Explore this abandoned clockmaker’s house full of antiques

The historic New Jersey cottage that time forgot

Fittingly frozen in time like the many stopped clocks that litter its dilapidated rooms, this 19th-century New Jersey cottage was once home to an enigmatic clockmaker and collector of curios, but now lies empty and forlorn, the pendulum having swung squarely against its favour. Renowned photographer Bryan Sansivero recently captured the run-down property in all its faded glory. Join us as we take a tour of the house and discover the antique treasures hiding within its walls.

Heritage gem

R. Merritt Lacey / Historic American Buildings Survey [Public domain]

Pictured here in a photograph taken as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey in the 1930s, the stone and clapboard house is one of the few surviving examples of early Jersey Dutch cottage architecture. It was built in the 1820s by a prominent brewer of French Huguenot origin, who snapped up the land on which it stands for the equivalent of $36,000 (£27k) in today’s money.

Shrouded in mystery

Located around 30 minutes from New York City, the enigmatic home sits nestled behind trees and undergrowth, obscuring the property from the eyes of curious passersby. Having passed through numerous hands over the decades, including those of a skilled clock restorer and antiques enthusiast, this remarkable house has sadly been left to languish in recent years.

Manicured grounds

Bar the autumn leaves that litter the pathway, the grounds of the cottage and its exterior are pretty well-maintained. The mysterious abandoned home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s, and given its significance, the local authority looks after the garden and takes care of the exterior. The interior, however, is another matter entirely. Let’s take a look inside…

Antique piano

The living room is dank and dusty, though the wallpaper remains intact. Taking pride of place under the east window is a handsome square piano. Meticulously crafted in fine flame mahogany sometime around 1830 by prestigious New York City maker William Geib, the instrument boasts exquisite gold marquetry, ornate drawer handles, fluted legs and an ebony and ivory keyboard.

Art imitating life

The square design was popular in America up until the turn of the 20th century when it was effectively rendered obsolete as the more practical upright piano became fashionable. Sitting on the piano is a naive-style picture of the cottage that was painted when the property was surrounded by verdant countryside. Following a careful restoration, it could be worth thousands.

Military mementos

Several Victorian parlour chairs upholstered in sumptuous satin and damask are dotted around the room. A couple of peaked military dress caps dating from the Second World War rest on one of the seats. They likely belonged to one of the last residents of the house who would have served his country during the conflict. The scarlet, white and gold braid around the navy blue hat denotes the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Miniature musical instrument

Moving into the characterful breakfast room, you can’t fail to be impressed by the antique furniture and tiny square ‘cottage-sized’ piano. An early 20th-century carriage clock, the first of many you will see in the house, is perched on top of the instrument.

Eclectic artwork

A print of what appears to be a Dutch Master still-life depicting a vase of flowers and two peaches hangs above the piano. Two saccharine-sweet Victorian lithographs of girls sporting ringlets are among the other artworks that decorate the room, while a decidedly sinister-looking white rabbit figurine from the 1930s sits on two age-old tomes. We’re getting some serious Alice in Wonderland vibes…

Dining room

The dining room has most definitely seen better days. This abandoned space appears to be plagued by a damp problem and the wallpaper is peeling away. Debris scatters the floor and the red velvet upholstered chairs, while the Victorian lithographs that adorn the walls are covered in dust.

Hummel figurine

Standing on one of the antique mahogany cabinet’s shelves is a figurine of a boy wearing a green overcoat and matching cap. It appears to be the handiwork of German company M.I. Hummel. The firm’s figurines were popularised in the US by American soldiers stationed in West Germany following the Second World War, who sent the objects home as gifts.

Clock restoration workshop

The next room we encounter is a workshop that would have been used by the former owner to restore vintage timepieces. The wood panels that clad the walls are well-preserved, but the same can’t be said for those covering the ceiling. The white paint is peeling off and the surfaces are positively crying out for a good sanding.

Tools of the trade

The tools of the horologist’s trade are scattered across the table. They include assorted implements, pencils and a clock face that’s adorned with a floral design. Note the vintage filing cabinets and mid-century modern office chair in the corner.

Old photograph

An old photograph of a rather dapper-looking gentleman, who may or may not be the home’s final resident, lies on top of a side table, its frame dusty and glass smashed. Next to it is a book by Fred T. Hodgson, which outlines the uses of the steel square, a tool used in carpentry. The title dates from the late 1930s.

Intriguing ephemera

Various fascinating ephemera cover another side table in the room. They include personal letters, one of which is addressed “to my little curly top”, a nickname for a child possibly taken from a 1938 movie of the same name starring Shirley Temple. There are also several photographs dating from the early 20th century that range from a shot of a plane to a snap showing a group of men in military uniforms and civilian clothing.

Master bedroom

What looks to be the home’s master bedroom is papered in a busy floral print. There’s a small red velvet couch in the corner of the room, which looks as though it was crafted in the late 19th century. To the right of the image is an ornate cast iron radiator. Like many of the old-fashioned homewares in the house, this piece could fetch good money at auction today.

Mourning lithograph

The picture on the sofa of two young girls is an 1880 mourning lithograph by George Stinson of Portland, Maine. It is placed within a tramp art Adirondack frame that also dates from the late Victorian period. These paintings were typically created for parents grieving the death of a young child.

Whimsical print

Yet another Victorian lithograph hangs above the diminutive red velvet couch. This particular image, which shows a young curly-haired girl and a lamb, is entitled ‘Innocence’ – the original design was created sometime during the late 19th century by Louis Prang, the so-called ‘father of the American Christmas card’. It is possibly worth around $300 (£228) according to recent sales.

Chinese lantern

Stepping into another bedroom, you’ll notice a Chinese lantern suspended from the ceiling. On closer inspection, the picture on the mulberry rice paper shows a walled city and a man leading a convoy of two-humped Bactrian camels, alluding to the ancient Silk Road trade route where camels were used for centuries to transport goods.

Abandoned attic room

In stark contrast to the ornate antiques peppered around the historic abandoned house, this upstairs bedroom is the most humble of them all and could have been used to accommodate a servant. The dilapidated room looks like it hasn’t been occupied for decades. Among the time-worn objects in the space is a wooden single bed, a couple of old oil lamps and a lidded ceramic chamber pot.

Vintage gadgets

Untouched for years, a shabby desk sits at the foot of the bed. Resting on it is a vintage radio complete with a horn loudspeaker, along with an Art Deco General Electric Vortalex desk fan from the 1930s, an old marking machine and several storage boxes.

Storage space

The remainder of the upper level is given over to storing a plethora of items, including a grandfather clock, a number of antique chairs and an assortment of furniture. As you can see, the timber roof looks to be in excellent shape, a testament to the cottage’s quality early 19th-century construction.

Avid collector

As we know, the final resident of the property enjoyed collecting antiques and curios. Copies of American Collector, a magazine that was published in the 1930s and 1940s, are displayed in the space. The cover of this particular issue shows a famous print from 1863 by Fanny Palmer entitled ‘The Lightning Express Trains Leaving the Junction’. It was produced by celebrated New York City printmaking firm Currier and Ives.

Ancient camera

Lying on this Victorian loveseat, which is upholstered in plush crimson velvet brocade, is an antique bellows-style camera, or at least what’s left of it. This particular model is the Premo B, which was manufactured by Upstate New York’s Rochester Optical Company from around 1894 to 1902, according to Collectors Weekly. The firm was taken over by Kodak in 1903.

Curious contraption

A box that once housed a very curious device indeed sits on a wooden side table. The Master Violet Ray No. 11 is an electrotherapy contraption based on a machine that was presented at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair by Nikola Tesla. These pseudoscientific gizmos were thought to cure disease at the time but were later condemned and banned as medical treatment devices in the US.

Grandfather clock

This close-up shot of the grandfather clock that flanks the attic door showcases the face’s floral design to a T. The lofty piece was sold by New York City clock retailer William S. Johnson. The timepiece purveyor, who was in business during the mid-19th century, purchased clocks from various manufacturers, customised them and then added his label.

Picture clocks

A curious assortment of William S. Johnson clocks is shown in this shot. Perhaps the former owner of the house specialised in their restoration? A couple feature ornate paintings including one that depicts an elegant 18th century-era woman on a horse. To the right of the image is a framed New Jersey County Grammar School Certificate and an amazing vintage wireless.

Historic depictions

This dramatic lithograph showing President Lincoln on his death bed was produced by the aforementioned printers Currier and Ives in 1865. Surrounding the ill-fated president is his wife Mary and various other key historical figures including the then-Vice President Andrew Johnson, who went on to assume the presidency, and Massachusetts State Senator Charles Sumner.

Apothecary paraphernalia

A number of worn books occupy the shelves in the space, two of which are concerned with steam engines. Several items of apothecary paraphernalia have been placed on the lower shelf, including an old medicine bottle and antique pestle and mortar, which was used to crush, grind and mix restorative powders, herbs, and more.

A neglected treasure trove

The A. P. Morgan book on this side table sells for around $100 (£75) these days. Exactly why the property’s current owner abandoned the cottage and let it fall into ruin is a mystery, especially since the time-warp home is packed with antiques and curios that could be worth a considerable sum of money. Whatever the reason, we hope there’s a change of fortune on the horizon for this neglected treasure trove…

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