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Roy Slater: Herschede Hall clock master

July 16, 2011

For Starkville Daily News
Cincinnati has a timely history with much of it riding the venerable grandfather clock. At one end of the pendulum was the Samuel Best Clock Company with Herschede Hall Clock Company chiming out the other end.
Not much is known about Samuel Best except that he had three wives, was 12th in the list of pioneers owning a section of Sycamore Hill, and made clocks in Cincinnati around 1810.
Herschede Hall Clock Company is known throughout the world. Frank Herschede was born on July 30, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the age of 16, he started to work as an apprentice watch and clock repairman.
In 1857, he went into business for himself and moved to Vine and 5th Street. He branched out to jewelry, watches, diamonds, etc. and in 1885, the store moved to larger quarters at the corner of Arcade and Vine. This same year, he started to import movements and have cases made in a cabinet shop on Front Street. The clock business expanded to the point that Frank bought out the cabinet shop in 1900.
In 1901, he exhibited in the South Carolina and West Indian Exposition at Charleston, S.C. where he received a gold medal for his hall clocks. This was the first of several. Frank’s son, Walter, graduated from high school in 1902 and went into the cabinet shop to work. On December 29 of this same year, steps were taken to incorporate the Herschede Hall Clock Company.
The factory moved from Front Street to 1011-1013 Plum Street in 1903. Several medals were won by Herschede in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904: a gold medal for the best hall clock, a gold medal for the best hall clock cases and a silver medal for tubular chimes.
In 1909, the company leased the building next door at 1007-1009 Plum Street to make clock movements. The first movement was assembled and passed final inspection on January 10, 1911. In 1913, the third melody was added to the Whittington and Westminster Chimes, Charles Eisen, “a gifted American pianist,” especially for Herschede, composed “Canterbury Chimes.”
At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the quality of the line again resulted in two major awards: the grand prize was presented to the Herschede Hall Clock Company for chime hall clocks and mantel clocks, and a gold medal was awarded for the hall clock cabinets manufactured by the company.
By the early 1920s, branch sales offices were opened first in New York City, then in Chicago and San Francisco. Frank Herschede died on September 15, 1922, and Walter was named president in January of 1923.
In 1925, Walter started to work with Mr. Warren with the electric movement chime clocks. By April 1926, the Revere Clock Company came into being.
On February 4, 1934, Walter’s son, Dick Herschede, started full time employment with his father. Many years later, in 1959, contact was made with the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association and Herschede moved to Starkville, Mississippi in May of 1960. At that time, Herschede was America’s oldest maker of chiming floor clocks. 
Roy and Jean Slater moved from Time Hill in Cincinnati with the company to Starkville. It was not until 1968 that Jean began working at Herschede. However, Roy started working for Herschede Hall Clock Company in Cincinnati as a welder in 1946 right after a tour of service.  Upon the retirement of the clock maker, Steve Stinchcomb, in 1950, Slater was asked to become the clock maker. He had seen it done but felt he needed training. The Herschedes’ were all quite accomplished clock makers, so he was taken into a room where he watched a 9 tubular clock be dismounted and was then left in the room alone to put it back together again by himself. His training consisted of taking the clock apart and putting it together again and again for one week and then he became the clock maker. One of the most important techniques he remembers is putting the clock in beat and setting the cylinder to chime at the right time. He said while at the plant in Starkville, he taught around one hundred fifty people how to do this.  Through the years, Slater made suggestions to Herschede, which were implemented for many improvements to the clocks, which include the tubular chimes and the lift foot. Clock owners all over shipped Slater their clocks for maintenance and repair and as they traveled collecting antiques, he would frequently stop to repair a clock or clean it for his customers. He also made house calls all over Starkville and vicinity until recently.
A fond memory that Slater recalled was in 1958 when Herschede sent three clocks to Cuba, one for President Fulgencia Bastista, one for the Minister of Finance, and the other for the Secretary of the Interior. Bob Herschede and Slater flew to Cuba to set up the clocks and stayed in the Caprice Hotel, which had a casino, etc. and was a magnificent hotel. Herschede had sold Cuba some parking meters prior to this because the U.S. and Cuba had good working relations under Bastista. President Bastista gave Slater a box of the most expensive Cuban hand-rolled cigars as a gift. Upon Slater’s return, he gave every cigar away to his friends and didn’t even keep one for himself. 
Slater also remembers the enjoyment shared by several employees of Herschede who had their own bowling team who bowled at the Starkville’s first Bowling Lanes, which was located where Back Stage Music is today.
Slater’s favorite Herschede clock is Model 250, “The Clock,” the clock with the highest price tag in history -$3,400 at that time. Some say they have seen it on the web as high as $100,000 now. According to R. L. Herschede, Sr., spokesman for the company, there hasn’t been a new clock like it since the old European craftsmen faded away more than a century ago. “The Clock” was made at the Herschede Hall Clock Company in Starkville.
“Nothing was spared – wood, metal, glass, human ingenuity – in its design and manufacture,” said Herschede.
“Money was no consideration.  We set out to build the Rolls-Royce of clocks and, up to a point, we didn’t care how much it cost.”
“The Clock” (that’s its real name) looks as if it came from a Venetian castle. Its 7’2” case is made of Obeche, a South African mahogany, and prized Acacia burl, a rare California wood characterized by flaming colors and patterns.
Each 14-karat, gold plated dial is hand engraved by an 83-year old craftsman. This old master, who retired from Herschede years ago worked not at the plant in Starkville, but in the backyard of his home in Arizona.
The case is hand-fitted with some 170 feet of strip brass, which undergoes the full finishing process of the cabinet. Beveled plate glass covers the front and sides of the cabinet permitting a peek at the highly polished brass weights and nickel-chime tubes inside.
A special finish, created by deJonge Creations of Grand Rapids, gives The Clock the appearance of a 200-year old antique.
“DeJonge is like a Rembrandt with a piece of wood,” enthuses a Herschede executive. “He can build depth into wood like nothing you ever saw.”
Even the tubular chimes in The Clock are unique and were the extraordinary work of the old master, Roy Slater, who came with Herschede from Cincinnati to Starkville. The company says it developed a special suspension system that increased the chime vibration from 11 to 35 seconds.
The Clock plays three chime tunes: the Westminster, the Whittington and the Canterbury, a melody written in 1920 especially for the company’s founder, Frank Herschede.
Herschede was the only firm in America that actually manufactured movements for its grandfather clocks. Other manufacturers import the movements from Germany and install them in American-made cases.
In 1973, Herschede merged with Howard Furniture and Briarwood Lamps into Arnold Industries, Inc.
When Herschede moved to Starkville in 1960, Roy and his wife, Jean, moved into a house, which was located where the former Holiday Inn was built on Highway 12 and Montgomery Street. Moving from a city to a small town was quite different but they fell in love with the people of this small town plus many of the office personnel and plant workers moved from Cincinnati so they were not alone.
In 1961 when Greenoaks subdivision was established, the Slaters’ had their home built on Aspen Road and were the first ones to live in Greenoaks. Many of their friends asked them why they moved so far out. That area was rural, and they even had rural mail delivery back then because they were not in the city. They remember an airplane landing on Highway 12.  Jean and Roy each had a motorcycle, which they got on to go investigate the landing. The pilot had run out of gas and asked if they knew where he could get some aviation fuel?
Roy Slater retired in 1985 with almost 40 years of service with Herschede. He continued working on clocks for people who had them shipped to him and making house calls in Starkville and vicinity until recent years. With this many years of making clocks, it is no wonder that many people refer to him as “The Master Clock Maker.”
Today, he and his wife, Jean live in another rural home with a shop called “Back Roads Antiques” some ten miles from Starkville down the Chapel Hill Road which they have operated since 1984. When you enter the shop, you will be greeted by two of the friendliest people with smiles that make you know you are welcome. Through the years their customers have come from many states and even a group on a tour from Japan. Recently a tour from Chicago stopped by to shop. Roy and Jean both say, “it is the people that we fell in love with that makes us stay here and keep our business going.” The Slaters’ are also the last remnant of the Herschede Hall Clock group from Cincinnati who moved to Starkville in 1960.
Richard L. Herschede, Jr. remembered, “I’ve known and admired Roy Slater since I was a little kid—which was quite a while ago. He always had the respect of my Dad and myself as the man who knew hall clock movements and how they worked and how to fix them. As Starkville welcomed Roy and Jean, his clock reputation grew. I don’t think there is anyone who has a Herschede clock that doesn’t know the name of Roy Slater. In addition to his clock reputation, he is also one of the nicest and kindest men that you could ever meet. He always has a smile on his face and has never been heard to say “No.”

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