Charles Denning Clocks: A timeless mystery

All good mysteries need good detectives. In this case, renown Royal China experts Deborah and Dave Folckemer put their sleuthing skills to work to solve a case that has been a long unsolved mystery to Royal China collectors: Why do these Royal China clock plates have both Imperial and Charles Denning markings? The solution to this mystery lies in understanding the background of three of the main characters: Norman Charles Pickering, Pickering’s partner Denning, and Milton Ohringer.

Pioneering inventor Norman C. Pickering was born July 9, 1916. Hailing from Sag Harbor, N.Y., an engineer, musician and physicist by trade, Pickering was successful in obtaining patents in many areas, including medical ultrasound techniques, audio and musical engineering and sound reproduction.

Pickering and a partner, known only by his middle name, Denning, started the clock manufacturing company Charles Denning Limited in 1952. The business was named using the middle names of both men. Charles Denning Limited never made Royal China plates.

In fact, what Charles Denning Limited did make was clocks. They made many styles of clocks,  and owned the rights to many of industrial designer Raymond Loewy’s clock designs. Charles Denning’s claims to fame included having the first transistor clock movement and the first battery clock movement, but again, nothing had anything to do with Royal China.

During 1955, Japanese designers invented a quartz clock movement that cost significantly, perhaps even as much as half the cost, of a Charles Denning Limited movement. This creation changed the course of business for Norman Charles Pickering and his partner. The time had come to sell Charles Denning Limited, which had its largest number of employees at the time, 25, and move on.

Thus enters the final character in this mystery, Mr. Milton Ohringer of Highland, Ill. Earlier in 1955, Ohringer had purchased the Imperial Clock Company from C.J. Hug. The Charles Denning Limited became his second clock-making acquisition of the year. After the purchase was completed, Milton moved a key Denning employee to Highland to supervise the production process.

Between 1955 and 1960, Milton implemented his idea to make wall clocks from the lovely and popular Royal China Company, dinnerware patterns of the day which were manufactured in Sebring, Ohio. Because he owned both the Imperial Clock Company and Charles Denning Limited, he used both names on the plates, in essence creating two product lines. The names of Charles Denning and Imperial Clock Co. can be found over the number six on the plate faces.

The special clocks can be identified by the following specifications: The plates range from 10 to 12 inches in diameter. They are rim-shaped or coupe-shaped and have primarily Ingraham electric movements. It should be noted that the 12-inch plates are more rare than the 10-inch plates.

The Royal China dinnerware patterns known to have been used on the clocks marked Imperial Clock Co. are: “Early Morn” in brown and “English Ivy” in green. The Imperial clocks are more difficult to find than the Charles Denning clocks.

The Denning clocks known dinnerware patterns include: “Currier and Ives”, 10- and 12-inch in blue and pink; “Colonial Homestead”, 10- and 12-inch in green; Fair Oaks, 10-inch in multicolored; and Willow Ware, 10-inch in blue. It should be noted that the Denning clocks most frequently found by collectors are the blue Currier & Ives 10-inch plates followed by the Colonial Homestead clock in green. The Denning clock in the Fair Oaks pattern is the most difficult for collectors to locate.

During 1960, Milton Ohringer closed the Imperial Clock Company and moved to Pittsburgh, where he passed away in 1996 at age 86. Thus, the production of these great clocks ended in 1960. Researching the history of the companies involved in this case is what led the Folckemers to finally solve the mystery of how these timeless, collectible clock plates came into being.

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