Knight in Kind-of Shining, Possibly Gilt, Armor

For weeks I’ve been tracing this Ansonia clock over message boards and under private collections, through hoops of silver, brass, pewter, gold, and steel. I’m happy to report that I caught that wascally wabbit and will soon be cooking him up for dinner with some nice taters. For those who haven’t been following the adventures and the further adventures, a quick recap: I bought a clock. It doesn’t run. I took it apart and a few rusted pieces (nothing too important) broke. It looked like the picture below and the dial claimed to be from the Ansonia Clock Co.


I swear, there’s potential there. Really!

Of course I had no proof that this was an Ansonia clock. It was a little unusual looking for an Ansonia, and the dial could have easily been pilfered from a real Ansonia or even have been a knock-off. I searched high and low for miniature Ansonia wall clocks that may be silver-ish, and for what felt like millennia I found nothing. I can now say with absolute 95% certainty with moderate sized error bars, this clock is the real deal. To the doubters amongst you, I present you with the brass Ansonia “Dance” shelf clock, circa 1906.


Okay, so maybe some of my search criteria were slightly off. For example, it’s the wrong color… and metal. In fact the wrong two metals, because this piece is brass with gold gilt and mine is… not. There’s a similar model called “Elf”, but it’s still brass.


I know what you’re thinking. “What lovely green finish on that strange brass sculpture, Margaret” or maybe “Obviously you should have been looking for a brass sculpture instead of a steel and silver clock, Margaret.”

Let’s just say that when the Ansonia antiques website says “1,001 color photos” they are not exaggerating. Strangely enough, I actually have Date Night to thank. I was researching my Aunt Julie’s 1894 Ansonia Mechanical Shelf Clock on the Ansonia antiques website, and I just couldn’t find the darn thing. Obviously when you have 1,001 color photos you should organize them alphabetically by name of clearly defined model like “Mechanical Clock” as opposed to, say, black iron rectangular mantel clocks with marble insets. We wouldn’t want to make life boring!

This isn’t the end of the search for me. I’ve found the name of the model, but I have yet to find a single existing clock with the exception of the one on the antiques website, which is definitely brass with fading gold gilt. I also haven’t found it listed in an original catalogue and I won’t be content until I do. Mine is not brass and does not have gold gilt. These are what we call irreconcilable differences. They cannot be the same clock, yet they are, down to the filed-off hand of the dancer.


To me, the real mystery was What Is It Made Of? And that meant, unfortunately, cleaning.

Real conversations I had about cleaning this Ansonia clock case:

At work:

Me: Hey awesome homeowners and other ladies who own things – how do you clean metals in your house? Like your brass… things. And silver candlesticks!

The Ladies of the Bakery {yes I work in a bakery}: Have you tried Brasso? What about ketchup? Be very careful. Always try on the back or somewhere else inconspicuous.

Me: What about, say, something that may be gilt? And/or have a protective coating?

The Ladies: You should look at a museum’s website. Better yet, call a museum.

Me: I think there might be a protective coating on the gilt.

Lady: Or it could be under the gilt, applied before the gilt is put on.

Me: Under the gilt? See, the piece is about 110 years old, so it has probably been altered many times. I was thinking it might be best to-

Lady: Preserve the gilt, of course.

Me: … I was going to say get to the base material, but sure!

I had already looked at a few museum websites but it had taken me a lot longer to get that idea, so I thanked them and promised to do so. Their suggestion to call a museum was a good one, particularly the suggestion to call a local museum which might be more receptive to such questions.

I wasn’t too eager on the confusion and embarrassment that would ensue by calling a museum (“It looks kind of silver-y in color”) so I decided to pursue some more opinions.

At home:

Me: Do we have silver polish?

Mother: Yes!

{runs offstage; returns with a box}

Mother: This is an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. It uses bubbles. Just follow the instructions.

{Mother exits}

{Margaret spends an hour or so running the metal clock case through the ultrasonic cleaner on and off, with and without hand soap added to the water}

{Father enters room}

Father: I bought your mother that years ago because she wanted it to clean her jewelry. I don’t know if she ever used it. Let me know if it works.

{Father exits}

Me: Well okay then.

For those curious, this is the jewelry cleaner. It is a Conair and it does seem to work very well. It doesn’t seem to be sold in stores anymore, at least not under that name.

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The search for the correct materials continued.

Online talking to a friend with a chemistry background who is in graduate school trying to add lots of initials to the end of his name:

Me: I can’t decide what to do. I’m working on this metal clock case. This is what it started as.


Me: Here is a picture of the case after I polished it with Brasso.


Me: It turned from nearly brown to nearly silver! I think it looks a lot better now. That brown was either a crazy amount of dirt or an oxidized cheap paint. Here is a picture of the bottom of the ultrasonic cleaner with flakes in it.


Me: I think those flakes are a coating covering the silver gilt. But what if it’s the silver gilt flaking off? It looks cleaner now though. Do you think it’s steel underneath? Wouldn’t it be brass? Online it says the clock is brass. But the part of it that holds the movement is undoubtedly steel. See, this picture shows the steel.


Me: Here is a picture showing how the brightest silver color is now flaking off in this one tiny little location. It doesn’t match the dirty flakes in the ultrasonic cleaner. That’s probably the silver gilt that chipped, right? I probably shouldn’t flake that off, right? It looks like it might be steel underneath.


Me: But look at this picture – it shows a gold color peeking out from underneath the silver color! But it looks like paint. Could there be silver paint over gold paint over brass? Could there be silver GILT over gold paint over brass? What a crazy world we live in! [Author’s Note: That “gold color” is just glue. I was overthinking things.]


Friend: Gold is a nice color. I just bought a whole watermelon. I cut it into chunks and it tastes so good. Tomorrow is the last day watermelon is in peak season. You should go out and buy a watermelon.

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Me: Okay.

Which would you prefer: a totally stripped down brass/steel clock case? Or should I just stop here? It’s shiny. It’s silver in color.

Seriously, whoever thought I would consider stopping doesn’t know me very well. How could I possibly stop without knowing what’s underneath? So I decided to consult the one person who I really should have consulted first. Friend of 21 years and fellow blogger Jessica.

Me: {All of the information and photos}

passionfordiscountedfashion: What is the least harsh cleaner? … That sounds good. … But that may help determine what metal it is once the tarnish is cleaned up. … Did you spend a lot of money on it? I mean obviously you don’t want to ruin it but it may be some good research to keep cleaning/working on it. … I think you should sleep on it and decide in the morning!

Me: That is very good advice that I may not take. Haha.

Her: {exasperated} lol

There’s a reason why her blog is about financially-wise fashion and mine is about clocks. If there’s one of us that is going to make a sound decision based on patience, effort, and cost then it certainly isn’t me.

Thus, I made a visit to my favorite dépôt to pick up some steel wool 000 (very, very fine) and a slightly harsher polish meant specifically for silver. An hour later, and I was positive what I had: a steel clock case with silver gilt. I haven’t resorted to the silver polish yet. I want to get as far as I can with just steel wool and Brasso.

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The above picture is probably very enlarged on your screen – the whole clock fits in the palm of my hand.

The search continues but I’m satisfied with my recent discoveries. Unless I inhale too much polish fumes (haha – no, but really) expect an update on the clock itself in the next few days. I’ve been a little too caught up in the research to actually make the clock work. A working clock – what a marvel!


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