Over time, hobby became his trade

March 18, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The first clock Bob Capone purchased broke. Using the money-back guarantee, Capone returned the clock.

Defective or not, the wall clock sparked a collecting passion that Capone spent the next 30 years building into a thriving business. "I love the mechanical aspects of clocks," said Capone. "They fascinate me."

Hands of Time is Capone's shop in historic Savage Mill. It includes an inventory of more than 1,000 clocks, collectibles, crystal, music boxes and art.

"Bob has the largest clock shop in the Mid-Atlantic region, and one of the largest on the entire East Coast," said Ken O'Bannon, the Mid-Atlantic sales representative for Howard Miller, a clock manufacturer based in Zeeland, Mich.

The shop is a wonderland of clocks. It's more fun than work, Capone said.

"I come to the shop to play," said the 65-year-old Rockville resident. "I couldn't bear the thought of not having this place."

After earning a bachelor's degree in English from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Capone held jobs that included elementary school teacher and public health adviser. But something was missing in his life, Capone said. He wanted to be his own boss.

Not ready to give up his day job, in 1976 he joined the American Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, which at that time had more than 41,000 members.

In 1980, he took a job at the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine, which he held until 1986.

Eventually, his passion for clocks won out, and in 1987, Capone opened for business. He stocked the store with his collection of more than 200 grandfather, wall, mantel, and cuckoo clocks.

With the shop's location secured, Capone needed to name the business.

In a brainstorming session with his family, his son Tony, then age 12, suggested Hands of Time.

"I couldn't have thought of a better name," Capone said. "It was absolutely perfect."

During his first year of business, Capone made his living selling imported wall clocks for $39 apiece. Called a flying pendulum clock, the model had a glass dome that covered a swinging ball on a string.

"The clock was so successful it covered our rent for most of our first year in business," said Capone.

In the past three decades, Capone has seen several clock trends come and go, but some styles have withstood test of time.

Large clocks such as grandfather clocks never lose their appeal, said O'Bannon.

"Grandfather clocks have been around since the start of our country," he said. "It's the traditional American heirloom."

When Bette Dolan came to the shop last July, she was looking for a grandfather clock for a room she was decorating.

"I found the perfect clock," she said. "Bob was honest and he was knowledgeable. I told him what I was looking for, and he directed me to a cheaper clock than the one I was looking at. I was impressed."

A visit to the shop is like turning back the hands of time, said Dolan, a Fulton resident.

"The shop reminds me of the way things were when I was a child," Dolan said. "You get old-fashioned customer service. I wasn't a clock person before I went there. But when I walked into the shop, it was like a transformation. All of the sudden, I want a grandfather clock in every room of my house."

Whether it's the rich wood of the grandfather clocks or the intricate detail of many wall clocks, most people find something to suit their tastes, Capone said.

The most popular of the small clocks are animated and have motion, he said. That style dates way back, and the original clocks with motion are hard to come by these days, he said.

For example, he acquired a clock shaped like a locomotive with wheels that turn when the clock strikes on the hour.

"These clocks may have been popular at one time, but I don't see many of them now," said Capone.

The most popular clocks based on sales are rhythm clocks, says Capone. Ranging in price from $190 to $400, the clocks play multiple tunes and have motion.

"People just love these clocks," said Capone. "They each have distinct motions and music."

Overall, Capone has an inventory of more than 1,000 clocks, ranging in price from $10 to $19,000, he said.

"I try to keep a representation of every kind of clock out there, in my store," he said.

Among them is a limited-edition George Washington commemorative clock that sells for $11,550. When the clock strikes on the hour, a ship with Washington in it rocks back and forth.

But Capone's favorite clock is not nearly as high-tech, he said. It's a fan clock that opens every 12 hours.

"The fan clocks are rare, you don't see a lot of them," he said. And Capone prefers the rare clocks. Even some clocks that were mass-produced are rare because not many of them exist today, he said.

"There are old mantel clocks that you might think are not rare because they made millions of them," Capone said. "But then it becomes a question of how many of the clocks survived over the past 100 years."

Most of the antique clocks he repairs and sells are acquired through his customers, at auctions, and - a few - on eBay. In addition to collecting and selling clocks, Capone restores them. "I love to work on clocks," he said. "I think it's very interesting the way a clock works."

O'Bannon attributes Capone's success to his love of clocks. "Bob has a passion for the industry," O'Bannon said. "And he has a rapport with his customers that is unbelievable."

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