Visit to the National Clock and Watch Museum in Columbia P.A.

In April I had the opportunity to visit the National Watch and Clock Museum located in Columbia Pennsylvania. The museum was founded in 1977 and is operated by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC).

I arrived at the museum on a weekday morning and as expected it was not crowded at all. In the car park there is a large clock tower located opposite the main building. When you enter the building you look up and see the decorative design of the central roof section. To the rear of the building is the library section, to the right the NAWCC and administration offices, while to the left is the main museum exhibits entrance.

Upon entering the museum you can view a short video on the history of time keeping and then enter the main museum section through a short corridor. The corridor has a number of displays highlighting various technical developments in the history of timekeeping. These displays are positioned in reverse chronological order indicating the travel back in time and include GPS devices, radio control time synchronisation, quartz, electric clocks, pocket watches and telleruhr and back to sundials. You then enter the exhibit area through a stone display reminiscent of a section of Stonehenge.

The first part of the museum examines very early timekeeping devices like sundials, water clocks, candle clocks, sandglasses and early scientific instruments like the astrolabe. There is a large image on the wall picturing the massive and complex water clock designed in China by Su Sung in 1088AD. I had previously seen a reproduction of this amazing clock at the Gishodo Museum in Japan.

The exhibits next feature an area describing the basics of timepieces and their basic functioning. This is followed by displays of various 17th to 19th century table and wall clocks. This display also includes a large collection of eighteenth century tall (Grandfather) clocks. There is a section examining the improvements in timekeeping accuracy with the introduction of pocket and marine chronometers. There is an exhibit presented like the workshop for the production of tall clock cases and this explains the different parts of the clock case and how this differed between regions and over time. The walls of the museum are covered in various large and small clocks in this section examining the evolution of the clock.

The next major area is a section dedicated to Asian horology. At the entrance to this section are a couple of large Japanese Yagura-Doeki from the 18th and 19th century. These traditional Japanese timekeeping devices have stationary hands while the dial face will move breaking the day into even portions of day-time and night-time throughout the year. There are a number of Japanese Shaku-Dokei that display the time on a large vertical scale on the clock body. There is also a display of both wall mounted and table top lantern clocks from Japan. On the left of the exhibit is a case with a mixture of early timekeeping devices, like Japanese and Chinese incense clocks, bracket clocks and the compact Japanese Inro watches.

The next section of the museum continues the evolution of western clock production and has numerous European table and wall clocks on display as well as a small number of pocket watches. There is also a dedicated section for early American clock production as well, as a display on timepieces developed for the railroad industry. This exhibit showcases various clocks as well as a pair of display cases showcasing railroad pocket watches from American manufacturers, with numerous examples from Hamilton, Hampden Watch Company and the Illinois Watch Company.

The next section of the museum is dedicated to the production of American pocket watches with many examples from companies like Elgin, Ball, and Waltham. The watches are presented in cabinets as well as display cases where the watches are hung and the movements can be seen on one side while the watch faces can be viewed on the other.

In the next area is an exhibit presenting numerous machines and devices used in the production of early American pocket watches. These include devices for both movement and case manufacturing with various presses and case dies with detailed patterns, a rose engine and a device for engraving multiple simultaneous case designs.

A large collection of European pocket watches is shown with most models from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There are a number of individual models that are displayed with additional information about the manufacturer and the people behind the companies.

An exhibit depicting a Waltham store displays a wide range of clocks, pocket watches and wrist watches. There are various store display items and a area with watch service display.

Outside of the Waltham store display is a collection of Marine Chronometers mainly from the early to mid 20th century. As part of the display are a number of quartz models including, Hamilton, Omega models and a Seiko QC-951 II Crystal Chronometer that is displayed in the original transport case.

The displays of American made pocket watches continue as well as numerous clocks including a section dedicated to tower clocks.

A learning center has a series of handmade models that demonstrate the different types of clock escapements allowing viewers to see the development of the technology. The learning center also describes time zones and daylight saving time.

The last area of the learning center is the monumental Engle Clock that was produced by Stephen D. Engle. He began production on the clock in 1857 and the construction took just under twenty years. The clock has the time but also displays date, day of week, month, moon phase and tide. There are two organ movements, 48 moving figures, and a indication of the position of the moon and constellations in relation to earth. The large clock is 11’ high and 8’ wide and was taken on tour being displayed at various venues around the United States. A presentation of the clock is given Tuesday to Saturday at 12:00 and 14:00 and on Sundays at 13:00 and 15:00.

Heading out of the learning center is a display showing the development of atomic clocks with examples showing the drastic reduction in size from the start of the 1960’s to the mid 1980’s. On the next wall is a collection of Novel Timepieces with a mix of novelty wall and table clocks.

Moving around the room is a display of timepieces that were designed for automotive use. Following is a display of time keeping devices that were developed for aircraft use. One of the aircraft clocks on display is from Seikosha, with the additional function of recording elapsed time. These Type 100 clocks are often now seen re-cased into pocket watch cases.

The next major display in the museum is a collection of items from the Hamilton Watch Company. The company was located in nearby Lancaster Pennsylvania and the museum has a very large collection of very interesting historical items including prototypes, tools, promotional items, artillery ordnance, and a large collection of watches. There is a great display of Hamilton calculator prototype watches and the relevant patent.

Following the Hamilton display is an exhibit dedicated to the watches used in the James Bond movies. The display focuses on the quartz watches worn by Bond and the evolution of the technology as can be seen by the changing models used in the movies from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s.

The first watch on display is the Pulsar P2 worn in the 1973 film “Live and Let Die”. This is followed by the first of numerous Seiko models to be worn with the Quartz LC 0674-5009 from “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Two years later in “Moonraker” another LCD model, the M394-5019, was selected. In the 1981 film “For Your Eyes Only” the ana-digi hybrid H357-5040 was worn by Bond along with the 7459-7009 golden tuna diver.

Octopussy” in 1983 featured the LCD G757-5020. In the 1985 “A View to a Kill” Bond wore three Seiko watches, the 7A28-7020 powered by the world’s first quartz chronograph, the H558-8000 world’s first ana-digi hybrid diver with alarm and also the 6923-8080. Seiko watches were heavily featured in this movie with most of the other leading characters also wearing Seiko models.

In 1987 for “The Living Daylights” Bond switched brands to the TAG Heuer 980.031 and 980.013 divers.

In the display area there are also examples of various promotional materials and advertising along with displays with separate displays featuring Omega and Swatch Bond related watches.

After the Bond quartz exhibit there is a display of the various developments of wrist watch technology. This starts from the early 20th century with the introduction of wrist watches that was propelled by operations in the first world war. There is a display of early automatic watches and a mix of models from the second half of the 20th century up to today.

There are examples from the developments of tuning fork movements, quartz models, LED and LCD displays, watches for the visually impaired and solar powered watches.

A couple of Seiko models shown include a Seiko 6720 with an ultrathin movement that measures just 0.9mm. There is also a Bell-Matic model presented on an unusual strap.

The general watch display area finishes up with a range of technical and early smart watches and a section dedicated to character and toy watches. There are also a few examples of the locally produced RGM watches that are located just a few minutes away from the museum.

Towards the exit of the museum is an area with a mixture of art deco style clocks and watches and then a range of exhibits of artistic clocks and even a timepiece inspired guitar.

When you leave the museum exhibit area there is a gift shop that sells a wide range of watch and clock related books, a range of clothing and even some watchmaking tools. I picked up a copy of the book “A Man and His Watch” as well as a couple of Seiko related postcards.

After walking through the museum I decided to become a member of the NAWCC to help support their activities. To do this you can just take the elevator up a floor to the main counter where you can quickly join up. As a member of the organizations you get access to various online resources, access to their library, regular newsletters, a printed magazine and also free entry to the museum. If you are a first time member the annual fee is just $52 if you are based in the US and $65 for international members. The first time membership includes physical copies of the magazine mailed to you.

After becoming a member I headed back downstairs and spent some time going through their library and archives. While they did not have any particularly unusual publications for someone specifically interested in Japanese watch production there was an extensive collection of materials on both US domestic as well as European clock and watch production.

If you are in the Pennsylvania area and have a couple of hours to spare I can definitely recommend stopping by the museum and checking it out.