Q. I'm hoping you can tell me something about this 17-inch-high clock that has come down through the family. It is painted cast iron in the shape of a man wearing a top hat. The eyes move as the clock ticks.
A. You have what is known as a "Blinking Eye" novelty clock, patented in 1857 by inventor Pietro Cinquini. The clocks were made by Bradley and Hubbard of Meriden, Connecticut. They used 30-hour clock movements from Seth Thomas, Chauncey Jerome, or Waterbury. The eyes were activated by a wire attached to the balance wheel and verge of the movement. Some went up and down, others moved side to side. Several models were made, including "The Continental" (a soldier in a tricorn hat), Sambo, Topsy, and Santa. Yours goes by various names, including "John Bull," "Toby," and "Squire." Value in good condition with original finish: $1,000 to $3,000.
For more information, see America's Forgotten Folk Arts by Fred and Mary Fried (Pantheon, NY, c1978); and The Warner Collector's Guide to American Clocks by Anita Schorsch (Main Street Press, Arlington, VA, c1981).
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