Early Die Cast Bases on Westclox Alarm Clocks: Ben Hur, and Big Ben and Baby Ben Style 2

The first alarm clocks that Westclox made have round cases with legs. In 1926, their first alarm clock with a base, the Ben Hur, was introduced. In 1927, Westclox introduced Big Ben Style 2 and Baby Ben Style 2, the first Big Bens and Baby Bens with a base instead of legs.

  • Big Ben Style 1a Nickel Plain
  • Baby Ben Style 1 Nickel Plain
  • Ben Hur Nickel Plain
  • Big Ben Style 2 Nickel Plain
  • Baby Ben Style 2 Nickel Luminous (base is deteriorating)
  • Baby Ben Style 2 Nickel Plain (base is deteriorating)

Clock Base Types

Westclox’s first bases were die cast of a zinc alloy. Westclox had several outside companies cast these bases for them, and may have made some themselves. Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks had die cast bases until 1970 or 1971, when molded plastic bases came out.

Some models, starting in the early 1930s, had stamped sheet metal bases. These include some Keno models, Bingo style 2, Hustler styles 1 and 2, and others. And some models, such as Bellboy and Keno Style 4, have a wire bail base.

Die Casting History

The first die casting process used tin and lead alloys to make type for printing. In the 1890s, complex shapes for items such as cash registers and phonographs began to be cast. In 1914, zinc and aluminum alloys were introduced for casting, allowing stronger parts to be made. Copper and magnesium alloys were introduced in the next few years. Reference: A Brief History Die Casting.

Ben Hur Bases

The earliest Ben Hur bases I’ve seen (on clocks dated from February 1926 to September 1928) have the The Doehler Die Casting Company logo on them. Later bases either have an “A” or no logo on them. I don’t know if the “A” is a logo used by a die casting company, or is an identifier that Westclox put on bases they made themselves.

  • Early base 4-11-27 with ink stamped patent information and Doehler logo
  • Doehler logo
  • Ben Hur base with the “A” logo
  • The “A” logo

Big Ben Style 2 Bases

Here’s the bottom of an early Big Ben Style 2 base (ca. 1927) that was made by the Dura Company of Toledo, Ohio (the same company that later made the popular Dura Case (La Salle) Series clock cases). It has a logo with the name DURA inside a diamond:

Here’s an example of a base made by The Doehler Die Casting Company of Toledo, Ohio. It has the D D C Co. logo on the bottom:

Here’s a base made by a company I haven’t identified yet. It has a logo of a diamond with an ampersand inside it. I once had an old Sunbeam Mixmaster from the1930s or 1940s that had the same symbol in the die case base:

If you know what company used the Diamond Ampersand logo, please let me know!

Many Big Ben Style 2 Big Bens have a base with an “A” and a combination of dots or dashes below it. The “A” may be the logo of a company I haven’t identified, or it may be an identifier that Westclox put on bases they made themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • “A dash dot”
  • “A dot” wide
  • “A dot dash dot”
  • “A dot dash dot”
  • “A dot” narrow rim
  • “A dot dot”

There are other variations, such as narrow or wide rim on bottom, some say “RD-1927” and some don’t, and variations in the patent text. Because there are so many base variations, it would take a sample of hundreds of clocks to verify any patterns of use by date (and, because the bases are interchangeable, there’s no way to prove that the base on a clock is original). Also, some types are used over a range of several years. Thus, I’m not going to spend much time on this, but will point out the following:

  • The Doehler base was used a lot in 1927, but I’ve also seen 1928 and 1930 examples.
  • Wide rim bases predominate in the early years and narrow rim bases in the later years.
  • I’ve seen the Diamond Ampersand base on clocks made from 1929 through 1931.
  • The “A” bases predominate in later years.

Baby Ben Style 2 Bases.

Some Baby Ben Style 2 bases say “61-A” on the bottom and have the Doehler Die Casting Company logo:

Most of the Baby Ben Style 2 bases do not say “61-A”, but have something like “1 A”, “2 A”, “3 A” or “4 A” on them (as well as other lettering) and don’t have a die casting company logo. I don’t know if Westclox or an outside company made these.

Die Cast Clock Base Deterioration

Many of the Ben Hur bases and Big and Baby Ben Style 2 bases are deteriorating badly today. I’ve been told that impurities in the casting alloy, and moisture, are the causes. In my experience, bases made in mid-1929 and later are very often in excellent condition, whereas earlier bases often have many cracks or are falling apart. This deterioration may be Zinc Pest, which was discovered to be a problem in 1923.

The first Baby Ben Style 2 I acquired is a pink crackle model dated 5-12-28. When I bought it in 1969 it was starting to crack; and the cracking has gotten worse over the years. About 20 years ago, I coated the base in epoxy, this has slowed but not stopped the cracking process.

Note: I’m keeping track of external variations in Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks. Some of these variations are useful for estimating when a clock was made. Variations in the lettering on the dials, backs, and bases are often useful in this way. I’m putting these (and other) variations in the Westclox Clock Variations section of the clockhistory database.

Big Ben and Baby Ben Style 2 were first made in a polished nickel finish. Later various colors were made. See my history website for a list of models. Ben Hur was also first made with nickel finish, with painted color finishes added later.

Here are some examples of Big Ben Style 2:

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One comment

  1. Early die castings are a popular topic at the Mechanical Music Digest, for they were used for the framework of the automatic pneumatic works of player pianos. What happened was that aluminum was used in combination with the zinc, thus creating a stronger, lighter, easy-molding alloy. But metals are chemically active even when they’re solid, and after a number of years the aluminum began to come out of the solution in crystalline form, thus reducing the entire casting to powder. Apparently there’s no cure, so restorers make molds of suspicious-looking die castings so they can be re-cast from a more stable alloy. We don’t run into them much in clock work, hooray, though I imagine some music box movements have spontaneously pulverized.

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