I was sorting Westclox parts in my clock shop, and came across 2 plastic bags labeled: “Interesting pinched Big Ben Style 1a Keys” and “Early Style 1 Big Ben Keys”. This motivated me to write about the development of the Big Ben winding key.
First, here are 2 examples of the Big Ben leg model (note – there are many variation in the dials):
When the Big Ben was first made in 1908, the keys looked like this:
Starting in 1910, the key shanks were nickel plated:
The handle shape was updated in the first half of 1911:
They reduced the shank diameter in the teens, but the shape of the handle stayed like this through the end of the leg model in 1935). The style 4a Loud Alarm (1935 – 1939) and 5a (1939 – 1946) Loud Alarm had the same key handle shape. Thus, this style of key was used for about 35 years!
There are variations in the handle. The earlier ones have a round bottom, later changed to a flattened bottom. Since millions of these keys were made, there are undoubtedly more variations.
Now, we need to talk about the Baby Ben Style 1 (leg model) for a moment. The first Baby Ben keys (style 1, introduced in 1912) were a small version of the key shown above.
N. T. Mills received a patent for the “pinched” or “closed” key on November 9, 1920:
The patent drawings show that with the old type of key, the winder’s thumbnail may contact the time set knob accidentally. The closed or pinched key provides more clearance between the key and the set knob.
Baby Ben alarm clocks started using the closed key in 1920. The Big Ben kept on using the open key . . . except that a few Big Ben have closed keys:
We don’t know exactly how long the Big Ben had the closed key. If you have one, please let me know! We also don’t know why Westclox went back to using the open key for the Big Ben.
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