National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors

A clock fit for a king

As we have talked about in previous posts this September and October, gifts from Willis R. and Ruth Michael of York, Pennsylvania have greatly enriched the Museum’s clock collectio.  Much of this collection is  on view in, "For All Time:  Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum."


Along with hundreds of historic clocks and watches made for everyday people, Willis Michael collected some extraordinary timepieces—including a clock fit for a king. 


Martinot cropped and lighter Engraved inscriptions on this clock’s face tell that the works were crafted by Henri de Martinot (1646–1725) and a Parisian mathematical instrument maker named Pouilly.  An inscription on the back of the clock notes that Martinot worked at the Louvre—no surprise, since Martinot came from a distinguished and well-connected family of clockmakers.  In fact, Henri succeeded his father as one of the king’s official clockmakers.  When King Louis XIV died, he owned ten or more Martinot clocks. 


There is no evidence to suggest that this clock was part of the royal collection.  However, early clock historian F. J. Britten wrote that elements of the clock’s ornamentation point toward a royal patron for the piece, possibly Louis XIV of France.  Click on the picture here for an expanded version of the image and look closely.  You can see the crown-topped double letter L’s at the base of the columns on the face and a fleur-de-lis motif just above the upper corners of the Boulle work case.  These feature caused Britten to suggest that “the clock was made for Louis XIV, possibly for presentation to some distinguished person.”


Ornamentation aside, this clock has an intriguing mechanism.  The clock not only tracked and displayed hours and minutes but it also called out feast days, eclipses, phases of the moon, months of the year and other information.


Willis Michael in front of the Martinot clock Willis Michael purchased this clock in New York at a sale of material from the Henry P. Strause collection in 1948. This black and white photograph shows Willis Michael discussing the Martinot clock with fellow members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors at a party at his home in 1949. This picture was likely taken at a dinner for over seventy clock aficionados and their guests the Michaels hosted during Willis Michael’s tenure as national president of the NAWCC.


“For All Time” closes on February 21, so you have just a few weeks to enjoy this and the many other exciting clocks showcased in the exhibition.



Clock, works, 1690-1710, case 1665-1680. Henri de Martinot (1646–1725). Paris, France. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 85.108.7a-e. Photograph by David Bohl 


Willis Michael at his home in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, 1949. National Heritage Museum.



I am grateful to Jonathan Snellenburg for his interesting description of this clock at the 2006 symposium organized by the New England Chapter of the NAWCC held at the National Heritage Museum.  This event is described in "National Heritage Museum, Lexington, Massachusetts Symposium Sponsred by Clock & Watch Collectors Honors Willis Michael,"  Jeanne Schinto, Maine Antique Digest, November 2006.


Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers, F. J. Britten (E. & F. Spon, Limited:  London), 1922, pp. 413, 418-422.


Huygens’ Legacy:  The Golden Age of the Pendulum Clocks,  Hans van den Ende, (Fromanteel Ldt.:  Castle Town, Isle of Man), 2004.

Willis Michael’s Clock Collection

Nailor Michael workshop doc size Many of the clocks on view in the exhibition “For All Time:  Clocks and Watches from the National Heritage Museum” came to the Museum from the collection of  Willis R. and Ruth Michael of York, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Michael’s gift of more than 140 pieces from the collection her husband assembled forms the core of the Museum’s timepiece holdings.

In the face of fast-paced change in the early 1900s, many Americans sought to celebrate past ingenuity and seemingly simpler times by collecting antiques. A similar impulse may have prompted Willis R. Michael (1894-1969), a tool and die maker and entrepreneur, to start his collection of antique American, European and other clocks. Mr. Michael purchased his first one in the late 1930s, a tall case clock crafted in the late 1700s by George Hoff of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  As Michael later described, he soon “got the bug.”  His collection grew to include hundreds of items including clocks, watches, automata, clockmaking tools and both antique and modern books about horology.   Drawing on his skills as a machinist, Michael learned how to repair, clean, and ultimately, make clocks.

The Michaels displayed clocks in every room of their home.  They also built an extensive display area to help share these treasures with others.  The photo of the Michael’s clock display area was likely taken at a dinner they hosted during Willis Michael’s tenure (1949-1951) as president of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.Visitors to the Willis Michael clock room 1949

A few years after Mr. Michael died in 1969, Mrs. Michael began making a series of gifts from her husband’s collection to the Museum, then newly founded by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Many years before, in 1924, Michael had joined his local Masonic lodge.  From then until his death, he was an active member in both the York and Scottish Rites.  He received the 33° in Boston in 1942.  Mrs. Michael likely gave many clocks from Willis Michael’s collection to the Museum in honor of her husband’s lifelong involvement in Masonry.

The Museum’s collection is much richer for the Michaels’ enthusiasm and generosity.

Willis Michael in his Workshop, 1940s or 1950s. Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Michael Nailor.

Willis Michael’s “Clock and Watch Museum.” Red Lion, Pennsylvania, 1949. Photograph by Henry M. Blatner. National Heritage Museum.