Thomas Harland, Norwich

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, Ezra Dodge and Jedediah Baldwin (watches signed by Jedediah Baldwin and Nathaniel Shipman are recorded). Few of his watches survive. One is in the Winterthur Museum, another was in the Time Museum and sold when the collection was liquidated in 2004, and this example was located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada.

Thomas 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)

This watch is signed on the movement "Thomas Harland No 716" and was likely made in Norwich in 1793 or 1794. Compared with other watches from the period, it was inexpensively made to appeal to the 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) movement ├ębauche / frame maker.

The well made engine-turned counselor case, although a brilliant silver in appearance, was entirely constructed of copper, zinc and nickel (with just a trace of lead and 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 Sterling-like marks found on this rare American-made case. The case maker's initials "AN" is likely Andrew Norton of 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. This watch, having low finish quality and lacking a precious metal case, was likely one of the least expensive watches that Harland made and sold. However, it kept good time, looked great and no-doubt was proudly worn for many years.

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
  • Philip Priestley, Watch Case Makers of England, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin Supplement No. 20 (1994)
  • William Willard, Thomas Harland, Clockmaker, Watchmaker and Entrepreneur, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin, No. 295, (April, 1995), pp. 185-196