Is this just a big Pocket Watch?
Antique Car Clocks are fantastic timepieces. These interesting car clocks stem from an era that many of us don’t remember, and will probably never see the likes of again.
As with anything that is invented, soon after, someone will try to improve upon it. The Automotive world is no different, and probably the motivating factor for some many patents, improvements and innovations throughout their short history then just about anything else.
Henry Ford was kind enough to popularize the car, bring 100s of thousands to the masses in its early beginning. The assembly line make them more affordable, and increasingly available. By the mid 1920s, the car had almost made its way to becoming the necessity that it is today.
At some point, I’m sure that someone was on their way to an appointment, got in their car, and headed off to the doctors, a bank, or to see their lawyer. At which point, they were probably late for that appointment.
Out of necessity, came the need to know what time it was while you were driving along some dirt road in some small town, just to make sure you got there on time, and that the horses and buggies didn’t get in your way.
At some point, the major clock and watch companies around the world started selling aftermarket timepieces for cars. They were variations of larger pocket watches at the time. These would often come with a kit that allowed you to mount a typical 18s watch to the dash board of your car.
Watch me service an old car clock here!
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Of course, auto manufacturers jumped onto the band wagon as soon as the accessories hit the market.
Within years, the worlds most popular, and soon all, started including clocks into their model lineups as standard equipment.
At first, the name brand clocks and watches, especially those in the North American Markets could not shake the name and reputation of the major watch companies. Waltham, Elgin and Hamilton began making clocks to fit directly into the dashboards of almost all auto manufacturers in the 1920s, and that is why you will find so many of these name brand timekeepers in antique cars.
These same manufacturers began branding their clocks with the auto manufacturer’s names soon afterwards, mostly beginning in the 1930s, and continuing throughout World War II. During the second world war, Hamilton moved into the military supply chain, and walked away from almost all consumer manufacturing. Companies like Waltham and Elgin began loosing their market share for car clocks as companies that made cheaper “dollar” watches had taken over the market, due to costs and bidding from companies that still sold cars and trucks throughout the 1940s.
Electric Car Clocks Take Control!
With the innovations of World War II, came the mass production of small electric and low voltage car and truck clocks. These clocks had embedded themselves into military aircraft, as well as warships at the time, and after the war, the improvement of batteries and vehicle electrical systems made these better for the end user.
No longer having to wind your car clock every week, or sometimes every day, the clock could be hooked up to your battery and run constantly. With little voltage draw, the mechanical car clock slowly disappeared from existence as the world moved forward.
Thus, the end of an era arrived, and lost to technology was the 1 day and 8 day mechanical Car Clock!
The Collectability has Soared!
Fast Forward to the late 70s and early 80s. As more and more collectors began restoring old cars, the grown of the collectability of these wonderful old clocks started to grow, in ways even I didn’t see at my young age then.
The car collector would drive all over the area and pull out an old antique car from some farmer’s barn. The dirt and dust would be washed away, and leaving an old broken down car just ripe to restore.
By the time that car collector got his old model A, or some other beauty taken apart, they began to realize that the farmer stripped out the car many years earlier for all its useful parts, especially the clocks, because they ran independently and could be re-purposed.
The hunt was on, and car collectors started going to all the watch and clock shops they could find, in hopes of locating that last bit they needed, The Clock. Sometimes, they got lucky, but most often, reproductions were had, and of course, devalued the restoration.
in the 1990s, the internet brought the car clock back to life. I remember customers finding clocks all over the country, even all over the world. It was during this period that as a watchmaker I began seeing more and more of these antique clocks hitting the market. They were cheap and plentiful.
However, the last 20 years has dwindled down the availability to many of these old mechanical car clocks. The prices have soared to unbelievable prices, and limited access to parts makes them even more difficult to restore.
If you get your hands on one or even a few of these, and they work, hang on to them. The prices for a working 80 year old mechanical car clock, especially branded with one of the best names in the watch industry will hold its value, and should be a staple in your collection.
I personally have three, one from each of the most popular brands. That is good enough for me, as my collecting days have ended, and while I don’t add to my collection, I’m not eager to let go of it either.
Perhaps, we should begin to collect those old 1950s and 1960s electric car clocks, maybe they will be the next collectable clock item in ten or twenty years!