William L. Gilbert was one of the foremost clockmakers of 19th-century Connecticut, a state that gave the world Eli Terry, Seth Thomas, Chauncey and Noble Jerome, Joseph Ives, and Elias Ingraham. Gilbert’s first company was founded in 1828 in partnership with his brother-in-law, George Marsh.
A decade later, Gilbert was in business with Chauncey Jerome himself, whose brass movements formed the heart of Gilbert’s new mantel clocks with ogee-style cases. Economy became Gilbert’s calling card, whether the clock was powered by a spring or weight-driven. Gilbert’s clocks were inexpensive timepieces designed for the masses. Which is not to say their cases were always bare-bones and simple. Some of its metal-cased clocks were bronzed, with ornate feet, vine-draped pillars, and finials resembling fat artichokes or abundant cornucopias.
When Gilbert clock cases were made of wood, oak was often the material of choice, engraved with faux shingles and floral scrolls, while rosewood was used to create miniature shelf clocks with octagon-shaped tops. Other Gilbert clocks were made for the kitchen, with stenciled numbers and patterns and simple shapes resembling mildly ornamented A-frames.
Gilbert was one of many companies that mimicked the steeple clocks first introduced by Ingraham, and it followed in the footsteps of Ansonia with its cast-metal statue clocks, which typically paired a modest-sized timepiece on a platform that was mostly designed to support, say, a rider astride a rearing horse.
By the 1900s, Gilbert was also a leading producer of alarm clocks such as the Winlite, whose round face and loop at the top made it resemble an outsize pocket watch. Other Gilbert alarm clocks were capped by bells. In fact, alarm clocks allowed Gilbert to continue to produce clocks during World War II, when other manufacturers had to suspend production for the war effort (alarm clocks were deemed a necessity).
By the 1960s, like many New England clock manufacturers and more than a century after its founding, The Gilbert Company went out of business.