‘Kroeber’ clock washed ashore after 1933 hurricane

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By Charlotte Patterson
Museum of the Albemarle

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The museum displays artifacts from around the region. Often, we choose to use artifacts to write a spotlight talk to give more information to the visitor than is available on a label. One of those artifacts is the “Eastlake-style” pendulum clock. The research that follows was conducted by Diana Cox a museum volunteer and past member of the education staff. It was made by F. Kroeber of New York during the 1890s. Mr. and Mrs. Edward D. Cowell donated this clock to the Museum of the Albemarle in July 2003. The clock belonged to Cowell’s grandmother, Maud Whitehurst Grice, and survived the partial destruction of the Grice cottage during a 1933 category three hurricane. It eventually washed up near Engagement Hill in Nags Head where a passerby recognized the clock and returned it to its owner.

The labels in the clock identify it as an F Kroeber clock. The name F. Kroeber Clock Company of New York, New York conjures images of unusual yet beautiful clocks, which are rarely available to the collector. The maker of these clocks was Florenz Friedrick Martin Kroeber (1840-1911) who was born in Germany. He and his family crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1800s and settled in New York City.

At the age of 19, Kroeber was employed as a bookkeeper in the Owen and Clark Clock Store. George B. Owen operated the business when Clark left the company in 1861. Soon, George B. Owen left to become general manager of the W. L. Gilbert Clock Company in Winsted, Connecticut. This gave Florence Kroeber the opportunity to acquire the business. Advertisements during the beginning of the 1870s listed Kroeber as an "Importer and dealer in French, German and American clocks."

Kroeber, an innovative horologist 1, patented Porcelene and the ring pendulum as well. Porcelene, a process that coated cast iron to make it resemble porcelain, was so popular that he had to sue the Ansonia Clock Company for using the same type of finish. The Kroeber Pendulum had thin brass rods running through rings, preventing the pendulum from swinging too far off the normal path and damaging the suspension spring. This type of movement allowed the clock to be moved around without fear of damaging their inner workings.

The Eastlake Style was a decorative style of ornamentation found on houses of various other Victorian styles, primarily the Queen Anne and Stick styles. It is named after Charles L. Eastlake (1833-1906), an English architect who wrote "Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details," published in 1868. The book was reprinted in America in 1872 and became so popular that it required six editions within 11 years. He made no furniture himself, his designs being produced by professional cabinet makers.

Today, examples of Kroeber quality clocks are appreciated by people who enjoy collecting unique, hard to find clocks. Collectors realize that his clocks bring higher prices and are more difficult to find than those made by some of the major clock companies.

Diana Cox contributed research for this column. Charlotte Patterson is education curator for Museum of the Albemarle.