National Records of Scotland is known for its records, research and other artefacts, but we also hold a number of antiques at various buildings around Edinburgh.
One interesting example is a chiming clock which hangs on the wall in a meeting room at West Register House, Charlotte Square. This clock, a Chauncey Jerome, was recently repaired by a specialist and is still in working order despite being over 150 years old. The clock was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut, by the Jerome Manufacturing Company, most likely in the 1840s, and its history is quite interesting.
The clock was gifted to the Scottish Record Office, one of our predecessor bodies, in the early 1970s, although there are competing stories about the precise circumstances.
One is that a former Deputy Keeper, John Bates, bought it in an antiques shop as a gift for colleagues. The other story holds that the clock was gifted by members of the former kirk session of St George’s Church – now West Register House – and that it might have been kept in the church since the 1850s. An examination of the kirk session minutes has shed no light on the truth of this story, however.
The surprising thing about this clock is its painted glass front, which depicts St George’s Church as seen from George Street. It may seem strange that an American-made clock would have an Edinburgh street scene on it, but these clocks were mass produced with a clear lower glass panel. Following sale, individuals could commission their own design to be painted onto the clear glass making them unique.
Colin Johnston, a retired NRS curatorial staff member and an expert on clocks, passed on a brief history of the clock, recording that it was borrowed for a lecture in the 1980’s given for the Antiquarian Horological Society at the Royal Museum. The Society estimated that the NRS Jerome might date from the 1840’s.
Connecticut native Chauncey Jerome (1793–1868) made and lost a small fortune from his clock-making business. At one time, the Jerome Manufacturing Company was making a profit of £35,000 per year. By 1850, the company was producing 444,000 clocks and timepieces annually.
Sadly, a failed business venture in the 1850s bankrupted Jerome and his company, leaving him in poverty. In his later years, Jerome often worked for clock companies that used components he himself had invented.
Bruno Longmore, Head of Government Records