The unusual clock hands on a Third Avenue union sign

I must have passed the sign for the Metallic Lathers Union on Third Avenue in Lenox Hill a hundred times before finally noticing it the other day.

There’s a little history on it: the current union came out of an original union of wood, wire, and metal lathers workers that was organized in 1897. But what really caught my eye was the street clock attached to the sign, with its streamlined, Art Deco look.

The clock hands could be tools of some kind, perhaps a tool a lather might use? (A lather installs the metal lath and gypsum lath boards that support the plaster, concrete, and stucco coatings used in construction.)

This lathe cutter looks something like the clock hands. Maybe it’s a stretch, but perhaps the clock reflects something about the work these union members do in an industry vital to the growth of the city.

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13 Responses to “The unusual clock hands on a Third Avenue union sign”

  1. Erwin Schaub Says:

    Hello, great posts as usual!
    BTW, a Lathe tool that you suggested, and pointed to the link is unrelated to lath work. Those are wood Lathe cutting tools. A wood lathe is a machine tool that spins a work piece on a horizontal axis. The lathe tool is brought in contact with the spinning piece, and used to shape it into a circular cross-section. The lathe is used to make stair, railing and furniture spindles, among many other applications.
    I do agree, the clock hands do reference a lather’s tools. Not sure what tool. Some sort of knife I think. Regards Erwin

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ah, thanks for this info! As you can see I don’t know much about lathe work, but I do admire the craftsmanship and tools that make it happen.

  2. Lusskin, Shari Says:

    Dear Esther:
    Thanks for a terrific tour yesterday. Remember I told you that you kept posting about things I’d just noticed on the UES during the pandemic? Well, this sign is literally next door to my apartment building (The Siena 188 E. 76) and I never paid much attention to it! I’ll take a look at the clock hands today. I’m ordering a copy of your book today!

    Shari I. Lusskin, MD
    Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Obstetrics,
    Gynecology, and Reproductive Science
    Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
    Attending in Psychiatry
    The Mount Sinai Hospital
    Private office:
    161 Madison Avenue, Rm 10NW
    New York, NY 10016
    Cell: 6463316063
    Tel: 2127793660
    Fax: 2126969411
    For all medical and administrative matters, please contact the office at 2127793660. Dr. Lusskin does not address clinical matters by email.
    The information in this email may be confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addresses(s). If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution, or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on this email is prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this email in error please notify the sender by reply email and delete the message.

  3. Julia Park Tracey Says:

    I was reading that as lather, as in soap/shampoo lather. And I thought this was a straight razor. It’s not, of course, but I think you’re on to something. Let’s try to find some old plastering tools and see what we can find? Pargetter was the old term for a plasterer. Also in the same business– today’s stucco applicators. They also lay down laths or chickenwire underneath their stucco.
    I looked at plastering tools and there is a narrow plastering trowel made to use in corners that looks quite like the clock’s arms.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I didn’t even make the connection between lathe and lather, but I like this and that the tools might be some kind of razor.

  4. Susan Says:

    Passed it many times. Know its on Third but exactly what Street in the seventies? Tell us

  5. maneman11 Says:

    You are way out of your depth!!! WAY. Look up the words before assuming knowledge. LATH AND LATHE ARE TWO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THINGS.

    …from the pen of PB

  6. V Cangemi Says:

    “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”
    While the hands of a clock may look like what you would use to turn wood on a machine, the trade in this union does not use such a tool . I would believe the tools on the sign being the primary tools used would have been enough and the hands of the clock are just that.

  7. Mark Says:


  8. Ginny Poleman Says:

    I live in this neighborhood and pass it many times, as well! I hadn’t noticed the arms on the clock, but I have tried researching the mural on the building. I noticed one of the images is of the 1939 World’s Fair Trylon & Perisphere. I couldn’t find anything about the mural or its artist. No signatures either.

  9. david Says:

    i think the clock would be art moderne rather than art deco, maybe from around 1940 give or take. the hands are just hands as far as i can tell. i am in this union, but a different local, and frankly i do not know about the historic work of this local and how the technology or work jurisdiction evolved over time (like did they once do plaster and lathe work?), but today they are basically the ‘rod busters’ or the guys who handle and tie rebar together so as to reinforce concrete inside of form work, which i associate with the carpenters union. i don’t know if they do anything else at this point, now i’m curious.

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