Seth Thomas. An Illuminating Alarm Clock. PROCTOR'S PATENT BURGLAR AND FIRE-DETECTIVE CLOCK PATENTED AUGUST 7, 1860.

This clock answers the triple purpose of a Time-piece, a Burglar and Fire Alarm, and lights a lamp at the moment the Alarm Strikes.

This is not your usual Seth Thomas made 9 inch cottage alarm clock having a a flat top and an OG base model. This basic form was put into production as early as 1852 and was made in significant numbers suggesting that it was successfully sold. This is a special example in that it has been fitted with Proctor’s Patent Mechanism. Proctor’s patent was a device designed to be used as a burglar and or a fire alarm. This patent was granted on August 7th, 1860.

The case is a standard Seth Thomas 9-inch Cottage clock case. It is veneered in rosewood and retains an original finish that has darkened considerably with age. The movement is also Seth Thomas made. It is spring powered and designed to run 30-hours on a full wind. It also features an alarm. The alarm uses a hammer that hits a cast iron bell. This bell is mounted inside the movement to the backboard with a single screw. This is a standard setup. The Maker’s label is pasted onto the backboard inside the case. This is the 1854 label. Owen Burt categorizes this as a “rare” label in his book entitled, “SETH THOMAS 9” COTTAGE CLOCKS 1852-1898.” Proctor’s addition includes the apparatus that is fitted to the top of the case, the actuating arms that connect it to the movement as well as the oil lamp. The mechanism at the top of the case consists of a strike plate in the form of an arch, a spring tensioned arm, and the oil lamp.

The spring tensioned are is loaded and locked into place. A match is inserted into the end. The fire tip of the match is positioned against he strike plate so that when the arm is released, the match head rubs against the strike plate and lights or fires. The arm then positions the match head over the oil lamp lighting the burner.

How does it work? Let’s start with a base line. Let us assume that the clock is wound and that the operational oil lamp fitted on top of the case is filled with oil. In addition, a match (not pictured) has been put into place and that the arm that holds it has been cocked. Again, this arm is spring loaded.

To use the burglar alarm. Behind the lamp protruding through the top of the case is a small wire with a loop at the top. Its’ purpose is to have a string attached to it. The other end of the wire is connected to the movement as a release. The other end of the string is to be tied to or connected to the door or window that you wish to protect. When the door or window is opened or moved, the string transfers this information to the clock via the wire. This releases the mechanism causing the match to rub against the strike plate and lighting. The match, now lit, comes to rest to a position over the oil lamp and lights it. This is the signal that someone has move the door or window. The lamp will light the room.

To use the fire alarm. The fire alarm uses the same principal. A string is tied between the wire loop at the top of the clock to a fixed object that doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same room. (This is great.) So the idea is that if there is a fire under the string, the string will burn releasing the mechanism in the clock. This action activates the mechanism and lights the oil lamp.

We have seen several variations of this design on numerous clock forms which include a steeple clock and versions of cottages examples by various Makers. I have to believe that many of these novelty clocks have burned up over the years. It is easy to imagine that the match could be easily thrown across the room because it wasn’t secured adequately. Or that the clock may vibrate off the table, chest, etc. while broadcasting the alarm. The result would be a spilled oil lamp on the floor.

About Seth Thomas

Thomas was born in Wolcott, Connecticut, in 1785. He was apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner, and worked building houses and barns. He started in the clock business in 1807, working for clockmaker Eli Terry. Thomas formed a clock-making partnership in Plymouth, Connecticut with Eli Terry and Silas Hoadley as Terry, Thomas & Hoadley.

In 1810, he bought Terry’s clock business, making tall clocks with wooden movements, though chose to sell his partnership in 1812, moving in 1813 to Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut, where he set up a factory to make metal-movement clocks. In 1817, he added shelf and mantel clocks. By the mid-1840s, he changed over to brass from wooden movements. He made the clock that is used in Fireman’s Hall. He died in 1859, whereupon the company was taken over by his son, Aaron, who added many styles and improvements after his father’s death. The company went out of business in the 1980s.

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