Watch (1961.104)

Although the Dominys made no watches, Nathaniel IV and Felix did a brisk business repairing them. Their affordable rates—they charged less than their counterparts in New York City—attracted many clients from Suffolk County and coastal eastern Connecticut. In some years, they derived a majority of their income from this line of work.

Among the many watches Nathaniel IV mended was this one signed by Thomas Harland. An English émigré master clockmaker, Harland made clocks and watches in Norwich, Connecticut, between 1773 and 1807. Nathaniel’s watch repair records make clear that he and Felix handled a wide variety of English, French, Dutch, German, and American watches.

Inserted in the backs of watchcases, watch papers recorded the name and location of the watch repairman with the date of the repair and other information if desired. Customarily, the repairman removed the previous paper and inserted a new one each time the watch was brought in for service. In addition to documenting the repairman’s work, watch papers provided an extra layer of padding between the movement and the case, ensuring a tight fit when closed.

Watch papers and Copper engraving plate courtesy of the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

This copperplate, engraved with the design for Nathaniel IV’s watch paper, was used to make single impressions on small squares of paper, with each piece then trimmed into a round. Nathaniel IV specified a watch paper design incorporating a traditional memento mori epithet meant to prompt religious reflection on the passage of time, human mortality, and the afterlife.

Felix took rhetorical liberty with the inscription on his watch paper. Although he made clocks, there is no evidence that he also made watches.