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A Time for Opera

by Gregory Watkins (12/11/08).
A side view of the works of a Patti clock.
The pendulum used on the early Patti clocks is unique in the fact that it has a decorative Sandwich glass center.
The works of a Patti V.P. clock, named after the famous Victorian soprano prima donna, Adelina Patti. The Patti mechanisms employed four mainsprings, two for each the time and the strike, instead of the usual single mainsprings for the time and strike.
The paper label on the back of a Gerster V.P. clock.
The face of a Gerster V.P. clock, manufactured by the Welch, Spring & CO., named after Hungarian soprano prima donna Etelka Gerster.

A Time for Opera

By Mark Peers

Welch, Spring & Co.’s Patti Series Clocks were named after opera singers and are called Patti clocks by collectors today. The three most popular Patti clocks today’s collectors seek are: the Patti V.P.; the Gerster V.P.; and the Cary V.P.

The Patti V.P. is named after the famous Victorian soprano prima donna, Adelina Patti (1843-1919). Born in Madrid, Spain, she moved to New York City with her parents in 1847. Ms. Patti was considered the most famous opera singer of her time and became rather well-to-do because of this. A short biography of Ms. Patti can be read here and even more here.

The Gerster V.P. clock is named after Hungarian soprano prima donna Etelka Gerster (1855-1920), who was considered Adeline Patti’s biggest rival. She lost her voice soon after having a child and began the Etelka Gerster music school. I found an autographed card with a photo of Ms. Gerster for $275.00

The Cary V.P. clocks namesake is Annie Louise Cary, an operatic contralto (1842-1921) who was born in Wayne, Me. Ms. Cary was considered to be he most famous American born singer of her time and was celebrated for her 3 octave range voice. You can read more about her here.

Welch, Spring & Co was formed in the 1868 and produced premium quality clocks until 1884. Nearly all of the clocks produced by Welch, Spring & Co were made of expensive rosewood. While a Victorian could buy a very nice American clock for about $7, the Patti clocks retailed at $15, which, I suspect, is why the company lasted only 16 years. The one thing all of the Patti series clocks have in common is the distinct mechanism. While most clocks manufactured in America during the period had two mainsprings: one for the time; and one for the strike train. The Patti mechanisms, though, employed four mainsprings, two for each the time and the strike. The movements were finely made and were a bit smaller than most others manufactured in the day. The pendulum used on the early Patti clocks is unique in the fact that it has a decorative Sandwich glass center. Similar Sandwich glass inserts are found in some Victorian period curtain tie backs.

Of the various Welch, Spring and Co Patti type shelf clock models, the Patti V.P. clock seems to be the most common, followed by the Gerster V.P and then the Cary V.P.. There was a tiny Patti V.P. #2 produced in low numbers that used a different mechanism than the larger Patti V.P. This clock is called the baby Patti by collectors today and is rather rare.

After E.N. Welch bought out the failing Welch, Spring and Co. in late 1884, the new owner took over the Patti line and added several models with the Patti style movements. These additions were the Judic, Eveline, Khedive, Norma, Nilsson, Scalchi, Victoria and the rare Ernani hanging model wall clock. Also, some less-fancy wood cabinet models, as well as enameled iron and marble cased clocks, were produced. Most of the Patti type clocks made by E.N. Welch Clock Co. did not use rosewood, but instead were made of polished mahogany or walnut. Mr. Elisha Welch was a patron of the arts, so it is no wonder many clocks made by the Welch clock companies were named after musicians, composers and singers.

All of the Patti series clocks are highly sought after by clock collectors today and command premium prices at auction and private sales. Originality is a major factor in determining value as well as desirability and rarity. Collectors look for the original glass with gold decoration, the original wooden pendulum leader, the original Sandwich glass pendulum, (reproductions of this pendulum are out there), the paper label on the back of the case and the flocked black paper inside on the back of the case. As with any antique clock, a somewhat worn original painted dial is always better to have than a replaced or repainted dial. Having the original movement is a must; always look for unexplained holes in the backboard and around the dial to determine if the clock has been modified.

Because of the beauty and value of the Patti series clock there have been reproductions made in the 1980s and are often seen in the online auction websites is the Gerster model. If you find a Patti clock and are unsure about its value or collectability, take lots of photos of it and ask WorthPoint!

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3 Responses to “A Time for Opera”

  1. darryl mair says:

    hi .ihave rytime electricalarm clock made in victoria aust it was in my aunties estate who passed away this year at99years of age ,it still in the box with the wires not connected as new proberly from the 1920 to40,s is it worth anything

  2. Anne Farnam says:

    I am most curious about the reference “sandwich glass” as it pertains to the decorative Welch pendulums. Is it the interior center decoration that is glass? The “clear covering” over the colored decoration is some sort of thick plastic-like material. The pendulum that I have is an original Welch. Thanks so much for your reply! Anne

  3. Scott says:

    I have a Welsch Baby Patti that my mother gave me. My Patti Has all the original pieces including the gold decorated original glass, original pendulum etc but lacks the paper lable on the back. Works great and even chimes on the hour. I had no idea it was so valuable! Google a wonderful thing. I just thought it was an interesting old clock and I have a few.

    Thanks for the history of the company and clock.

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