Q: The photo shows a clock that my late mother had in her family for an unknown number of years. It is 101/2 inches tall, 81/2 inches wide and is in excellent condition with no cracks or broken corners. On the back of the clock there is a marking that looks like it says “TM” inside a crown, and “1755 Bonn,” and below that “La Barque.” Can you tell me the clock’s history and value?
A: Many collectors refer to these as “china case clocks,” and while some can be quite valuable, this one has a more modest value.
The case of this piece was manufactured by the Steingutfabrik Franz Anton Mehlem — the earthenware factory of Franz Anton Mehlem, which was located in Bonn, Germany. Many records we found discussing these clock cases called them porcelain, but they are not. They are pottery, or as the name of the company says, earthenware.
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Despite the 1755 date in the mark, the company was founded in 1836 by Franz Anton Mehlem. Over the years, the company made a variety of household, decorative and utilitarian items, mainly from earthenware but also from porcelain.
From 1887 until 1903, they manufactured reproductions of Hochst figures. Hochst was an early and prestigious German porcelain manufacturer (1746-1840) that sold its molds when it closed. These eventually ended up in the hands of Franz Anton Mehlem.
In addition, Mehlem became famous for its decorative pieces, which included the clock cases the company manufactured from the 1890s (approximately) to the 1920s. Mehlem closed in 1920, but Villeroy and Boch bought it and operated the factory until 1931.
But Mehlem only made the case; who made the clock?
K. M. did not give us any information about that, but in many instances, the clock works were manufactured by the Ansonia Clock Co. of Ansonia, Connecticut, which began making clocks in 1864. The company moved its clock-making operations to Brooklyn, New York, in 1878 and made clocks there until 1929.
Occasionally, the clock used in a china case was made by the New Haven Clock Co., of New Haven, Connecticut, but the vast majority of all the clocks in china cases we have seen during our long careers have been made by Ansonia. More important is the point that the clock and the case did not start out life together. It is likely that Ansonia bought the case from Mehlem (Royal Bonn), had it shipped to the United States, fitted it with its clock mechanism and then had the finished clock retailed.
K. M. mentions the phrase “La Barque” as being part of the mark found on the back of her clock’s case. This is the style name of the clock and Mehlem clocks can be found with a wide variety of these names, such as “La Charny,” “La Orne,” “La Clair,” “La Chapelle,” “La Landes,” “La Mime” and “La Verdon.”
The names all sound very French, but they have no real meaning. “La Barque,” for example, translates as “the barge” or “the small boat,” and since the decoration on the case is floral, this has nothing whatever to do with the actual design of this clock. It is just a name picked out to sound fancy and appeal to American customers.
The value of Royal Bonn china case clocks has declined in recent years, and this one should be valued for insurance purposes in the $300 to $400 range.
Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.