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Laura Frizol stands next to a Westclox display at La Salle Public Library. Peru Public Library and La Salle County Historical Society also have collections of Westclox items and memorabilia, including Peru library's collection of Tick Talk magazine/ newsletters that were issued to employees. Photos of some of local collector Gary Biolchini's prized clocks appear in today's newspaper. NewsTribune photos/Chris Yucus
The Westclox factory closed 33 years ago in Peru after making clocks and watches for nearly 100 years.
Westclox populated the planet with timepieces.
“They were the largest clockmaker in the world for a while there,” said Gary Biolchini of Oglesby. “They made 36,000 timepieces a day at their peak in the 1950s.”
Westclox aficionados like Biolchini, 66, also are global, he said. He has collected Westclox memorabilia for 35 years and wrote a book, “Westclox: An Identification and Price Guide.”
At age 4 he dismantled a clock, he said.
“I took apart my mother’s Big Ben,” he said.
In 1980 when the Peru factory closed, it auctioned off property.
“I didn’t buy any clocks,” he said. “I wasn’t as serious then.”
He later bought truckloads of Westclox equipment for cheap and stocked his workshop, he said.
“Nobody wanted the stuff at the time and I filled a pickup truck full and I spent 38 dollars and then I sorted it,” Biolchini said. He uses the tools and parts from the original factory to work on Westclox clocks.
Some Westclox clocks are rare and valuable. A recent eBay auction ended with a high bid of $769 for an owl-shaped Westclox clock from the early 1900s.
“It’s one of the most expensive I’ve seen,” Biolchini said.
The 1920s were a prolific Westclox era.
“They made a lot of clocks in the ’20s,” he said. “They made millions of them so they’re fairly common.”
Others had very short runs and are much rarer.
“So there are a lot of different models that people don’t know about,” Biolchini said.
Peru auctioneer Don Kolowski said Westclox pieces with special faces or novelties are attractive to collectors.
“They’re unique,” he said. “They didn’t make 10 million of them.”
Westclox made its first Big Ben clock in 1908. The oldest clocks are faced with flat glass and the newer ones, curved glass. “Waralarms” were World War II-era Westclox clocks cased in paperboard, giving up metal for the war.
“They didn’t put their name on it because the war board set a price on it,” he said.
Biolchini’s Waralarm clock has a retail price of $1.65 stamped into the back. The U.S. war department dictated manufacturing of many industries. Consequently, Westclox made things for the war like machine gun clips and clocks colored olive-drab, he said.
The market for Westclox collectibles has waned, Kolowski said.
“We’ve seen the downturn going back 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “They were very hot and good sellers and since then the market has faded away.”
One collection in Tonica was destroyed by a fire.
“There used to be, in our area, there were at least four or five senior gentlemen that repaired Westclox clocks but those gentlemen have all passed away.”
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