photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy Lelands.com
BY: Lelands.com Sports and Americana Auctions, Seaford, N.Y.
AUCTION DATE: May 30th 2003
LOT NUMBER: #1299
DIMENSIONS: 16 ½” Inches Tall
MEDIUM: Cast Iron
MADE IN: U.S.A.
SOLD FOR: $6,430.77
Muller Baseball Clock
my knowledge only two important 19th century baseball clocks were
produced. The first one I address, which we’ll call the “Ward Ewing”
clock, was owned by renowned collector Barry Halper and was
deaccessioned by him after the break up of his collection. That one has
two 7 ½” tall figures of baseball players positioned on each side the
clock. On the viewers right is a catcher wearing a chest protector with
his cap turned backward. On the left is a player with his hands cupped
to his right to make a catch.
Circa 1880’s Ward Ewing Baseball Clock
The figures appear to be circa 1880 and are reported to be John Montgomery Ward on the left and Buck Ewing on the right. Both were teammates playing for the New York Giants between 1883 and 1889. It’s an exquisite piece. I believe it was the only one
produced, no other examples are known. That’s bad…because if it’s the only one, the chances of you or I ever owning it aren’t very good. It’s a very interesting piece we’ll look into another time.
The other important baseball clock seen here, is our focus today. We’ll call this one the “Muller” clock, for it’s designer. As display pieces go this circa 1870’s clock is one of the greatest and rarest baseball antiques. While the first clock’s value is more esthetic and its style more elegant, this clock is more historical and it’s style reserved. I believe it’s the only 19th century sculpted relief of baseball ever produced. The clock is a very rare
iconographic artwork representing a significant part of American culture that has endured more than one hundred fifty years. Based on that it merits a more comprehensive study than practical for this column. However, I’ll provide what I can today as a cursory overview that hopefully will encourage further study.
I’ll begin by clarifying that I do not know of any documentation from this clock’s maker positively identifying the persons in it. Nevertheless, the commonly held story on the clock is that it relates the past, present and future of baseball, albeit from an 1870’s perspective, and that four notable baseball personalities are represented. An article on this clock appeared in a 1978 Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. It’s a fine article but doesn’t unearth anything new or mention any original
documentation. I’ve also read auction descriptions; again good, but nothing new. Without documentation we’re left to speculate on who and what is represented. Today we’ll look at the general consensus on this clock, along with recent research I’ve done for this article, plus my own personal insight.
From the viewer’s perspective, the player standing left of the clock face, bracing a bat is commonly thought to be Bob Ferguson (1845-1894) who was a popular outfielder and manager for the Brooklyn Atlantics in the 1870’s. The player standing on the right of the clock face holding a ball is said to be Bobby Mathews (1851-1898), who also played in the 1870’s as a renowned pitcher for the New York
Mutuals. Mathews is credited with throwing the first recorded spitball in 1868 when he was sixteen. Both the Mutuals and Atlantics were amateur teams.
Under the clock’s face is a rendering of two men in low relief facing each other. The man on the left with his back hunched to the adjacent bat is believed to be Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) Conjecture the renderingis Chadwick would probably rest mostly on the fact that the subject is writing
Chadwick photo comparison with relief rendering
well, there is some resemblance with respect to his heavy eyelids and beard. Chadwick was the most famous sports writer of the 19th century and the only sports writer ever inducted into the National Baseball Hall of
Fame. The man facing Chadwick wearing a top hat is commonly believed to be Alexander Cartwright (1820-1892). The facial features particularly, and low cropped beard do offer a resemblance of
him in his playing days.
circumstances of baseball’s incubation aren’t concrete. No one happened to capture it on a home video camera that afternoon from their patio terrace. However, it’s generally believed Alexander Cartwright, along with others on his Knickerbocker Base Ball Club drew up the rules for the first modern style baseball game on June 19th 1846. Evidence that Cartwright played a short but important role in the games development came in 1939, when grandson Bruce Cartwright supplied his grandfather’s dairies. One thing that I can tell you for sure is, if the designer of this clock intended the rendering as Cartwright back in the 1870’s, that would clearly imply he was held in high esteem then…very interesting! I’ll leave conjecture of baseball’s origin to the purist baseball historians though. My main interests in items are generally their esthetics and how they were produced; that’s my contribution.
At the top of the clock are two young boys on a pitched roof, one clearly wearing a bib front jersey holding a bat. They appear to be intently watching a base ball game no doubt. It’s commonly said the boys represent the future of the game. Their identities aren’t known for sure but there is speculation the one on the left is Josh Evans and the other Bill
Mastro. Neither has been substantiated however.
So far we’ve mainly talked about the clock’s historical aspect. However, let’s take a look at its design and production, as well as general
collectability, beginning with its rarity. Over the last sixteen or so years I’ve been in the hobby, I estimate I’ve seen about five examples of this clock offered in auctions. That’s good….because if there were five extant, the chances you and I could ever own one are way better than the Ward Ewing clock. However there’s no way to know I didn’t see the same clock twice or more for that matter. Point is I’m only speculating at least five examples exist. I seem to recall one of the five, offered recently, was just the decorative metal case minus the clock. I’ve never seen one in person.
With regard to the clock’s design and production, when I began looking into it for this story, I vaguely recalled Nicholas Muller had cast it. Muller was a well-known maker of cast iron clock casings in New York City in the later 19th century. The story I got from one antique clock aficionado was that when an American clock maker wanted a cast iron casing made then, they went to Nicholas Muller. He made many cast iron casing of antique clocks you see today.
To confirm my recollection Muller had produced it; I contacted the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. The
N.A.W.C.C. is a most interesting organization in that they are essentially the world governing body of antique watch and clock study and research on a broad basis. The Association is a highly organized and structured one that provides free research assistance to its members. Non-members usually have to pay a $55.00 fee. However because I was able to provide the Muller name and previous research, Nancy Dyer the Association’s Librarian and Archivist very graciously confirmed the clock was by Muller pro bono. She raised her scepter to us, to which I assured her the sports collecting community is grateful.
Nancy supplied that in the N.A.W.C.C.’s Bulletin #238 Volume #27, published in October 1985, an article by a Jim Shawn provides an unmistakable description of the clock, although slightly different than the general one, and confirms it is by N. Muller case #135. Further the article states the clock is listed in the 1876 catalog of the American Clock Company. Regarding markings, Nancy supplied that the article indicates early Muller clocks are marked with the Muller name and casting number in the back of the casting next to the movement, while later ones are marked either under the dial plate of under the pendulum bezel. At the end of the article a list of Muller’s clocks refers to clock #135 as having the catalog name “Ball Players”, then interestingly states it is for an eight day clock for a Seth Thomas (big name clock maker) clock movement
here to continue to