Howard & Davis Astronomical Regulator Sells for Record $161,000 at Fontaine’s Auction

The top lot of the Nov. 20-21, 2009 Fontaine’s Auction Gallery auction was this Howard & Davis astronomical regulator, which brought a record $161,000.

The top lot of the Nov. 20-21, 2009 Fontaine’s Auction Gallery auction was this Howard & Davis astronomical regulator, which brought a record $161,000.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. – E. Howard & Company has been producing high-grade watches, regulators and marine clocks since its inception in 1842, and today E. Howard & Company clocks have evolved into the Holy Grail of manufacturers among the rapidly burgeoning genre of vintage clock and watch collecting. The firm still exists today, but most of what collectors covet is from the 19th century.

Fontaine’s Auction Gallery of Pittsfield, Mass. has become a leader in offering E. Howard & Company clocks at its vintage clocks, and held a three-session cataloged auction on Nov. 20-21 where two new world auction records were set in one transaction when a Howard & Davis astronomical regulator brought $161,000.

It was a new world record price for a Howard & Davis clock at auction, and a new world record price for a drum-top clock at auction. Also in the sale, an E. Howard & Co. #60 astronomical hanging regulator fetched $109,250; an E. Howard & Co. Figure 8 #8 wall clock reached $18,400; a Howard & Davis #1 banjo clock realized $6,613; and an E. Howard & Co. #70 regulator wall clock made $1,955.

Considered on of the most desired of all E. Howard & Co. clocks, though, is the #61 astronomical floor standing regulator. While none were sold at the Nov. 20-21 sale, three examples have been offered by Fontaine’s since last year. One garnered $195,500 at a June 2008 event; another brought $189,750 at an auction held in November 2008; and the third commanded $161,000 at a sale held in May of this year.

“It’s obvious why the E. Howard & Company clocks and watches fetch such high dollars at auction,” said John Fontaine of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. “It’s because the company took pride in making only the best timepieces of its era. We have been fortunate to attract several wonderful examples of the E. Howard & Company #61 astronomical floor standing regulators and other models in our sales.”

Other clocks that did well at the Nov. 20-21 auction included a French industrial automated locomotive clock ($31,625); an Ansonia #11 pinwheel jeweler’s regulator ($22,425); an early French industrial loom timepiece ($18,400); a French conical marble and bronze clock ($18,400); an Aaron Willard Massachusetts shelf clock ($16,100); and a Walter Durfee 9-tube grandfather clock ($15,525).

A Grand Sonnerie Biedermeier lantern clock sold for $13,800; a French figural three-piece clock set of a couple swinging also sold for $13,800); while a carved mahogany grandfather clock with eight bells and eight gongs brought $11,500. Tops among the watches were a Tiffany minute repeater pocket watch ($11,500), a skeletonized Verge Fusee ($9,775) and a Tiffany “Erotic” 18kt hunting cased pocket watch ($4,025).

This E. Howard & Co. Figure 8 #8 wall clock sold for $18,400.

This E. Howard & Co. Figure 8 #8 wall clock sold for $18,400.

Vintage clock and watch collectors are a notoriously finicky and discerning bunch. “They come to a sale knowing exactly what they want and how much they want to spend,” Fontaine said. “A lot of them know each other, too. It’s almost a cliquish society of highly educated, discriminating folks. And what they come for, more times than not, are E. Howard & Company watches and clocks.”

The E. Howard Clock Company (its original name) was founded in 1842 by Edward Howard (1813-1904), who had served as an apprentice under the renowned clockmaker Aaron Willard, Jr. In 1842, Mr. Howard teamed up with David P. Davis to manufacture high-grade wall clocks under the name Howard & Davis. The company also made sewing machines, fire engines and precision balances.

The following year, 1843, a third partner, Luther Stephenson, came aboard and the company began making tower clocks. Davis left the firm in 1857 and the company was renamed E. Howard & Company. Howard launched a spinoff watch-making company that same year, and in 1861 the clock and watch businesses were merged into a single entity, The Howard Clock & Watch Company.

That firm lasted only two years. Subsequently, Howard formed a new company, The Howard Watch & Clock Company (transposing clock and watch), in 1863. The firm operated smoothly and successfully for years after that. In 1881, Howard sold his stake in the company and retired, leaving the firm to new management, which continued its founder’s tradition of quality and excellence.

This E. Howard & Co. #60 astronomical hanging regulator clock sold for $109,250.

This E. Howard & Co. #60 astronomical hanging regulator clock sold for $109,250.

It was during this time that E. Howard & Company became renowned for making the very best weight-driven wall clocks and regulators. Many models were stock items, while others were manufactured by special order only. Until 1930, all clocks were produced in Roxbury, Mass., a section of Boston. Later on, the operation was moved to Waltham, Mass.

In 1934, yet another new company—Howard Clock Products—was formed to succeed the earlier firm. By then, clock production was declining, but precision gear-cutting kept the company profitable, especially from government contracts. Production of smaller clocks was phased out altogether by 1958, and the last tower clock was made in 1964. The company barely hung on for the next dozen or so years.

Then, in the mid-1970s, Dana J. Blackwell took over as vice president and enthusiastically revived clock production, reintroducing several of the more popular models to the market. The movements in these clocks maintained the same high standards that had made the predecessors great. Cases were made to strict specifications. As a result, these reproductions were popular among collectors.

In fact, the reproduction E. Howard & Company clocks from the 1970s gained in value over time, since the truly valuable originals from the 19th century were “locked tight” in major collections, especially in the United States. But in 1977, the company was sold and new ownership came in with its own brand and style of management. Many knowledgeable employees were let go and the firm declined.

This Tiffany & Co. minute repeater pocket watch with split second chronometer brought in $11,500.

This Tiffany & Co. minute repeater pocket watch with split second chronometer brought in $11,500.

By 1980, with the firm teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a company officer was caught in a plot to blow up the factory building. He was tried and convicted, but never served jail time. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and a new manager succeeded in reviving the business.

Returning to the Fontaine’s Auction Gallery Nov. 20-21 auction, the vast majority of lots were neither clocks nor watches. Some star lots included a pair of Tiffany Studios dragonfly table lamps ($80,500 and $40,250); a Pairpoint puffy reversed painted apple tree table lamp ($25,875); a carved walnut figural mantle with timepiece ($24,150); and a Tiffany apple blossom table lamp ($23,000).

Other top achievers included an Egyptian Revival marble-top credenza, signed “Allen Bros., Philadelphia” ($24,150); an early Gustav Stickley No. 6 chalet plant stand ($28,750); and a Symphonion No. 192 mahogany music box with bells ($22,425). In all, more than 500 lots changed hands in a sale that grossed just over $2 million. Online bidding was brisk, through Artfact.com, as were phone and absentee bidding.

For more information about this auction or Fontaine’s Auction Gallery, call (413) 448-8922, e-mail to info@fontaineauction.com or visit the Fontaine’s Web site.

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