The Christian Eby Tall Case Clock Tale

All day and all night the tall case clock in the corner of the living room in Santa Paula, Calif. ticks.  The pendulum swings and the two weights move slowly down at the end of their chains.  The hands move clockwise, naturally.  The days of the month also move but the effort to keep that dial in sync with the changing length of each month is beyond the ability of the contemporary humans who live with the clock.

Each morning I awake and walk downstairs to breakfast and the newspapers.  When I hit the ground floor the first thing I do is go to the clock and open the long door and carefully pull down on first the left weight until it hits the wood at the bottom of the case and then the right weight.  I’m careful not to go to0 far or to disturb the pendulum in any way.  The swing of the pendulum is slightly wider than the case of the clock so there is a slot carved into the right and left side of the case in the shape of the pendulum.  It is about one inch deep.  I assume a lot of things about this clock and I assume the hole was carved at the time the clock was made.  The color of the patina on the wood is the same both inside and outside the pendulum slot.

I do this job first thing each morning, before I go outside and get the newspapers and before I make the coffee.  If I occasionally forget to wind  the clock I have to pay a price with an additional task.  If the clock winds down and stops then I have to wind it by pulling the weights down and then turning the hands slowly and stopping at each hour to let the chimes sound.  Waiting for 12 chimes takes the longest.  Once I have arrived at the correct wristwatch time I then pull the weights down again to the daily starting position.

I marvel at the frugality of my ancestors who originally purchased this clock.  They selected a 24 hour clock.  I assume it was cheaper than an 8 day clock.  The extra labor to wind the clock daily was worth the money saved.  But when you multiply the time it takes to wind the clock by 365 times each year for over 200 years I’m beginning to wonder.  I wonder about a lot of other things too, as I wind the clock each morning.  How has it kept running all these years?  How is it that no one ever decided to refinish the case or repaint the face?  How did it stay in one family so long?

I am the temporary custodian of this clock because my family believed in the concept of male primogeniture. Primogeniture is the right, by law or custom, of the first-born to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings. Historically, the term implied male primogeniture, to the exclusion of females.  The rest of the historic Nichols estate from each generation must have been dribbled away over the centuries but the clock remained.  That’s one of the great things about clocks.

My father had two brothers and a sister.  One brother was older and one younger.  Those brothers both had daughters.  My father had two sons.  I am the elder.  When my father’s uncle Sam died it became time to pass down the clock.  Uncle Sam and Aunt Jeanette did not have children.   At Sam’s death the clock went to his nephew, John Nichols, Sr.  John, Sr. was not the oldest male in the line of Nichols but he was the one who bore the only sons.

After Uncle Sam and Aunt Jeanette’s estate in Vista, California was dispersed my dad and mom were called to come in and claim the last object in the house after the estate was divided by sale or gift.  That object was the Eby clock.  The clock went to the home of John and Ida May Nichols, Sr. in Ventura, California and lived there for a while.  When John and Leslie Nichols, Jr. purchased a home of their own it was decided that the clock should move to their new home.  They were going to get it some day anyway.  It has been in their Santa Paula home for over 30 years.

John and Leslie have no children, male or female.  John’s brother, Jim Nichols and his wife Sharon had one son, Tann.  Tann and his wife Nicole have two sons.  The clock will go to Tann at or before the death of John Nichols, Jr.  Tann can keep it for as long as he lives or wants to.  It is assumed that the clock will eventually go to the elder son of Tann and Nicole at or before their death. I could decide not to wait until my death to pass the clock along but what’s the rush?  I’m still enjoying the clock and using it daily.

Paul Skeels, local clock repair man, lawyer and friend came over to take a closer look at the clock one afternoon.  We soon had it apart and the pieces spread out on the carpet of the living room.

Here Paul holds the works as seen from the rear with the back of the face and the replacement seatboard.  I assume the clock was repaired at one time and this more modern seatboard was  installed.  My mother might know.

This is a side view of the works.

Below is a view from above. 

Works from an angle.  Notice that the arm projecting holds the top of the pendulum.  The swinging pendulum moves the  other projecting piece to advance the gears.  I’ll leave it to the clock experts to come up with the correct names for all these pieces.


Close up of the face with name of maker.  For a long time I thought the clock was made in Manheim, Germany.  I later learned that it was made in Pennsylvania.

Face with bird and flowers.  Note the original hands and the smaller dial showing days of the week.

Detail of the face showing crackling of the paint in certain areas.

After removing the weights and the pendulum the housing for the works and face on the seatboard slides off of the tall case.  I have shimmed the clock with matboard on the left.  Notice the open door showing the original finish that has been covered by the closed door and the patina and aging on the rest of the clock.  We are very lucky that this clock have never been desecrated by refinishing.

This is the face of the pendulum on the carpet.  Paul Skeels was at dinner one evening recently and noticed that the clock was almost 10 minutes slow.  He told me that I could adjust the clock.  Which way I asked?  Well, turn the screw at the bottom of the pendulum to raise it and it will go faster and speed up.  I adjusted it and now it keeps relatively perfect time.

This all seems obvious in retrospect.

The back of the pendulum shows how the brass face was filled with lead.  Another assumption.

The pendulum, the weights and what I would call the counterweights and the chain on the carpet.  The hooks at the top of the large weights have a sharp point.

This is somewhere on the clock but I can’t remember where.  Might be on the back of the face.

I did not notice this label even as Paul and I were taking the clock apart to inspect it.  Samuel Z. Nichols.  The Z. stands for Zug, an old family name.  Nicole Kuzman-Nichols is exploring geneology and will know.   It is flow ink on what look like old hospital tape.

The current, temporary custodian of the clock, John Richard Nichols, Jr.

My height is 6’ 1.5”.  I have attached it to the wall with one heavy screw through the back of the case.

That almost seems like it would be the end of the story of the clock.  A few months after Paul and I had taken the clock apart and examined it I poked around some more.  I opened the door and looked down into the bottom of the case.  It was dark and I did not see anything.  I reached in and felt around.  I came up with a piece of old wood.  After my short education from Paul I knew immediately that I had found the original seatboard that had been replaced by the newer one.  Isn’t it obvious now?

The seatboard had two labels attached to it at different times.  One on top of the other.  The top label was in two pieces and the loose piece was found at the bottom of the case.

Top is a closeup of the label as found with one piece missing and later found at the bottom of the case.
Bottom is with the Jessop piece glued back in place.

This “Jessop” label was glued on top of the “Roehm and Son” upsidedown.  Here’s what I found out about the newer of the two labels.

The sticker on top was a hand written label.  It reads J. Jessop & Sons.  The date is 1916 with a number also of 7554.  I assume that is a job number for a repair to the clock done in 1916.  An internet search revealed information on the history of that company.

History of the Jessop firm from a newspaper mention.

Jessop’s has been the trusted source of diamonds and fine jewelry in San Diego since 1892 when Joseph Jessop, great-grandfather of today’s owner, Jim Jessop, opened J. Jessop and Sons. Generations of our family have been an integral part of the San Diego community. And five generations of Jessops have followed in each other’s footsteps, carrying on a jewelry tradition that is unique in San Diego. We are proud to be known as the best source of fine jewelry and diamonds in San Diego.

Jessop Jewelers has made many changes over the years to better serve their clients. George Carter Jessop, a long time owner of Jessop’s, used his name as the firm name for many years. Through all these changes the philosophy of Jessop’s has remained the same. We back our quality, our value, and most of all our integrity, with five generations of trusted jewelers and with an exceptional team of jewelry and diamond experts.

A lot of the Nichols family lived in San Diego at that time.  It may be possible to make an educated guess as to who the owner of the clock was at this time.  It would have been an owner before it was passed on to my dad’s uncle Sam.

The sticker under the “Jessop” label revealed more information.

ROEHM & SON (Manufacturing Jewelers, Detroit, MI, USA)

This company is listed in a newspaper c. 1899

This sticker indicates that the clock might have been serviced in Detroit in the 1890s.  Which branch of the Nichols were living in Detroit at that time?  When did the clock move to San Diego?  The stickers give us a lead but no sure answers.

Just when you thought you had all the information about this clock that your brain could hold…alongs comes more.

My mother, Ida May Nichols told me that she was given this snapshot by a distant relative.  This story needs to be confirmed.  Who wants to do that job?


On the back of the snapshot was written this:

Does this mean that the clock once lived and ticked in this very house?  Who was the owner at the time?

Now you know as much as I do.

     On a side note…my mom and dad decided to visit this historic Nichols residence on one of their vacations.  They brought along this snapshot to guide them.  They had the name of  the town to visit and they drove around looking for the house.

The house on the right is what they found.  Compare this 1970 snapshot with the earlier snapshot on the left.  The houses do not look anything like each other.

On the left is the caption my mom typed on the back of the snapshot they took on their vacation.  It is a snapshot of what they thought was the the old Nichols place.

The lesson is:  “Don’t trust anybody when it comes to history.”

That’s about all I know about the facts of this case.  I could wax on about the aesthetics of the design of this clock.  I think I would be qualified but I’ll stop now.

What follows is some of what I have been able to learn about what a clock like this must be worth in useless dollars.

Sotheby’s Americana Week 2009

23 & 24 JANUARY 2009

An Important Chippendale Carved Cherrywood Tall Case Clock, with works by

Christian Eby, Manheim, Pennsylvania, circa 1800 (est. $150/300,000) will also

be featured in the Saturday afternoon session of Important Americana. The clock is one of the most elaborate tall-case

clocks from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and has survived in a remarkable state of preservation; it retains its original

finials, rosettes, tympanum carving, ogee feet and an old surface.


this site shows photos very similar but prices by subscription





Price Realized

(Set Currency)

* $14,950

* Price includes buyer’s premium


$10,000 – $15,000

* Get a shipping estimate

Sale Information

Sale 8494

Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Decorative Arts

18 October 1996

New York, Park Avenue

Lot Description


dial signed christian eby, manheim, lancaster, pennsylvania, circa 1795

The arched molded pediment above an astragal-shaped glazed door flanked by columns enclosing a conforming painted dial centering Arabic and Roman numeral chapter rings enclosing a sweep seconds ring and centering below the name “Christian Eby/Manheim,” above a flaring molded cornice over a waisted case centering a shaped and molded door flanked by fluted quarter columns above a flaring cove molding over a conforming box base with inset rectangular panel flanked by fluted quarter-columns, on ogee bracket feet

92ºin. high, 22æin. wide, 11æin. deep

Lot Notes

Christian Eby (w.1793-1803) was the older brother of Jacob Eby (lot 153).

Few tall-case clocks signed by Christian Eby are documented. A tall case clock signed Christian Eby sold in These Rooms January 17-18, 1992, lot 463 and another was sold at Sotheby’s New York 28-31, 1994, lot 1095.


Sotheby 1/09 Folk Art Chinese Export antique Furniture



About John

John Nichols is owner of John Nichols Gallery in downtown Santa Paula, Calif. Since 1984. Vintage, vernacular and contemporary photography and art services
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2 Responses to The Christian Eby Tall Case Clock Tale

  1. Mike Childs says:

    Hi John; My name is Mike Childs I am a decendent of Samuel C Stauffer who Christian and Jacob Eby both studied under (he was there uncle) I have a Jacob Eby clock in my house, and wouldn’t mind trading info. my e mail is;

  2. Doris Evans says:

    I have a Jacob Eby Grand father clock and would like to sell it .Any comments on it’s worth.?It’s a 30 hour.

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