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Man’s collection keeps on ticking

By Lisa Ridder

Dennis Sagvold stands with most of his three-legged alarm clock collection. Photo by Lisa Ridder

Dennis Sagvold could easily be described as a horologist turned aficionado. Horology is the study and measurement of time, and Dennis has more than 40 years of experience repairing clocks and more than 20 years in the clock repair business. At the urging of a jeweler friend, Dennis studied watchmaking in Chicago, Illinois, graduating as a Master Watchmaker years ago.

“It’s not heavy work, and there’s a big need for it,’ he said. “That’s what he told me. I researched it, it sounded interesting, and so that’s what I did.”

While Dennis never officially studied clock making or repair, he learned by trial and error.

Cowboy themed toy watches like these two are part of Dennis’ collection. Photo by Lisa Ridder

“About the same time I started my business I got into collecting,” he said “I discovered alarm clocks with legs and I realized I didn’t see many of them around. I thought they were kind of interesting.”

The more he researched the alarm clocks with legs, the more he liked them.

“I found out they quit making them in 1929 and were phased out by 1935,” said Dennis. “I was drawn to them because they were different, they were small and didn’t take up much room.”

Today, Dennis has more than 500 alarm clocks with legs. “And there’s not a duplicate in the bunch,” he said. Dennis overhauls each clock before he displays it, which takes a lot of time. But Dennis has never kept track of the hours he’s put into overhauling his collection.

A closer look at about a dozen of Dennis’ collection of alarm clocks with legs. Photo by Lisa Ridder

“I love it. I really enjoy taking them apart, fixing them and putting them back together,” he said. Dennis has space dedicated for clock repairs, complete with a clock cleaning machine.

Dennis spends time researching each clock. He knows the story behind every clock. In fact, he carried his documentation around with him, eventually deciding it would make a good book. So in 2004, his book Legged Alarm Clocks was published.

After all of this, one would think Dennis would not be adding to his collection of legged alarm clocks, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“I know there are more out there that I don’t have and when I see one, I will know,” said Dennis. “I find most of the clocks in flea markets and in antique stores.”

Dennis with some of his Sheriff toy watch sets. Photo by Lisa Ridder

Dennis belongs to various organizations and clubs related to clock collecting. He has been a member of the National Association of Clock Collectors since 1974.

Did he grow up with any of these clocks in the house? “I am sure we had them in the house, but I do not have any vivid memories of them. My aunt told me once that my grandfather was also a clock maker and repairman, but I never knew him, as he died before I was born,” he said, pausing for a moment and then smiling. “However, I did have a toy tin watch that was just like dad’s watch, but it lasted for about a week and then it broke. I collect them too. I have over 639 toy tin watches.”

Toy tin watches don’t run, he noted.

“They have no movement in them in them at all, as they were never meant to work. They are just a toy,” said Dennis. “I researched the history of each one. The cowboy watches are my favorites.”

Dennis continues to add to his collection. He noted that he’s never met anyone else that collects the toy tin watches. He gets a lot of his new collection pieces from eBay and other online sources.

“I only collect toy tin watches. I don’t collect the plastic ones,” said Dennis.

Princess Anne watch and ring toy watch sets are also part of Dennis’ collection. Photo by Lisa Ridder

Very few of the watches were made in the United States. “Well, during the war, things couldn’t be made of tin, as it was needed for the war efforts. Many of the watches were made in Japan, some in Germany and I have a set that was made in Spain,” he said. “I believe most of my watches were made in the 1940s to 1950s. There’s no way to date them that I know of,” said Dennis.

One of at least 20 tin toy watch store displays that Dennis has as part of his collection. Photo by Lisa Ridder

Some of his collection includes store displays, others are in sets or are just a single watch. Just like his legged alarm clock collection, Dennis has a wide assortment of watches and, yes, no duplicates.

When Dennis is not restoring clocks or collecting, he keeps busy with his other hobbies.

“I like photography and scroll sawing, and I also enjoy attending car shows, showing my collector car,” he said.

Dennis also loves the trivia he learns through his research. “Zip codes were first used in June of 1973 and UPC codes were first used 1974,” said Dennis.

One thing is certain, no matter what he is doing or learning, Dennis enjoys it all.

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