New book on William Cranch Bond, his sons, and observatory timekeeping

Sara J. Schechner's picture

Below please find a message from Dr. James Nye, chairman of the Antiquarian Horological Society, concerning From Celestial to Terrestrial Timekeeping, a new book by Donald Saff about William Cranch Bond and his sons and their associations with Harvard College Observatory and the clockmaking firm of William Bond & Son.   As curator of Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, which holds the business records, casting patterns, and exquisite astronomical regulators by the firm, I had the privilege to write the book’s introduction. 

If you are interested in observatories and precision timekeepers, this is a book for you!  All questions should be directed to James Nye (  


Sara J. Schechner, Ph.D.

David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

Lecturer on the History of Science

Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

Science Center 251c, 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel: 617-496-9542   |   Fax: 617-495-3344  |  |@SaraSchechner




Dear All,


I hope list members (and their institutions, departments and libraries) will be interested in a new publication from the AHS (, which covers in depth the contributions of the Bond family of Boston to the recording of star time, maintaining accurate time at sea, and time distribution for the New England Railroads following the organization of time zones. William Cranch Bond and George Bond, Directors of the Harvard College Observatory, were distinguished for their celestial discoveries and contributions to positional astronomy. In 1866, even as he lay dying, Richard Fifield Bond gave instructions for the finishing touches of a clock escapement design that proved to be a masterpiece. Soon after, his specifications were embodied in three ground-breaking clocks that distributed time signals from Harvard College Observatory, Liverpool Observatory, and the Bonds' shop in Boston.


From the construction of the first chronometer in America to their role in the development of celestial photography, the Bonds were pre-eminent, utilizing the telegraph system to provide and distribute accurate time, servicing and rating chronometers for navigation, and providing observations and calculations for determining longitude in surveys.


At the 1851 Great Exhibition, the Bonds introduced the drum chronograph to the scientific community, combatting the human inaccuracies inherent in observing star transits. The system was greatly admired and universally employed. The Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, even coined a term for it: the 'American Method'.


Don Saff, the author, is familiar to many from different fields, but in the history of science his best-known work has involved research in precision horology and coverage of Edward Howard, Charles Fasoldt, and John Harrison.


Some reviews of the new book can be seen here:


The book is 438 pages, casebound, 270mm x 210mm, in a buckram cloth cover and on 150gsm silk paper.


For buyers in the US and Canada, it can be found here


For buyers elsewhere, it can be found at