Willis Michael

Clepsammia: Thief of Sand

Hourglass, ca. 1700. Italy. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 85.108.20. Photograph by David Bohl.

As the remaining hours of 2022 run down, let’s investigate this unusual hourglass in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Called clepsammia, meaning thief of sand, sand hourglasses are an early method of keeping time. Devices using a fixed amount of sand to measure time were likely first developed in the 1300s, but the need for contained, reliable, and stable timekeeping on ships to aid with navigation helped popularize clepsammia during the Age of Sail (roughly 1650-1850).

Before the invention of the modern clock, hourglasses were used in churches to time sermons, in government offices to time speeches, and in factories to time work shifts. These useful items came in many types, materials, and sizes. A common form of hourglass was intended to measure one hour and was constructed of two glass bulbs, often set in a frame, that were joined with wax and cord.

Another kind of hourglass, used to mark the quarter hour, featured four horizontally-oriented glass bulbs. Each bulb contained either 15-, 30-, 45-, or 60-minutes’ worth of sand. As each ran out, the user could track quarter hours. The vertically-oriented hourglass held by the museum is an unusual form. The sand flows through two glass bulbs - one shaped into four equal chambers and another larger bulb. There seem to be only a few existing examples of this type of hourglass. One is in the collection at the Louvre.

The museum’s clepsammia was crafted in Italy, around 1700. The “sand” is actually powdered stone contained within the glass bulbs, fixed within a wooden frame covered with decorated paper. Compared to beach sand, which has angular edges, powdered stone flows smoothly through the apertures between bulbs. In one direction, the material moves from the largest bulb down, filling first one bulb, then the next in fifteen-minute intervals. When flipped over, the sand empties from each bulb, again in fifteen-minute intervals. This hourglass stands ten inches tall and, at over three hundred years old, is in good condition for its age.

This clepsammia is part of a collection of clocks, watches, tools, and books donated by Ruth Michael of York, Pennsylvania. Her gift of more than 140 items from the collection that she and her husband, Willis R. Michael, assembled over many years forms the core of the museum’s horological holdings. If you’d like to learn more about timepieces in the museum’s collection, you can see more examples in this Flickr album. You can also see this hourglass in action in the video below.

40th Anniversary: Masonic Symbols in Decorative Arts

Forty years ago, the Scottish Rite Mason86_32aDP2DBic Museum & Library published the book Masonic­­ Symbols in American Decorative Arts to accompany an exhibition on the topic. The book, written in 1976 by former museum curator Barbara Franco, highlighted and contextualized 146 American decorative arts objects with Masonic symbols. Decorative arts, often defined as the design and decoration of functional objects, include glassware, furniture, ceramics, textiles, basketry, and clocks. Artist's and craftsmen commonly incorporated Masonic symbols into their designs in the 1700s and 1800s; a period of rapid growth for American Masonic and fraternal organizations.

The Museum has acquired more Masonic decorative arts objects since 1976. Many of the artifacts featured in Franco's publication have been re-photographed and continue to be a part of our exhibitions. Two of these items are highlighted below and have recently been exhibited at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

This pocket watch is featured in our current exhibition “Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors" open through 2017. The watch, designed and manufactured by the Dudley and Hamilton Watch Companies, was made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, around 1925. William Wallace Dudley's (1851–1938) company produced distinctive watches with movement parts shaped like Masonic symbols. This particular watch includes a trowel, square and compasses, level, bible, and shoe.


This Worshipful Master’s Chair made around 1870 and marked by maker John Luker (b. 1838) was featured in the exhibition "‘Every Variety of Paintings for Lodges’: Decorated Furniture, Paintings and Ritual Objects from the Collection." You can find out more about the chair in this 2008 blog post.The chair is also currently included in the online exhibition of the same name, available here.

Find these objects and more in our new decorative arts album on Flickr! Like, share, and comment on objects you find on our Flickr page.






Pocket Watch, ca. 1925, Dudley Watch Co. and Hamilton Watch Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Gift of Hazel D. Hubley in memory of Bert H. Hubley, 86.32a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Worshipful Master's Chair, ca. 1870, John Luker, Vinton County, Ohio, Gift of the Estate of Charles V. Hagler, Photograph by David Bohl.


Barbara Franco, Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts, Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Inc., 1976.





















The Organ Clock in "Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors"

Organ Clock, 1820-1850. T. Hilzinger, retailer. Germany. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 77.80.11a-t. Photograph by David Bohl.

At almost nine feet tall, this clock, now on view in “Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors” at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, makes a real impression. But sheer size is just the beginning; this clock features an automated performance by a uniformed band of six musicians every hour. Wooden and metal pipes inside the bonnet provide the music.

Like many clocks exhibited in “Keeping Time,” this one was collected by Willis Michael (1894-1969). Michael started his collection with a single tall case Pennsylvania clock. By the time he died decades later, his collection had grown tremendously. This clock was just one of the nearly one thousand clocks, watches, tools, books and automata that Michael and his wife Ruth (1904-1992) purchased and enjoyed.  In the accompanying photograph, you can see how the Michaels displayed this clock and others at their home in Red Lion, Pennsylvania.   

Interested in different kinds of mechanisms, technology and time-keeping systems, Michael amassed timepieces made in America, Europe and Asia, dating from the 1600s into the 1900s. German makers crafted this organ clock, also called a flötenuhr (flute clock), sometime between the 1820s and the 1850s. The pipes, bellows, painted elements, figures and musical mechanism were made in the Black Forest area. This clock plays several melodies, all ingeniously stored on a pin barrel (visible along with some of the pipes in the image below).  Right now, when activated, the clock plays the tune of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” also known as “God Save the King.”

Visitors to the Willis Michael clock room 1949
Willis Michael’s “Clock and Watch Museum.” Red Lion, Pennsylvania, 1949. Photograph by Henry M. Blatner.

A name painted on the clock’s enamel face, “T. Hilzinger,” probably indicates the retailer who sold the clock to its first owner. That person likely commissioned a local cabinetmaker to put together the hood and case to suit the clock owner's needs and taste. On the inside of this case a partial chalked name, “Moses…,” may be that of the cabinetmaker.   

During the first half of the 1800s, some Black Forest craftsmen specialized in producing sophisticated organ clocks like this one. Decorated with scenes from drama, mythology and other sources, and playing a variety of tunes taken from operas, dances and hymns, these clocks kept the time, but primarily delighted and entertained their owners. Today, this clock charms visitors to “Keeping Time” and will through October, 2016.

Detail organ clock 77.80.11
Detail, Organ Clock, 1820-1850. T. Hilzinger, retailer. Germany. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 77.80.11a-t.

Many thanks to Prof. Eduard C. Saluz, Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen, Germany.

Whimsical Clocks in "Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors," Opening October 10, 2015

W. H. MacKenzie
Shelf Clock, 1919. Unknown maker and Phinney-Walker Co., Inc. (ca. 1900–ca. 1960). New York, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 95.029a-c. Photograph by David Bohl.

Starting October 10, 2015, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will open a new exhibition “Keeping Time:  Clockmakers and Collectors,” featuring clocks from the Museum’s rich collection of timepieces. Along with tall case clocks from the 1700s, material related to the collectors Ruth and Michael Willis and clocks from the 1800s and 1900s, this exhibition features a section devoted to whimsical clocks.

From the mid-1800s on, American consumers enjoyed many choices in factory-produced clocks. Different makers produced a wonderful variety of clocks and sold them at a range prices to appeal to every taste and budget. Clock makers also added novel and useful features, such as illumination and alarms, to help their offerings stand out in the marketplace. Against this backdrop, some clockmakers took a different tack; they crafted clocks that expressed creativity and enthusiasm one-by-one or in small numbers. One example, at left, is this clock with a drawer made for or crafted by W. H. Mackenzie. Its maker demonstrated his creativity in how he decorated this clock and how he used the materials he had at hand. He incorporated a round metal clock, originally designed for a car dashboard, into this object. He also repurposed an evaporated milk crate to serve as the foundation the body of the clock. The maker attached carved wooden ornaments to the crate, many of them in the shape of symbols associated with Freemasonry and Odd Fellowship, to create what must have been particularly designed to reflect the interests of its owner.

Other whimsical clocks will be on view in “Keeping Time.” A few, like this tall case clock pictured to the

Tall Case Clock, 1972. George F. McFadden (1904-1991), Winchester, Massachusetts. Gift of the Estate of George F. McFadden, 91.018.4. Photograph by David Bohl.

right and made and decorated with Pennsylvania Dutch inspired motifs, were crafted by museum goer and staff favorite, George McFadden (1904-1991). McFadden’s clocks are folk art—unique objects made from available materials that explore an idea--that were also functioning timepieces. Other whimsical clocks on display show ingenuity in how makers employed their creativity to interest certain consumers, like parents or members of fraternal organizations. For example, sparked by his daughter Emily’s love of a classic nursery rhyme, Elmer Ellsworth Dungan (1862–1930) created the Dickory, Dickory, Dock Clock in the early 1900s. Twice a day, a mouse runs up the side of the clock, tracking the time along side ruled numbers and then falls down. You can see a detail of the carved mouse on the clock below at left. With a partner Dungan patented and promoted the clock. The New Haven Clock Company manufactured it. Expensive to produce, the clock did not bring the partnership much, if

Detail Dickory Dickory Dock Clock
Detail, Dickory, Dickory, Dock Clock, ca. 1910. New Haven Clock Co. (1853–1960), New Haven, Connecticut. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 75.66.10a-c. Photograph by David Bohl.

any, income. The clock, however, charms collectors today. We think it, along with the other clocks on view in “Keeping Time,” reflect the talent and vision of their makers—as well as their makers’ passion for clocks. Be sure to make time to come see the exhibition starting Saturday, October 10.



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.