models of his clocks over many decades, an older Howard regulator isn’t necessarily better. Size matters in the clock world. Larger clocks have higher prices than smaller ones. But condition trumps size.

Collectors look for Howard clocks with a case that retains its original finish and has no apparent structural damage, original dial with minimal signs of wear and original hands, a signed movement with no broken parts, original glass, and a readable original label.

In fact, most Howard clocks for sale today have had repairs of one sort or another. A clock that has been around for 100 years or more and has been used is bound to show wear. Like all mechanical devices, clocks require basic maintenance such as oiling.
Proper maintenance necessitates disassembly and handling, two quick ways to add a bit more wear to an old clock.

People value clocks for different reasons and this too affects price. Collectors can be motivated by an interest in history or decorative art as well as the mechanical nature of a Howard clock.

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