One of the most memorable timepieces from the art deco era was the Kit-Cat Klock.
OnlineClock.net has already blogged briefly about Kit-Cat Klocks. But heck, these clocks are simply so cool that one blog post about them is not enough. And we wanted to write a longer article covering their history and lore (so, voila!).
The first Kit-Kat Clock was manufactured in 1932 by the California Clock Company, which was known as Allied Manufacturing in Portland, Oregon then. Auctionbyte’s website explains that Allied Manufacturing changed its name in the early 1960s. According to the California Clock Company’s website, the Kit-Cat Klock surfaced during the Great Depression and seemed to lighten spirits of those who were now facing economic hardship. The California Clock Company describes their first model as a black cat with a tail swinging as the pendulum. On the face of the cat were two large eyes that followed the movement of the tail, synchronized with seconds. Located on the abdomen of the cat was a clock face, surrounded by its lower paws. At that time, quartz had only been in use for about 5 years, so the first Kit-Cat Klocks were wind-up devices. Shortly after they were put on the market, the manufacturers switched to electric clocks with a cord.
The inspiration for this idea is still a mystery, but one one type of clock that either influenced the Kit-Cat Klock or was influenced by it was the Wig-Wag Clock. The Wig-Wag clock looked similar to the Kit-Cat model, but the cat on this design appeared to be carved out of wood. Its face and features were more realistic than the animated cartoon-like Kit-Cat character. The eyes and tail also wagged in sync with the seconds. Wig-Wag Clocks surfaced in the early 1930s.
At the time it was released, the Kit-Cat Klock was a definite hit. Over the years, there would be several small changes to the novelty timepiece, but most involved addition of more colors and accessories. From their beginning in the 1930s and through most of the 1940s, Kit-Cat Klocks had only bottom paws on them. The shoulder area was rounded; also there was no bow-tie or collar on the cat’s neck. In the 1940s, only red, black or white Kit-Cat Klocks were available, but soon more colors were added. Auctionbyte reports that the Kit-Cat creature acquired top paws after this point. Later around 1954, the cat’s bow-tie was added. According to an antique guide from Worth Point, the Kit-Cat Klock had top paws after the 1950s and a bow-tie was added.
Published on Worth Point, an interesting description from the manufacturer’s box of a Kit-Cat Klock manufactured in the 1960s states that a WG-500 motor was used. Also it is described as a self-starting motor 115V-60 HZ-3 Watts. Stamped on the back plate of the cat are the words “Made in USA in San Juan Capistrano by the California Clock Co – U/L.” Another interesting fact mentioned in this description is included information about Woody’s Fan Club. Apparently at one time there was also a fan club for buyers of these hot-selling novelties. According to the California Clock Company’s website, Woody Young is the owner of the company.
After 1982, all Kit-Cat Klocks now had four paws, a bow-tie and a definitive marking – “Kit-Cat” was also now written across the clock face. Everything was going smoothly for the California Clock Company and the Kit-Cat Klock until the mid-1980s. As admitted on their website, the company nearly closed because the cost of producing electric motors and the parts in America had become too expensive. The owner was faced with a difficult decision to outsource the work overseas or face possibly closing. Instead of choosing between two undesirable options, the California Clock Company invented a battery-run technology that gave enough power to move the beloved tail and eyes in sync with seconds. They accomplished this through using precision balancing with the inner components, using gravity to keep everything moving controllably.
Today there are many different styles and colors of Kit-Cat Klocks to choose from.
There are the traditional “Gentlemen” Kit-Cats, which come in black or red, featuring a bow-tie. Several female versions are also available; instead of a bow-tie, these cats are adorned with pearl necklaces. Another type that became available in recent years was the jeweled Kit-Cat Klock. Since these clocks are made with quality Austrian crystals that must be hand-set, they are only available to order during certain times of the year. According to the Kit-Cat Klock official MySpace page, a 2008 blog entry announced the anticipated arrival in 2009 of a blue “baby boy” and pink “baby girl” Kit-Cat Klock. There are even older collectible Copper and jeweled Kit-Cats. Since this feline has become so popular, there is also a wide array of Kit-Cat merchandise for sale on the California Clock Company’s website, such as shirts, mugs and even a full set of paw-printed dishes.
One Kit-Cat Klock that is not for sale is special in its own way – it is the largest Kit-Cat Klock. Documented and photographed in The Lope Blog in 2007, this clock was on display on Route 66 at The All American Roadshow, courtesy of the California Clock Company. It stood at an enormous height of six feet and three inches tall (!).
The best place to purchase a Kit-Cat Klock is directly from the California Clock Company’s website. They are fairly priced and, as ever, are made in the USA. Although they are not common to be found, cheap knock-offs may pop up from time to time. International auction sites are prime areas for such scams. The best defense against purchasing a possible rip-off clock is to avoid sellers that are outside of the United States and are selling them in large numbers. All Kit-Cat Klocks will have tell-tale signs identifying their generation and authenticity. To buy a vintage Kit-Cat Klock, eBay and other clock forums may be the only places, but it is important to exercise caution. Don’t hesitate to ask the seller for pictures of the back plate, which will provide markings of authenticity. Determining when and where the clock was made will have a key part in determining its value; a list of defining factors can be found on the California Clock Company’s “History of the Kit-Cat Klock” page. Their website also provides helpful troubleshooting advice for new and old Kit-Cat Klocks.
Whether for a birthday, holiday or “just because,” Kit-Cat Klocks are a great gift or investment. Just as the people in the 1930s experienced its relief in economic hardship, so can people of today.
Watching the care-free cat dart its eyes and tail with a mischievous smile is a good reminder that hard times will pass and time should not be wasted in worrying.
Lighten up, everybody – and treat yourself to a Kit Cat !