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Clocks & Clockmakers

AROUND THE TURN OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY Trenton had a number of clockmakers who advertised in the Federalist. Erastus Emmons, whose shop was near Leslie's establishment, had a notice in the issue of July 16, 1807, indicating that "all orders in the line of clock repairing will be thankfully received and punctually executed."

Joseph Giles gave notice on October 21, 1804, of a change in address to Market Street, and J.L. Newton formerly of London, that he had opened a shop as a watchmaker and gilder.

Joseph Yates, to whom I have previously referred, was a partner in Yates & Kent, in Trenton, in 1789, and remained in business until 1803, when he removed to Freehold, Monmouth County. John Parry, originally of Philadelphia, worked in Trenton around 1789; others were John Probasco, said to have been the town's first clockmaker, and James Huston, who was employed in his shop. Together they are said to have made the first clock in Trenton. It originally was placed in the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church and later at the old city hall.

Hugh Ely was another early clockmaker in Trenton. He was first in business at New Hope, Pennsylvania, in 1800 and later moved to Trenton, where he made clocks with music-box attachments. One of the earliest Trenton clockmakers was Jacob Maus, who hailed from Philadelphia and advertised in the Trenton papers beginning in 1780. At the start he was located on the corner of Broad and State Streets, later on Warren Street.

One of the few early clockmakers in Newark was Benjamin Cleveland. Little of his life is known except that he is understood to have been an ancestor of Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, who was born at Caldwell, New Jersey. He was of New England ancestry, born in 1767 and died in Newark in 1837.

Smith Burnet had a clockmaking and repair shop on Broad Street, Newark, in 1794, as is shown by a map of the thoroughfare for that time. There undoubtedly were other makers and repairers of clocks in the early days of Newark, but history records G. R. & B. Dowling as the only contemporaries. They are listed between 1830 and 1832.

Few details are known concerning the life of John Nicholl, who was located at Belvidere, in the northwestern part of the state, from 1825 to 1860. He was of Scotch parentage and is thought to have learned the trade of clockmaker in New York. One of the best examples of his work was acquired originally about 1835 by a Joseph Nicholl, who lived in that city. It has come down in the family to a great granddaughter living in New Jersey, and it is in excellent condition.

Nicholl followed the custom of putting his name and address on the lower part of the clock dials, which were ornately embellished, with the moon showing in color directly over the hours of the day. There is no way of telling by whom the cases were made, because none have been found with labels, but they followed closely the style of the David Rittenhouse clocks made in Philadelphia. Usually they are of mahogany, with satinwood inlay, and turned columns at the top are surmounted by a gracefully curved pediment and a center finial.

In the southern part of the state one of the first clockmakers was Isaac Pearson. He was in Burlington around 1740 and in that year his daughter, Sarah, married Joseph Hollinshead, another member of the trade. The two men formed a partnership and the clocks they made were marked Pearson & Hollinshead. The Hollinshead clocks are distinguished by his name engraved on a raised circular plate fastened to the top of the dial. One of them known to the writer bears the repair mark of Joachim Hill and the year 1845 on the inside of the case.

Pearson was a gold and silversmith also, and he apparently gave little time to clocks, because only four have been found with his name. Those made by Hollinshead, some of which show his address as Moorestown, are more numerous. In general they followed the design of early New England clocks and had walnut, cherry, or mahogany cases.

Joseph Hollinshead was the earliest of at least nine clockmakers by the same name, all related, who made clocks in South Jersey. The progenitors of the family in that region were John and Grace Hollinshead, who left Connecticut in the 1680s to settle on the Rancocas Creek. Joseph, a younger son, appears to have brought up five boys in the trade, and three members of the next generation followed in his footsteps.

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