Gunnar Dahlin –Clock Restoration Magician


Gunnar Dahlin – The handsome young mustached man in the attached photo is Anders Gunnar Wilhelm Dahlin.
Gunnar began his life’s journey on July 17, 1885 in the little Småland town of Nöttja. This journey from the woods and waterways of his youth, that he dearly loved, carried him to an urban city in the United States and later to Stockholm.
During his middle age he was fortunate enough to parley a hobby into an established business that allowed him to move back to Småland and rekindle his love of nature along with a daily opportunity to hunt or fish.
This business was the restoration of old clocks and in particular clock faces. Two extensive newspaper articles about Gunnar business were published in Småland newspapers in the 1950’s and later in1962. Within these articles it indicated that Gunnar was a “clock restoration magician” and that he was recognized throughout Scandinavia for these special skills.
Evidence for these unique skills fortunately have been preserved. His special tools and some of his work are currently on display in the Ljungby Old Market museum complex. Of particular interest, his display is on the second floor of the old restored tannery that his father Erik Dahlin purchased in 1891 and his older brother Werner owned and operated for fifty years.
This little vignette is an attempt to provide some insight in the life of Gunnar Dahlin. It includes recollections from people who knew him, translations from Swedish newspaper articles including his obituary along with USA and Swedish archival records. Photos from his life including those of his children are also provided.

Childhood Years Information regarding Gunnar’s early years is limited but review of church records, input from people who knew the Dahlin family and newspaper articles provide speculation.
Gunnar’s mother born Anna Andersson was a Nöttja native whose family lived in the area for many generations. She married the tanner Eric Gustaf Dahlin in the Old Nöttja church in 1885. Eric, a widower from Ljungby, had four children from his previous marriage. Eric owned or worked in the Nöttja tannery.
Gunnar was born in 1885. The previous year the Dahlin’s lost three children to Scarlet Fever. That left Gunnar as an infant, with a 15 year old step brother Gustaf, a sister Emma age eight and a brother Werner age seven. A brother Carl was born two years later in 1877. So one can assume since Gunnar and Carl were only two years apart they played together as children.
In 1890 Gunnar’s stepbrother Gustaf died and the following year the family moved to Ljungby.
One can also assume that Gunnar sang in the church choir. His mother Anna and brother Werner were identified as being good singers. His sister Emma who immigrated to Jamestown New York in 1896 was recognized in that community for her beautiful singing voice. As an adult Gunnar was known to have a rich baritone voice; his obituary stated that he was a devoted singer and that he participated in men’s choirs in Uppsala, Stockholm and later in Ljungby.
Gunnar likely showed early artistic talents; which is supported by the special skills shown in his clock restoration business. In addition his daughter, Inga, said that when he was in his sixties he built his own violin that he enjoyed playing..
Further, it is easy speculation that as a youth Gunnar spent many hours fishing and hunting. As an adult he was known as a lover of nature. Hunting was one of his big interests and he was recognizes as one the founders of the Ljungby shooting association. One can easily see him as a youngster bringing home some small fury creatures to his father’s tannery for hide preservation
His obituary also indicated he completed secondary school that was beyond the compulsory elementary school provided to all Swedes at the time. Gunnar was reported to be an outstanding athlete and a good long distance runner.
What he did after completing secondary school is unclear. Perhaps he worked at his father’s tannery or at some local Ljungby business. In any event, at age seventeen with assumed new and better opportunities he decided to emigrate to the USA.

USA Adventures Gunnar, at age 17, traveled to the USA with his sister
Emma who was then 26. Ellis Island passenger records and related ship manifest records provides insight on Gunnar and Emma’s travel and destination. Gunnar and Emma left Liverpool England January 24,1903 aboard the British ship Saxonia. They arrived in New York’s Ellis Island immigration center February 4,1903. The Saxonia, built in 1900 held 1960 passengers; it was owned by the same company [Cunnard Line] that later launched the Titanic. The passenger record indicated that both Gunnar and Emma started their journey from Helsingborg Sweden. Helsingborg is a port city on the western coast of southern Sweden that is not to far from Ljungby. Helsingborg claims the title as Sweden’s “Gateway to the Continent”. It is separated by the Baltic Sea at the closest point to Denmark. In 2005 Helsingborg ran 125 daily ferry crossings. It is likely the two Dahlin’s continued onto Copenhagen picking up a seagoing vessel to Liverpool England. Note: Gunnar’s younger brother Carl Dahlin’s US citizenship papers show him as a resident of Ljungby Sweden and that he immigrating to the US from Copenhagen Denmark.

The Saxonia’s manifest showed Gunnar as a laborer and Emma as a domestic with their destination as Jamestown New York. More specifically, they were going to join their Uncle Gustaf Anderson whose address was 17 Center St. in Jamestown. Gustaf was Anna Anderson Dahlin’s youngest brother and a partner of a successful clothing store in Jamestown. The 1903 –1904 Jamestown City directory shows Gunnar as a clerk working at 219 Main St. that was the location of Gustaf Anderson’s men’s clothing business. The Directory also shows Emma working as a dressmaker and both she and Gunnar living at Gustaf’s Center St. address.
Gunnar returned to Sweden at an unknown date and later returned to Jamestown. According to Gunnar’s grandson Bengt Blixt, Gunnar returned to Ljungby where he met and married a local girl Edith Salmonsson. Their first child, Karl Gunnar, was born May 9,1911. In 1912 Edith, then pregnant, moved with her young son Karl Gunnar, back to Jamestown. Gunnar followed at later date. Sadly, according to Jamestown’s Lake View Cemetery record “ An infant daughter of Gunnar and Edith Dahlin died January 14,1913. She is buried in Mound #2, Row 11, Grave #82” The cemetery records also indicate the child only lived 30 minutes and died because of complications during birth. The attending physician was W. Nelson and undertakers, Henderson & Lincoln who are no longer in business, made the funeral arrangements. Gunnar and Edith lived at 187 Barret Ave at the time. The cemetery attendant reviewing the old record speculated that the infant was buried the same day.
Gunnar’s younger brother Carl immigrated to Jamestown in 1910 and remained there until 1921. Consequently, if there was any funeral for Gunnar’s infant daughter Carl and Uncle Gustaf Anderson would have been there. In any event, during the time Gunnar and Edith were in Jamestown they must have had some family gatherings with Carl and Uncle Gustaf. It can be assumed that because Gunnar was in Jamestown for more than a couple of years and worked in a retail business, he spoke English.

Back to Homeland Roots Gunnar, Edith and their young son Karl Gunnar moved back to Ljungby, Sweden probably about 1915. This date is a guess but is supported by the 1913-1914 Jamestown Directory that shows a Gunnar Dahlin living at 223 Broadhead. No other information is given in this entry; further his name does not show up in later Jamestown Directories. More convincing is that Gunnar and Edith had to be back in Ljungby in 1916 because their daughter Ingrid was born there on February 7,1916 The reason for Gunnar’s return to Sweden is unclear. Certainly, the loss of an infant daughter would have an impact. Perhaps the job opportunity was limited or perhaps he and Edith just wanted to return to their family roots. It can be assumed that after moving back Ljungby he worked there in some capacity.

Stockholm During 1916-1917 Gunner, Edith and their two children moved to Stockholm. However, they still maintained family ties to Ljungby. Sometime between 1921 and 1923 the family returned to Ljungby to visit Gunnar’s parents [Erik died Dec 28 1923]. Gunnar’s daughter Ingrid then somewhere between 5 and 7 remembered standing trembling before the imposing figure of her tall grandfather and saying: “ Good day, my name is Ingrid Karilina Elisabet Dahlin.” This was her only conversation.
Initially, Gunner worked in a men’s clothing store. However, at some point Gunnar and his wife Edith opened a retail shop in Stockholm where they sold porcelain and kitchen related items. According to Gunnar’s grandson, Bengt Blixt, the business did not do very well and they eventually dropped this business. Bengt was left with the impression that Gunnar was not much of a businessman.
On the other hand, while in Stockholm, as a favor to a friend who was a clockmaker he repaired the damaged clock-face of his friend’s clock. He succeeded better than expected and began renovating more clock faces for his clockmaker friend and started thinking seriously about pursuing this distinctive handicraft as a business that he could operate by himself. As his skills grew he began going around to clockmaker shops in Stockholm getting orders for renovation of clock faces and eventually opened his own business
During WW2 it became completely impossible to get the special marten-hair brushes that were used to paint figures and fine points. Gunnar started to search for a substitute to make his own brushes and the first victim was his wife’s nice fox fur boa from which he carefully pinched some hair here and there.
Edith soon discovered the problem with her boa. Gunnar trying to defend himself responded with: “It is the moths that have been there”. Her quick response was: “Then it is probably a moth with its own scissors”. Unfortunately, the fox hair was not an adequate solution because it did not have the necessary elasticity. Consequently, Gunner began his search for alternatives. After extensive searches he eventually found acceptable hair type in a cow ear and wild mink! Even then, the choice of brushes is so important that with the hundreds of brushes there are only a few that were acceptable.

Clock Restoration Magician. Expensive and antique clocks are subject to wear from weather and use and restoration can significantly increase value and application. Taking advantage of the demand to restore them Gunnar not only developed brushes, but special tools, and materials. He became so skilled in this task that his reputation spread not only in Sweden but also to all the Nordic countries. Clock faces of all kinds were restored to their original brilliance through his handiwork. This included small watches with the size of a “ 10-öring” [an old Swedish coin with a diameter of 15m [0.43 in] to bank, railroad station or church clocks with faces up to 110 cm [43 in.] Gunnar could classify old clocks and restore clock faces to their original composition because of his vast knowledge in the history of old clocks.
A newspaper article underscored his unique skill by indicating he could paint a clock face on the head of a pin. These clocks may have cracked mother -of -pearl or metal faces where he developed special materials to hide the repair. In addition to clock faces, Gunnar also repaired laboratory instruments. He also did some repair of clock mechanisms but this was not his specialty. The newspaper author also suggested that Gunnar was some kind of a magician with the materials he developed in his restoration efforts and quizzed him about these materials. Gunnar, in response to the question merely smiled. In other words he wasn’t going to tell him.

Målaskog Newspaper articles and comments from family members clearly underscored Gunnar as a lover of nature. Consequently, after living in the crowded urban setting of Stockholm for many years Gunner and Edith later moved to the small village of Målaskog. Målaskog, that is not far from Ljungby, is located in Kronoberg County that is part of the Småland Province. The village at the time was surrounded by evergreen forests and close to good fishing; so this was an ideal place for Gunnar to purchase a home that had room for his clock restoration business.
According to Gunnar’s grandson’s Bengt and Lars Erik Blixt [ Gunnar’s daughter Ingrid married Curt Blixt] Gunnar and Edith loved their grandchildren. Bengt stated that his brother Lars-Erik along with their cousins Hans and Åke stayed several months during summer holidays in their house in Målaskog when they were 8 – 15 years old.
“They really supported us and made our stay with them as the most positive memories from our childhood.”
Bengt further wrote, “He {Gunnar} was really a “nature man” and when he and his wife moved back to Småland, Målaskog, (around 1948/49) he was lucky. He could now go out in the woods with his dog and gun, get a hare or a fish from the lake and enjoy the life in this nature setting.
In contrast, my grandmother, Edith, didn’t like this to move back into the dark woods. She missed her sister, brother and son (Karl-Gunnar) and daughter (Inga) and their families that still lived in the Stockholm area.”
Bengt’s younger brother Lars-Erik added the following “ I have spent several happy summer holidays in Målaskog with my brother and cousins where my grandfather taught us to carve bows and make arrows with iron nails in the front. The bowstrings were made of tendons that he got from the butchers store. He also showed us how to make spears and once I threw that sharpened spear at my cousin and suddenly there was a small bloodshed from the hip. Boys!!!!”
Ljungby- Last Stop After Gunnar’s wife died he moved back to Ljungby. A long article about Gunnar was published in the Småland newspaper ‘Smålandsposten” in 1962 or 1963. The article had a large picture of Gunnar sitting at his workbench but the picture quality was to poor to copy. This article translated from Swedish included information previous shown. Consequently, this transcription has been trimmed to present new information

Headline: “78-åring skapar karaktär åt tidmätares ansikten”
Translation : ”78-years man makes characteristics to the faces of time measurement devices”
Photo text: Gunnar Dahlin in his basement studio

In a little basement room in Ljungby village (should be town as Ljungby became a town in 1936) 78 year- old Gunnar Dahlin sits among brushes, oils and paints working with a special art. He is the only specialist of this art in the country, namely to renovate antique clock faces of all kinds. With a safe hand he “brings out” the original face of old clock faces, some with an origin from the 16th century. He is well known for his skill and he gets orders from all parts of our country. Most of his work concerns clock faces from old clocks standing on the floor [ Probably what is referred to in the USA as Grandfather Clocks] – These type of clocks have through the years grown in popularity and have become very valuable.
In many cases these clocks are very old and exhibit clock faces that are severely deteriorated to a point where they are barely readable. In some cases the faces are covered with paint or they have been repainted by a poorly skilled person..
To get down to the original clock face is a very time consuming process. It is very important to slowly scrape the surface down to the originally painted surface, which often has a signature or a name of the manufacturer.
Gunnar Dahlin was born “sunnerboit” (=person from Sunnerbo, a county outside Ljungby), He was the son of a tanner from Nöttja, His father also operated the old tannery that is still left as a cultural monument in Ljungby.
In his old-age he moved back to his home district and settled down in Målaskog; then some years later he moved to Ljungby.
Nowadays his profession is primarily a hobby, but he is not without orders. A proof of his continued skill is the ability to, with the help of a marten- hair brush, draw a clock face on a pin head! This profession – a profession without a school – has taken a lot of time with experimenting to get the right paint and contrasts. It also requires working with acids and other chemicals and most important, a great amount of patience is demanded. Antique treatment of the clock faces is also one of his specialities. The terminology is known as “cracking” where you obtaining a cracked surface in the paint.
His profession also demands an extensive knowledge about clocks from different ages. Some years ago Gunnar Dahlin obtained a clock face for renovation. The clock was made in the days of Karl XII (King of Sweden, lived 1682 – 1718). The clock had Arabian lettering and was signed by two brothers with the soldier name “Stålknapp” (Steelbutton). Gunnar Dahlin considered, unlike the owner of the clock face, that the clock face because of its age should have Roman figures. Using precise and difficult scraping, Gunnar worked his way through several paint layers, where he began to see fragments of Roman figures that only could be discerned in certain lighting. This, however, was enough to get the clock face back to its originally character and give justice to its age.
“It is fun to work with old clock faces and see what a magnificent work was done on these clocks hundreds of years ago with limited means available” This comment came from Gunnar Dahlin sitting at his desk in his basement studio. While he was talking, bright daylight entered the window directly down on a clock face that he is just about to finish.
However, town life has never attracted this man with this unusual handicraft. His dream is still a little cottage in the countryside where as a nature lover he can be close to the woods and the wilderness. Now, as a urban citizen he seldom has the opportunity do this.

Gunnar’s Legacy
Gunnar died June 21, 1972. He was about one month short of his 87th birthday.
An earlier newspaper article about Gunnar when he lived in Målaskog concludes by saying: “In the corner of his workshop there is excellent old hunting weapon; that is a good reason for putting away responsibilities of the day and head out into the pine forest peace.” One can easily remember Gunnar for his love of nature. However his life transcends this image. Perhaps a more appropriate legacy is based on an old American homily.
A nephew of Gunnar is buried in a military cemetery outside Syracuse NY. At this nephew’s graveside ceremony the priest in his homily indicated that when you die, you die three times. First when you exhale your final breath, Second when you are lowered into the ground and finally when your name is spoken for the last time.
Gunnar’s name will be spoken long past the people who knew him thanks to his clock restoration display in the Ljungby museum. Here below Gunnar Dahlin’s name you can see his smoke-pipe along with his special tools and clock faces he restored.