THOMASTON — When Tom Vaughn saw the eBay listing for an old wooden gear clock a few weeks ago, he knew exactly what he was looking at. There on his screen was something he had hoped to find for much of his life: A clock made in Plymouth by famous Connecticut horologists Eli Terry and Seth Thomas in the early 1800s. The clock is extremely rare; collectors believe there are only about 20 in existence.

“This was one where I looked at it and I knew what it was immediately because I’ve always wanted one of these, I’ve always looked for them,” said Mr. Vaughn, a Terryville resident who studies history at Central Connecticut State University. “I bought it immediately.”

The clock is significant because it is one of a group of about 4,000 that were produced by Mr. Terry, Mr. Thomas and Silas Hoadley between 1806 and 1809 in order to fulfill a contract with two peddlers, Edward and Levi Porter.

It is believed to be one of the earliest examples of mass production with interchangeable parts. Where previously, a clockmaker could only complete about a dozen clocks each year, these clockmakers devised a method that allowed them to make 4,000 in under three years.

“What we try to do at the Plymouth Historical Society is credit Eli Terry, Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley as the original founders of the American Industrial Revolution,” said Mr. Vaughn, who has served as the vice president of the society since the age of 15. “Usually, that credit goes to Eli Whitney.”

Mr. Whitney used interchangeable parts to produce muskets for a government contract, but he did not finish that contract until 1822, after the Connecticut clockmakers had completed the Porter clocks, according to the book, “Eli Terry and the Connecticut Shelf Clock,” written by Kenneth D. Roberts and Snowden Taylor.

Mr. Vaughn, who repairs clocks and has been volunteering at the American Clock and Watch Museum since he was a teenager, has studied the pictures of the Porter contract clock in his copy of “Eli Terry and the Connecticut Shelf Clock.”

Perhaps the most obvious marker of the Porter contract clocks is the corners on the top posts that hold the oak plates of the clock together. Later on, this style of clock was made with more ornate and decorative top posts, but the Porter contract clocks were made more simply in order to churn them out more quickly, Mr. Vaughn said.

“It’s identical, the way it’s produced,” he said. “The number of teeth on the gears is the same. Everything is identical to a Porter contract clock.”

The clock did not come numbered, so it is possible that it is not one of the first 4,000 clocks produced for the contract, but it is definitely a product of the clockmakers’ work during that time period, Mr. Vaughn said.

The clock was not functioning when he received it, but after a good cleaning, he was able to get it working rather quickly.

It rings a bell on the hour, with one ring at 1 o’clock, two rings at 2 o’clock and so on. It also keeps track of the date.

“It’s like a little computer. It’s really, really cool because this thing is 210 years old and it still runs fine and it still does a really good job,” Mr. Vaughn said.

For Mr. Vaughn, who owns an antique shop, First Schoolhouse Antiques, on his family farm, the clock is special because it is a relic of local history.

He likes thinking about how the wood that the clock was made out of was harvested near where his house now stands. And he likes thinking about the community effort that went into making the clock.

In the winter, farmers would make the wooden plates for the clocks. Local women would work in the clock factory, painting the designs on the dials and spinning the string that was used in the clocks.

“I own a piece of local history. I like to share it with the community. I like people to be able to see it,” he said.

The clock will be on display at the Plymouth Historical Society this summer.

The Porter contract, carried out at Eli Terry’s factory in Plymouth, was Seth Thomas’ first foray into the world of clockmaking. He had previously been a joiner, the name for someone who did cabinetry and other woodworking.

The year after the completion of the Porter contract, Mr. Terry sold his Plymouth factory to Mr. Thomas and Mr. Hoadley. Later on, Mr. Thomas opened the Seth Thomas Clock Company in the part of Plymouth that later became Thomaston. He became an important part of the community, employing a lot of people in the area, and buying up houses or businesses whenever their owners ran into financial trouble.

On July 6, 1875 Thomaston officially separated from Plymouth and was named after Seth Thomas, who died in 1895.

Mr. Thomas’ memory endures in this little town of nearly 9,000 people, and in the clock that Mr. Vaughn will keep and cherish forever.

“I always wanted one and I was always told by collectors, ‘You’ll never find one,’ because they’re extremely rare,” Mr. Vaughn said. “And I found one.”

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