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Part II

Muller Baseball Clock Story

 

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by

Carlton Hendricks

 

 

In her closing, Nancy, anticipating possible confusion over the mention of Seth Thomas, when American Clock company had already been mentioned as the maker, provided that American acted as agent for several clock companies including Seth Thomas. That information was consistent with another source who contributed to my research, Mr. Nile Godfrey of Classical Clocks & Antiques in Livermore California. Nile provided essentially the same, in that he told me American was known to have bought “wholesale lots” of clocks from clock makers that were slow movers…..wait a minute…let me rephrase that…clocks that weren’t readily selling that clock makers wanted to liquidate from there inventory. That of course could possibly imply our clock wasn’t a good seller. 


Nile also provided his speculation that Courtlandt Street was sort of a clock row of New York City in the late 19th century, since other clock makers such as Kroeber and American had address’ there in the same vicinity as Muller. Courtlandt Street is located right near where the World Trade Center was. Nile also supplied that according to his research our baseball clock originally came only with Seth Thomas movements. (inner mechanisms) 

 

I’ve long considered Nicholas Muller and his brother Karl to be two of the most interesting names in American art. I make that bold assertion without reservation. The reason being, Nicholas is known to have produced essentially the first decent statues of baseball players. In 1868 he produced a pair of a batter and pitcher cast in white metal about 10” tall. I have the batter in my collection. (Best eBay find I ever made) Barry Halper had the pitcher in his. I believe Karl was responsible for their modeling.

 

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Circa 1868

10 inch tall

"Striker" statue 

by Muller

 


What is known of Nicholas and Karl is that they immigrated to New York City in the 1850’s from Koblenz Germany. Previously Karl had attended the Royal Academy in Paris. He also attended the National Academy of Design in New York City. The brothers opened a shop on the previously mentioned Courtlandt Street in New York City, in which they produced clock casings and statues. Nicholas did the casting while brother Karl did the designing. By 1876 Muller and Sons were producing stationary desk wares. 


Karl also worked as a designer for the Union Porcelain Works of Greenpoint New York in Brooklyn. There he designed some of the finest decorative porcelain ever produced in America. One of particular note was the Century Vase, which was displayed at the 1876 Centennial. 

 

Century Vase
by
Karl Muller
Displayed at the
1876 Centennial

Photo Courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art

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Century Vase.jpg (446264 bytes)


At the Centennial a pair of the 22 ¼” tall vases were displayed at Union Porcelain’s booth atop 42” tall pedestals flanking a portrait bust of the company’s owner Thomas C. Smith. They were intended to demonstrate the company’s finest work, and their theme was our country’s progress. Their highly elaborate design depicted various scenes from American history in relief as well as painted illustration. All its depictions revolved around a central relief bust of George Washington. On each side sculpted buffalo heads served as handles. Also circling the vase were small sculpted heads of a lion, ram, dog, walrus, fox, and bison.

 

Today the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta each have one example from this matching pair in their collections. In relation to the baseball clock we’re studying today, the Century Vase, although far more refined, provides an interesting example of Karl’s inclination for iconographical design. 


I find it interesting the Muller brothers were not only good artists but also somewhat daring in that they embraced realism before it was fashionable. It’s known that the turning point for sculpture in America was the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia. Previously the little sculpture there was in the United States was mostly of the stiff neo-classical style often representing classical literature or ancient Roman Greco mythology. My Muller baseball batter statue on the other hand is marked 1868 and was intended as nothing more or less that a contemporary baseball player. 


Another most impressive aspect of our clock is its thoroughly American nature. As you can see by the Muller brother’s story, theirs was the classic American experience….came to America, embraced it, made good. When you look the clock over closely you see in it a faint hint of a German style, the pitched roof and so on. They brought that with them. As you can see from Karl’s training the clock is a mixture of artistic influences; and that’s us precisely, that’s what we are, we’re a mixture of influences. Our whole country is essentially made up of immigrants who came and settled here. In turn, what better mixture of artistic influences could represent our national game than one of Karl Muller’s? His would have been the quintessential American experience to draw from….and some how, he ended up with the distinction of producing the first important baseball sculpture of our country.


As we begin to “wind up” today’s look at this fascinating clock I’ll raise a few last questions about the practical relationship between the Muller Brothers and baseball. That is, where did Karl, who I believe designed the clock, get his inspiration to create a baseball clock in the first place ? Was it his own idea or did another clock company come to the Mullers and ask them to design one? As we’ve seen, the clock originally came with Seth Thomas movements. Does that mean Seth Thomas commissioned it? Did the American Clock Company commission it? As we’ve seen American often bought remainders, but did they also produce clocks as well? Questions like these require more research than practical for this column.

 
Continuing with the general question though; whether the Muller boys received an order to make one or came up with the idea themselves…What would have been the influences and reasoning that caused them to represent the New York Mutuals, Brooklyn Atlantics, Bobby Mathews, Bob Ferguson, Henry Chadwick, and Alexander Carwright, and two boys watching a game? Well, like I said at the beginning, we’re left to speculation. 


I contacted John Odell, Curator of History and Research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown for insight into the Mutuals and Atlantics. John confirmed what I assumed, that they were rivals. Which could mean the clock was intended as a celebration of that rivalry foremost, with a little history thrown in. Or it’s possible it was intended as a general celebration of the game? If that were the case, to Karl that apparently meant New York baseball. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. I did take it just a little further though and asked John Odell what field the two teams met to play at. He told me the Union Grounds, which was located at the intersection of Marcy, Lee, and Rutledge Avenues in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. If you go to www.projectballpark.org /history/nl/union.html, you can see a photo of the intersection today. No ball park there now though, it closed in 1889. Next I learned the distance between Courtlandt Street in Manhattan where the Muller’s had their shop and the Union Grounds in Brooklyn was less than 10 miles. It’s therefore completely conceivable the Muller boys could have attended a meeting of the two teams and were inspired to create a clock of such. Probably they would have been fans of the Mutuals from New York. We know one thing, they’re staring each other in the face in the clock. Also Bobby Mathews of the Mutuals looks a little more confident and lively rolling up his sleeves with a slight smile.


We also know Karl worked at the Union Porcelain Works in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. It’s a little interesting that the ballpark was called the Union Grounds. I suppose it’s worth speculating that the Union Porcelain Works could have had an interest in the ballpark even though the projectballpark web page tells us it was built by a Mr. William Cammeyer. That doesn’t mean the porcelain company couldn’t have had a financial interest. Ever hear of a ballpark named for a sponsor?
And we could go on and on but before we conclude I’ll share one last bit of information on the clock, I found interesting. 


I couldn’t help notice there wasn’t an example of the clock in the 1999 Sotheby’s auction catalog of the famous Barry Halper baseball collection. It was the world’s greatest collection so I thought it was a little curious he didn’t have an example. Then thru some dizzying array of research I happened upon a page of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s web site www.baseballhalloffame.org that lists a portion of items from Halper’s collection acquired by Major League Baseball and donated to the Hall of Fame in November 1998. And what do you know….there was a small little notation included in the 19th century items that said “Wonderful antique clock with 19th century ball players”


I called John Odell at the Hall to inquire a little about the circumstances of how it happened to have gotten included in the acquisition. Specifically I wanted to know if Halper just happened to offer it, or if the Hall pursued it. Bingo, John told me it was the Hall’s initiative. John basically told me that when Halper was going to sell his collection, the Hall wanted certain things to fill holes and strengthen there’s. Major League Baseball’s deeper pockets came to the rescue and retrieved some items the Hall wanted. Now I’m getting into a whole other story to pursue, but anyway..the bottom line was the Hall specifically requested our infamous Muller clock.

 

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