Thomas Harland Pocket Watch

Thomas Harland Pocket Watch

Thomas Harland Pocket Watch

Thomas Harland emigrated from England to America in 1773 and established his shop the same year in Norwich, Connecticut where he remained until his death in 1807. He is best known for his clocks, some of the finest made in Connecticut. Harland employed an unusually large number of journeymen and apprentices, including Daniel Burnap, Benjamin Hanks, William Cleveland, Nathaniel Shipman, Seril Dodge, Ezra Dodge and Jedediah Baldwin (watches signed by Jedediah Baldwin and Nathaniel Shipman are recorded); a good indication of the large size of his operation. Few Harland watches survive. One is in the Winterthur Museum and another was in the Time Museum and sold when the collection was liquidated in 2004. This example was located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, in the 1970's.

Early American Watchmaking

Thomas Harland Clock

Harland Movement

Harland advertised his clocks, watches and bespoke (made to order) parts regularly as in this example:

"Thomas Harland, Watch & clock Maker, From London, Begs leave to acquaint the public, that he has opened a shop near the store of Christopher Leffingwell, Esq; in Norwich; where he makes, in the neatest manner, and on the most improved principles, horizontal, repeating, and plain watches, in gold, silver, metal, or covered cases. Spring, musical, and plain clocks; church clocks, regulators, &c. He also cleans and repairs watches and clocks with the greatest care and dispatch, and upon the most reasonable terms. N. B. Clock faces engraved and finished for the trade. Watch wheels and fuzees [sic] of all sorts and dimensions cut and finished upon the shortest notice, neat as in London, and at the same price." (The Norwich Packet, December 9, 1773) (Harris, 199)

At the time of his death, the Connecticut Gazette announced: "Died at Norwich, Mr. Thomas Harland, aged 72, Goldsmith; he is said to have made the first watch ever manufactured in America" (Hoopes, 87)

Thomas Harland Clockmaker

Harland Pocket Watch

Thomas Harland Pocket Watch

Harland Movement Closeup

American Silversmith

American Case

This watch is signed on the movement "Thomas Harland No 716" and was likely finished in Norwich around 1793 or 1794. It was inexpensively made to appeal to the newly emerging middle class who had limited discretionary income. The movement has a verge escapement, three-arm uncut steel balance, and cast balance table. The enamel dial was replaced sometime in the 19th century. The letter "D" is stamped on the back plate (beneath the balance foot) for the unidentified maker of the Ă©bauche (also called the frame). Note the unusual loss of gilding on the balance table.

The well made double-bottomed case, although a brilliant silver in appearance, was constructed mainly of copper, zinc and nickel with traces of lead, gold, chromium, iron & tin (almost the alloys found in nickel or German silver) and therefore kept the cost of the watch to a minimum. Consumers were aware that hallmarks were important trade information and that possibly explains the abundance of faux, Sterling-like marks found on this early American-made case. It's also possible that the buyer desired case marks similar to the demand that exists for knock-off fashionable labels today. Thankfully, the marks include a case maker's initials, "AN" who may be Andrew Norton of nearby Goshen, Connecticut (1765-1838).

Historically, watches were extremely expensive and therefore a luxury item that only the rich could afford. Although owning a watch was still uncommon at the time this watch was made, competition and manufacturing efficiency was driving down prices and making them affordable for the first time to the growing middle class. With a low finish quality and lacking a precious metal case, this watch was surely one of the least expensive that Harland offered for sale. However, it kept good time, looked great and no-doubt was proudly worn by its owner for many years.

Additional References and recommended reading:

  • Chris Bailey, Thomas Harland of Norwich: Forerunner of the Clock Manufacturing Industry, The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. 51, No. 4, 1986, pp. 227-249

  • Carter J. Harris, The Clock and Watch makers American Advertiser, Antiquarian Horological Society, Great Britain. 2003, p. 335

  • Penrose Hoopes, Connecticut Clockmakers of the Eighteenth Century,Charles Tuttle Company, Vermont, 1986

  • Russ Oechsle, North American Watches Repaired by Jedediah Baldwin 1793-1804, NAWCC Bulletin, No. 245 (December 1986), pp. 488-489 and No. 261 (August 1989), pp. 346-347

  • William Willard, Thomas Harland, Clockmaker, Watchmaker and Entrepreneur, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin, No. 295, (April, 1995), pp. 185-196