Recently, I was in the United States and took a couple hours to visit a place that had always been within 30 minutes of my house, the NAWCC Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania. The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) is a well-known entity within the USA that essentially provides a meeting place with over 190 global chapters (admittedly, most are in America) for collectors of all things horology. It also seeks to help educate people about timepieces, servicing them and even reaches out to children in an effort to keep interest in timekeeping alive.
The NAWCC Museum is in Watch & Clock Country
I was in the process of selling my house in the area and had never visited the NAWCC museum, so I suppose it was fitting (we always seem to skip the things so near to us) that on one of my last days in town, I decided to go in for a browse. Yes, today is normally #TBT day, but instead, allow me to talk a bit about a museum that’s easily accessible for our East Coast readers or for those who visit the region.
As mentioned, the NAWCC Museum is located in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
It’s in Lancaster County, which, if you don’t know, was the original headquarters for Hamilton Watch Company. The close proximity to Lancaster itself is apparently a bit of a coincidence (the former head of the NAWCC happened to be running the association from his house nearby before the current museum building became available), but as I’ll briefly discuss, there was an awful lot of clock and watchmaking in the area at one time. The building itself is quite stately and contains a large clock tower in its parking area. In fact, the building was previously a Pennsylvania Power & Light building and I suppose the grand style is typical of utilities buildings of old in the USA.
I pulled into the NAWCC Museum later on a weekday afternoon and I must say that it was very quiet. I guess this is normal for a museum focused on such a specific subject and in a small town, but what was there to see? After I entered and paid the reasonable $9 admission, I watched a brief 10-minute film on time within a small auditorium. It was then time to enter the museum exhibition area.
The NAWCC Museum kicks off with…Gallet!
But wait! Before opening the door to the exhibition space with in the NAWCC Museum, I was met with a showcase that featured vintage Gallets. It was a beautiful display with some truly amazing Multichrons, Flying Officers, and Commanders. Honestly, to see so many all in one place was a first for me. It turns out that the reason for the focus is that Gallet actually made a commemorative model within the last 10 years to help give the museum some publicity and to help raise funds. Needless to say, it was a nice start.
Clockmaking from Europe to the USA
I’ll be very honest, the NAWCC Museum does have a very large focus on clocks and pocketwatches. Initially, a visitor goes through historical timekeeping implements – going back thousands of years – and then, very quickly, wades into the world of tall “grandfather” clocks and wall clocks. It’s here that one sees many clocks from the 1700’s and 1800’s from Europe – especially countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. This flows into the colonization of America and the strong influence from the aforementioned countries into the areas not far from the museum. I was really surprised by the number of different clockmakers from all over Pennsylvania, but there were many.
Time Zones are less than 100 Years Old in the USA
The NAWCC museum also goes on to discuss rail travel and its strong effect on the creation of time zones as we know them today. Did you know that standard time zones did not come into effect until 1918!?
There was a beautiful display of railway pocketwatches, clocks and wristwatches to boot.
The NAWCC Museum has a stunning pocket watch display
If the NAWCC Museum has a hallmark, it’s in the area of pocket watches. Now, admittedly, I think of pocket watch collectors as the “old guard” of watch collectors. Also, as objects that I can’t practically use, I don’t have tons of interest in them. But – the way the pocket watch exhibit is laid out in this museum is so compelling and interesting. First of all, almost every watch is displayed in a two-sided case that allows for the movement and dial to be seen. If you’re a movement lover, you could spend an amazing amount of time in this large room.
Second, the collection contains some amazing pieces donated by NYU such as a Patek Philippe and a Breguet belonging to a family member of Napoleon.
And lastly, a display case showed the truly amazing number of watch factories that once existed in the United States – I had no idea.
Yes, the pocket watch room contains some heavyweight stuff.
Other fascinating areas within the NAWCC include a faithful reproduction of what a watch shop would have looked like in the early 1900’s complete with vintage display cases.
Then, an area of ship’s chronometers is arranged next to a room of wall-mounted world timers.
The Eighth Wonder of the World
Another highlight from the NAWCC Museum is the “Engle Clock” or the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. It’s a massive standing clock with all sorts of animation and the museum runs through all the functionality every hour on the hour for whoever wishes to see it. It’s one of these 1800’s curiosities that toured around and must have been fascinating for those who paid to see it. In fact, its story and its operation was pretty impressive for me as well.
Wrist Watches at the NAWCC Museum
Finally, we come to wrist watches in the NAWCC Museum. Now, I won’t say that it was a disappointment, but I will say that in this day and age of social media – and the fact that watches are commonly still worn today, it was a touch light. I was expecting a bit more on the Hamilton side, but perhaps the heavier focus on Hamilton pocket watches makes up for this. Still, there were impressive displays on various James Bond watches and the transition from mechanical to electronic to quartz watches.
Enjoy the Library
After touring the NAWCC Museum, I stopped into its bookshop. It contained a really nice array of current watch magazines and books. Finally, it was a trip to the research library where I chatted with a member who took me “behind the scenes” to see all the materials that they are either curating or selling in order to raise funds. Speaking of this, there were duplicate watch catalogs from the last 50 years that were for sale at great prices. I picked up a few Breitling and Wakmann catalogs from the early 1960’s for good measure.
I was highly impressed with the NAWCC Museum and it was definitely worth the price of admission. I’ll definitely return again and will keep watching for special exhibitions and events that the museum holds from time to time. If you’re in the area or running down to Lancaster/Hershey (as so many East Coasters do during the Summer), this is a highly worthwhile way to spend a couple hours.
Afterwards, why not drop by the local craft brewery Columbia Kettle Works for a brew and a bite? You can even pick up a cool glass with a clock inspired motto! Cheers!