Timeless: The clocks of George Nelson and the Howard Miller Clock Company
George Nelson, one of the godfathers of American Modernism and a designer of some of the most iconic mid-century furniture, also put his name to an intriguing series of wall and table clocks for the Howard Miller Clock Company. With the help of his studio, George Nelson Associates, Inc., over 150 now-classic clocks were produced.
The Howard Miller Clock Company was originally founded in 1926 under the name of the Herman Miller Clock Company; this division specialised in producing chiming wall and mantle clocks for its parent company, the office furniture manufacturer, Herman Miller.
In 1937, the division branched off and came under the leadership of Herman Miller’s son, Howard C. Miller (1905-1995) becoming the Howard Miller Clock Company of Zeeland, Michigan. Both businesses still operate today, as Herman Miller and the Howard Miller Clock Company, across the street from one another, but no connection (family, financial or otherwise) remains.
Come 1947, while George Nelson was Director of Design for the Herman Miller furniture company (1945-1972), the Howard Miller Clock Company began producing the designs presented by Nelson and his associates. The company also went on to produce George Nelson’s Bubble lamps throughout the late 1960s, which were reissued by Modernica in the 1990s and continue to sell today.
George Nelson Bubble lamp variations from a brochure for the Howard Miller Clock Company
Many of the clocks designed by George Nelson Associates, Inc. quickly went on to become icons of the era; the Ball, Spike, Block, Spindle, and others sold well when originally retailed. Interestingly, most are now considered to have been designed by Irving Harper.
The first creation to appear was ‘Clock 4755’ (the Ball Clock). All clocks were electrical. They came available with a standard power cord and plug configuration, or as a Chronopak, which mounted in a standard outlet box.
All the original clock designs were simply assigned numbers by Howard Miller. Probably the most recognisable of the series, the Ball Clock, was advertised and sold as ‘Clock 4755’; the Sunflower Clock as ‘Clock 2261’. Several colour variations were available for many of the clocks. The Ball Clock was available in six colour variations, the Sunflower Clock in three. One of the more unusual designs, the Eye Clock (‘Clock 2238’) was pictured in the original Howard Miller Clock Company brochures in a diagonal position, not horizontal, as would be expected.
The Howard Miller Clock Company discontinued the line in the 1980s. Nearly 300 variations of the classic wall clocks (including the Ball, Kite, Eye, Turbine, Spindle, Petal and Spike clocks, as well as a handful of desk clocks) are currently available from Vitra, who picked up the line in the 1990s.
George Nelson Ball Clock #4755 The Ball Clock #4755. Diameter 14". Retail in 1964 - $30 ($214.63 today)
Sold by Los Angeles Modern Auctions, June 2004 - $1,100
George Nelson Eye Clock #2238 The Eye Clock #2238. Sold by Los Angeles Modern Auctions, June 2004 - $6,000
George Nelson Sunflower Clock #2261
The Sunflower Clock #2261. Diameter 30″. Retail in 1958
George Nelson Eye Clock #2238
The Eye Clock #2238. Diameter 28″. Retail in 1964 – $50 ($357.72 today)