They say time is of the essence—but what about the essence of time?
That’s the purpose behind the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC), the world’s largest museum, research library, educational institution and international community dedicated to clocks, watches, time and timekeeping.
“I like to say the goal of the NAWCC is to share stories about time,” said Executive Director Tom Wilcox. “Whether it’s researching the story about where grandpa’s gold watch came from or how people measured time 1,000 years ago or a desire to take a short course on clocks or pocket watches, we help build communities where these stories can be uncovered and told.”
Founded in 1943, the NAWCC continues a long horological tradition in Pennsylvania, which became known for producing high-quality clocks starting in colonial days. Columbia, Pa., may seem like a strange place for a time-oriented trade association, but there’s a reason for that.
“In the early years, officers of NAWCC conducted business from their homes, mostly in the Philadelphia area,” Wilcox said. “The organization had no official headquarters until 1962, when longtime association secretary Earl Strickler established offices at his home in Columbia.”
The National Watch and Clock Museum officially opened to the public in 1977 with fewer than 1,000 items. Since then, the collection has increased to more than 12,000 items, and the museum has undergone several expansions.
The collection is international in scope and covers a wide variety of clocks, watches, tools and other time-related items.
Visitors enter the museum through a “Portal in Time,” highlighting a chronology ranging from the early Egyptians to Stonehenge to Roman clocks to sand glasses. Visitors learn how the measurement of time has changed—from watching shadows move on a wall to examining the stars to today’s atomic clocks.
The museum houses the largest collection of 19th-century American clocks and watches. Additional collections include early English tallcase clocks, Asian timepieces from Japan and China and timekeeping devices from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Russia.
The collection ranges from the very large, including the towering Engle Monumental Clock, to the very small, such as a wide array of pocket and wristwatches. One of the newer exhibits is the Seiko-sponsored virtual reality, 3-D watch movement experience, a cutting-edge, watch designing software visual encounter.
If you’re fortunate, like I was, you may get to walk through the library and research center, the largest horological library in the world, cataloging more than 30,000 books and thousands of feet of archival material.
In 1995, the NAWCC established the School of Horology to offer a licensed and certified training program in traditional and modern watch and clock repair. While no longer providing a licensed program, the school has been modernized to offer short-term workshops to visiting students.
“Over the past decade, interest in collecting clocks and watches has waned,” Wilcox said. “However, renewed interest in wristwatches has created new opportunities for the NAWCC. We are also exploring partnerships with entities in the gear-oriented sciences, such as autonoma, musical contraptions, railroads and steam punk.”
Indeed, time marches on, so NAWCC must work to maintain interest in clocks and watches in a world of ubiquitous cell phones and computers, where, paradoxically, time is more evident than ever.
So, for example, on March 21, NAWCC will host “Clocktails,” an event in which visitors, cocktail in hand, can create a one-of-a-kind clock for themselves, with all supplies provided.
“We are constantly looking for new ways to demonstrate to our community the significance of interesting stories in time,” Wilcox said.
The National Watch and Clock Museum is located at 514 Poplar St., Columbia. For more information, visit www.nawcc.org.