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Advertising Clocks

Advertising Clocks date back to the 1880’s and were initially made by Seth Thomas

Have you noticed how much advertising is on modern quartz clocks? This prompted me to research the beginnings of this trend. Surprise – advertising clocks were popular in the USA as far back as the 1880’s. Two companies were at the forefront – the Sydney Advertising Clock Co. in New York and the Baird Clock Co. in Montreal Canada. Co-incidentally on a visit to an antique store in Brisbane I discovered clocks from both these makers and was given the OK to take some snaps.   

The Sydney Clock Co. produced wooden wall clocks of up to 2m, often with a calendar, usually made by Seth Thomas. Easily recognised by rotating advertising cylinders on their base, these 3 cylinders turned every 5 minutes. They were driven by a secondary movement mounted horizontally in the bottom of the case above the cylinders. Capable of advertising a multitude of products, this example has chosen to advertise Omega watches on the base.


The Baird Clock Co. made wall clocks recognisable by their figure-eight shape with fewer adverts. Founded in 1887 in Montreal they moved to Plattsburg New York in 1890, making clocks of tin and wood (cases were pressed and painted papier mache). The advertising was written on the case. Again, these clocks had Seth Thomas movements. Baird clocks were the first to advertise Coca-Cola. The two examples shown here are advertising Fry’s Coffee Essence and Tower Tea.

It should be noted that many other clock manufacturers were soon making promotional clocks – Ingraham, Gilbert, Waterbury, Ansonia and New Haven all have examples.


Other interesting and collectible examples recently spotted – a 1920's rim wind Swiss made 8-day car clock (Studebaker advert), a 1950’s New Haven octagonal alarm clock (Peters Diamond Shoes a brand name from 1892), an early 1900’s wooden wall clock that hung inside an Ipswich hotel (White Horse Whisky), a 1930’s English Bakelite manual wind car ashtray clock (Ford) and a 1890's wooden wall clock (advertising Fitu corsets - unknown maker).


Sundials - can be very accurate while others can only be considered an ornament.


A sundial is the world’s oldest timepiece, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians in 3500BC. Fair to say that up until recently, the need for exact time was not crucial. This was to change from the 1700’s with the production of mechanical clocks and watches (though a sundial was still needed to set these unreliable movements). From the 1800’s urbanisation required people and transport to be organised round timetables and so public tower clocks, personal alarm clocks and then wristwatches took over the role of sundials.

My interest in sundials began on sighting a set of Sanitarium Health Food cards (a breakfast cereal company established in Australia in 1898 and NZ in 1900). One card featured a vertical sundial on Malmesbury House, Wiltshire, England. Erected in 1749, this would be one of the last sundials to use the Julian calendar, as England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, advancing September 2 to September 14. This puts it in the ornamental category. A fascinating extra, sundials can feature a motto – this one has a quote from Shakespeare’s MacBeth – “life is but a walking shadow”.

SunDial Components.PNG

There are many types of sundials, but this post will concentrate on the most common type found in our cities, parks, and gardens - the horizontal sundial.

Horizontal Sundials normally include the following Components -

1. A dial with hours and minutes in Roman font mostly from 5am to 7pm.

2. A gnomon (style/pointer) angled at the sites latitude to cast a shadow.

3. Compass points to align the gnomon to True North (TN).

4. Equation of Time enabling adjustments to the time shown on the dial.

5. A motto - these appeared from the mid1600's often themed on ageing.     

The horizontal sundial’s accuracy to clock time can be determined by - 

A. The Gnomon and its alignment. A sundial must be oriented correctly and designed for the sites latitude. Brisbane sits at latitude 27.4°S so the gnomon should be set at this angle to be parallel to the earth’s rotational axis. In the Southern Hemisphere check that the sundials shadow is pointing to the South (as in the picture above). This means that the dials North point is set to the sun’s True North (TN) not to the compass Magnetic North (MN). Why? In Eastern Australia, TN is 15degrees West of MN. An easy way to find TN is to use your analogue watch. Point 12 at the sun and halfway between the hour hand and 12 is TN.


B. The ‘equation of time’ – the main key to its accuracy. There are three corrections that could be shown.

i. wavy lines on the dial and/or a table of the months round the dial with the days to add or subtract minutes.

ii. the position of the sundial’s longitude. The world is divided into time zones of roughly 15° of longitude, so any point not on the reference longitude will be incorrect by 4 minutes per degree.

iii. a daylight saving correction (generally ignored although some dials can be reoriented one hour).


To answer the question then, how accurate is a sundial, one must judge each on its own merits. Highly accurate sundials like the one built in 2001 at Parkes in NSW, has ‘wave’ correction time markers set at 10min intervals for each month. The months are found at the top of the dial. 


This sundial at Eagle Junction State School, Clayfield below has no ‘EofT’ or compass bearings. But it does divide each hour into 5minute intervals. The day this photo was taken, it was only 2minutes out.


Basic sundials can have an error of up to 16minutes on some days. The example here is a correction dial plate with an inner ring showing each month. The next ring has the days for correction times. Note most months have only 3 correction days with a maximum of 7 correction days in December. Then the outer ring has the minutes to be added or subtracted from the days closest to when it is read. The hours are divided into 15m intervals – more room for error.

To summarise, the accuracy of horizontal sundials usually seen in gardens or public parks can vary. Some are made for ornamental purposes only with no correction times. Others are so weathered that the dial plate is hard to read. The gnomon’s angle is critical and should relate to the location’s latitude. If the dial plate though contains a comprehensive ‘equation of time’, they can be accepted as an accurate timepiece.

WESTCLOX of  USA, Scotland and Canada also assembled alarm clocks in Australia.


Auburn in Melbourne had a Westclox factory from 1946. Employing 235 workers it was closed in 1953 because of the high labour costs - reportedly at 60% of the finished cost. Here it manufactured four versions of manually wound alarm clocks - the Bell Bird, Lark, Shelby and Kiwi and also at least one model of a 230V wall clock.

Bell Bird – the ‘functional’ pattern. Cased in Ivory plastic with plain or luminous dial.

Lark – ‘Popular reliable alarm’ in metal cases - Ivory, Green, Bronze, Oyster Grey & Black. Plain or luminous dial.

Shelby – ‘modern & dependable’ – in Mahogany with plain or luminous dial or an Ivory finish with plain dial.

Kiwi – ‘Made for the modernx’ - square metal case Ivory, Green, Bronze or Oyster Grey. Plain or luminous dial.

Bell Bird








Ad from 1952

Which is more important - the clock movement or the case?

Movement v Case

An interesting question that will vary from person to person. The look, design and workmanship of a clock or watch initially grabs one's attention. Knowing the movement type or the maker also might convince a purchase. I came across two clocks recently displaying a high level of intricate wood carving and inlaying. They were made by father and son John and Ben Mason, superb cabinet makers from Maryborough, Queensland.

John Mason (1864 – 1944) was born in Maryborough one year after his parents and uncle arrived from England in 1863. His uncle taught him wood carving and inlaying skills and examples of their furniture appeared in both international and colonial exhibitions.

Ben Mason (1900 - 1980) continued his father's trade. A clock case he made in 1948/50, standing at 2m. contains 12,000 pieces of inlaid timber from 24 varieties of locally sourced wood. This 8day weight driven clock was presented to the City of Maryborough in 1965. Badly damaged by fire in February 1990, it was restored and returned to the City Hall in December 1990. 

A replacement German movement and dial has been installed by David one of our club members in 2018.


Found in the Queensland Museum is one of John’s creations - a case made of silky oak featuring 10,000 inlaid pieces from 20 varieties of local timber. It has an 8day weight driven movement with Westminster chimes, made by Tegus, a Swiss firm. The case (H2.3m, W1m, D.38m) has a pair of eyes featured on the top, inspired by an optometrist’s ad in the local newspaper. This is one of John’s last works made in mid1930’s.

The clock base has the carved Australian Coat of Arms while the glass door has Maryborough’s official 1985 blazon. This emblem refers to the regions industry and agriculture and the part played by pioneering women in Maryborough. The clock can be viewed at the City Hall Council Chambers where there are free daily tours.


Maryborough City Hall


A note of thanks to the Queensland Museum for allowing the viewing of John’s clock and the Maryborough City Hall for Ben’s masterpiece.

The Roman Numeral 'IV' is not usually found on Public Clocks

Roman 1V

Most people when writing 4 in Roman notation would use 'IV'. However, when using Roman numerals on clocks, invariably the four is written 'IIII'.

There are several theories suggested for this.

  • It visually balances/matches with the 'VIII' on the other side.

  • Dividing the dial into halves leaves 14 Roman characters on each side.

  • IIII was used historically before IV (on sundials), so it is a valid number.

  • Would not upset the Roman God Jupiter (spelt “IVPPITER”).

  • Clock makers could create all the numerals by using fewer moulds.

  • Easier for the general public to read.


Kurilpa Library 1929 Clock with IIII at 4.00.


Fob watch

    Other Observations relevant to dial numbers -

  • One exception is London’s Big Ben which uses IV.

  • Fob watches follow the IIII pattern.

  • Most early 20th century manual wind car clocks use Arabic numbers.

  • A common notation is for all 12 numbers to be shown by a single stroke of varying width.


Car clock


An analysis of the notation style of numbers used on Brisbane and Queensland public clocks in Snapshots, revealed -

Of the 27 Brisbane public clocks, 14 used IIII, 10 used single strokes, two used IV, and one only had Arabic numerals.

Queensland (not including Brisbane) with 32 public clocks listed, showed a different notation pattern. Only 6 clocks used IIII, 20 used single strokes, 6 used Arabic numbers and none used the Roman IV.

Conclusion – of the 59 public clocks surveyed in Snapshots (see graph 'total'), 30 clocks favoured the single stroke format. Queensland (non-   Brisbane) had 62% of their clocks using this format – maybe because these public clocks are generally newer, with the single stroke reducing construction costs. Brisbane City had 38% with single stroke clocks - the main notation format here was IIII (used on 54% of the clocks).

Ipswich PO 1900 clock with 12 single number strokes.


Watch makers feature in major sporting events - the Melbourne Cup is an example.

Sport Watches

Timing has always been an integral part of sport. The ability to separate winners from losers can be a matter of parts of a second. With $millions on offer, it is not surprising then that many watch companies have been prepared to sponsor major sporting events allowing them to advertise to a world audience.


The race that “stops a nation”, the Melbourne Cup, is the third richest horse race in the world. With $8 million on offer this year (2021), it has just been run at Flemington. Held on the first Tuesday in November, this day is a public holiday for Melbournians.

In 1876 a chronograph was installed by Thomas Gaunt (1829 – 1890) which could show the time for the race, accurate to a quarter of a second. Thomas came to Australia in 1852 as a qualified jeweller and by 1858 had his own business in Bourke St. He was instrumental in building several turret clocks for town halls, post offices and churches. His main claim to fame though is the clock and Gog and Magog figures in the Royal Arcade. He was the timekeeper of the Victoria Racing Club and would sit in the judge’s box with the chronograph mentioned above. A sister clock can be found at the Kalgoorlie Racing club’s museum – the only two in Australia. In 1885 he built and patented an electric scratching board system. 

A snap from 1896 shows the clock tower in the foreground. The Gaunt chronograph has an inner 30minute dial with the outer dial showing seconds. It is housed today in the Victoria Racing clubhouse.

DYK1 (2).jpg

The Clock Tower built for the punters in the late 1930’s, is located 150m from the finish line. At 12m tall it provided a vantage point for the chief steward and selected others to watch every race. Whilst passing this point, jockeys were said to spur their horses on to greater effort. In 1996 its height was extended to 15m. In 2020 this heritage listed structure was renovated and repainted with the Longines name.

Longines, has the sponsorship for all racecourses in Australia and is clearly seen displayed on the base of this tower. Large models of Longine watches are also in prominent on Australian racetracks. Associated with the equine industry since 1878 many innovations for the timing of races have been pioneered by Longines.


The Actual Cup. Only 3 jewellers have made this trophy. Drummonds from 1919 – 1980, Hardy Bros. 1980 – 2015 and finally ABC Bullion with a seven-year contract ending this year 2021. Pre 1919 the trophies were imported English silverware. In 1861 the first Cup race winner was given a gold watch. Since 1919 the Cup’s design has had three handles symbolising the jockey, trainer and owner and sits on a wooden base made of Black Wattle.


Hardy Bros. produced this cup for 25 years. It was crafted from 44 pieces of hand spun gold taking over 250 hours to produce. Their contract was terminated in 2015 as it was not entirely Australian - the gold came from Germany. Today’s Cup is valued at over $200,000 and is made up of 1.65kg of 18-carat gold from a mine near Bendigo.

James Hardy migrated to Sydney in 1853 and by 1855 had a business selling silverware. He opened shops in Brisbane 1894 and Melbourne in 1918 where he sold quality timepieces (Omega, Breitling, Tag Heuer), traditional and contemporary clocks (supported by a Swiss service division), jewellery trophies and giftware. He is the only Australian jewellery business to hold a Royal Warrant. 


You may be interested to research the role other watch companies have played in sport.

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