Tall case clock
Origin: Scotland, Glasgow
OH: 94"; OW: 19 3/4"; OD: 10 3/8"
Mahogany and deal case; brass, iron, and steel movement.
Gift of Mary Cary Nicholas Phelps (Mrs. Pelton Phelps), Jaquelin Ambler Nicholas Harvey (Mrs. Aubrey E. Harvey), Edley Craighill Nicholas Stone (Mrs. Richard F. Stone), Norvell Templeman Nicholas Carrington (Mrs. William A. Carrington), and Harrison Trent Nicholas, Jr., in memory of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Trent Nicholas.
Acc. No. 1965-102,A&B
Appearance: Tall clock with split scroll pedimented hood; full fluted columns at front and engaged fluted quarter columns at rear; breakarch glazed door; brass dial with iron hands and aperture dials; filleted and coved shoulder molding; plain trunk and trunk door, the latter with indented upper corners; brass escutcheon; filleted and coved waist molding; laminated base sides with veneered front panel; straight bracket feet.
Construction: On the hood, the top board is dovetailed onto the tops of the lower side panels, which are rabbeted along their rear edges to receive the back board. Two-piece moldings are glued and nailed to the split scroll pediment, and the tympanum is veneered. A pair of three-quarter-inch holes penetrate either side of the tympanum ground and are concealed by the veneered facade. Their purpose is unclear. The pediment is further secured to the top board with chamfered glue blocks. An original small wooden plate is centered on the top board, secured with wire and screws, and penetrated on the corners by small projecting sprig nails. Both corner plinths are tenoned and nailed in place. The two-part laminated cornice is glued and nailed to the upper side panel, which has an applied astragal and is glued to the lower side panel. The lower side panel is double through-tenoned at the bottom into the runners. These panels are fenestrated and were originally fitted with silk-backed fretwork. The inner door frame is lap-joined together, nailed to the inside of the tympanum, and further secured to the lower side panels with chamfered glue blocks. The glazed outer door frame swings on an iron pin that projects out of the top of the right column. This door frame is secured by an interior L-shaped latch that penetrates a hole in the lower member of the inner door frame. The engaged rear quarter-columns are glued to the side panels and additionally glued to rear flankers butt-joined to the case. Front and rear columns are further secured with nailed-on brass capitals and bases. The runner frame is mortised and tenoned together, mitered at the front corners, and edged with applied molding.
On the trunk and base, the back board is set into rabbets with extremely thin shoulders and held in place with small nails driven through these shoulders. The molded stiles around the door are attached in a similar manner. The trunk sides extend above the laminated shoulder molding with kerfed interior blocking. Chamfered hood kickers are nailed to the outer surface of the projecting trunk sides, while iron brackets are screwed to the inside and secure the seat board. The rails are tenoned into the stiles. The side panels on the base consist of horizontally stacked, nailed-on boards rabbeted to receive the veneered front panel.
The clock features an eight-day, weight-driven tall case movement with an anchor-recoil escapement regulated by a seconds-beating pendulum. A rack-and-snail striking system sounds the hours on a bell. The twelve-inch-wide cast-brass arched dial has cast-brass corner spandrels. There are blued-steel hour, minute, and seconds hands, and a date aperture below the dial center.
The plates are cast brass with all surfaces hammered, filed, scraped, and stoned. There are four cast and turned brass pillars riveted to the backplate and pinned at the front plate. The seat board is secured by two square-headed steel screws threaded into the bottom pillars. Grooved brass tube barrels with applied end plates are pinned in place. Tailless steel clicks are threaded into the great wheels, and plain brass click springs are screwed in place. The closed-end cast-brass great wheel collets are secured with screws. The cast-brass wheels, of normal thickness with longer than standard epicycloidal teeth, have four-arm crossings. The center and third wheels are mounted on pinions, the rest on plain step collets. There are cut pinions and parallel arbors. The pallets are mounted on a step collet. A round steel crutch-rod with closed-end fork is riveted into the pallet arbor. The back-cock has two steady pins. The striking system has a center-mounted hammer and combination hammer spring/counter. The four-inch-diameter bell-metal bell has its standard screwed to the outside of the backplate. The motion work is conventional. The cannon and minute wheels are crossed, with the minute wheel and its brass pinion running on a start screwed into the front plate. The bridge is square-ended. There is a twenty-four-hour date work. The four cast-brass dial feet are pinned to the movement. The cast-brass pulleys are of standard pattern with riveted iron stirrups. Two brass encased weights.
Materials: Mahogany moldings, hood panels, columns, plinths, doors, runners, kickers, trunks sides, stiles, base sides, feet, tympanum veneers, and base panel veneers; deal hood top board, seat board, back board, and corner blocks; brass, iron, and steel movement.
Label:This British tall clock was brought to Williamsburg in 1772 by Lord Dunmore (1732-1809), the last royal governor of the colony. Dunmore's brief, turbulent tenure in Virginia ended in 1775 when he fled the Governor's Palace under cover of night. In his haste, Dunmore left behind most of his possessions, which were sold at public auction by the new Commonwealth of Virginia the next year. This clock has a reliable history of purchase at that sale. According to family tradition, the clock was acquired by planter John Ambler of Jamestown, in whose family it remained until it his descendants presented it to CWF in 1965. Lending credence to the clock's tradition of ownership by Lord Dunmore, a Scot, is its production by clockmaker John Jeffray, who worked in Glasgow, Scotland, from about 1749 through the 1760s and possibly later.
According to Smithsonian horologist David Todd, Jeffray's eight-day, hour-strike movement reveals his high level of skill. This is evident not only in the quality of the mechanical elements but in decorative components such as the cast-brass spandrels, which are of the finest grade. The movement is secured to the seat board with finely wrought, square-headed bolts threaded into the lower pillars. The faceted opening around the seconds dial, a detail commonly found on mid-eighteenth-century clocks from Scotland but rarely seen elsewhere, is indicative of Jeffray's Scottish background. One novel aspect of Jeffray's work is the attachment of the seat board to the top edges of the case sides with distinctive wrought-iron mounts.
The unknown maker of the mahogany case was equally skilled, as the quality of the veneered tympanum and base panel attest. Yet the case also displays structural shortcuts. The front and rear edges of the trunk sides are rabbeted to receive the door stiles and back board, which are simply nailed in place. This exposed nail joinery, which could have been easily avoided by nailing through the back boards at the rear and by using interior glue blocks at the front, is an expedient and inexpensive approach. The same is true of the side panels on the base. Instead of being made of solid or veneered boards, each is composed of a series of thin mahogany boards, possibly shop scraps, that were glued up and nailed in place in order to reduce the price of the clock. It is difficult to understand why a man of Dunmore's wealth and standing would have made such a choice. Perhaps the clock was intended for use in a secondary space such as a servants' hall.
Another curious feature is the small wooden plate atop the hood. Secured with wire wrapped around two hand-filed screws, this panel looks like an access door to the movement, but there is another opening below. The plate, apparently installed before the case was finished, is penetrated at each corner by small wrought sprigs that project above the surface. Todd suggests that this opening may have provided access for a bell wire that was attached to the hammer arbor of the movement at one end and a remote hammer and bell or house bell at the other to make the sounding hours audible throughout the house. This would have been particularly desirable in a residence as large as the Palace.
Provenance:Originally owned by Lord Dunmore, last royal governor of Virginia, the clock was sold along with his other possessions at a public auction in Williamsburg in 1776. The purchaser was John Ambler of Jamestown, Va. The clock descended to Ambler's son, John Jaquelin Ambler; to his widow, Elizabeth Barbour Ambler; to her grandson, Harrison Trent Nicholas (1869-1939); to his widow, Mattie H. Craighill Nicholas (1881-1948); to her children, the donors.
Mark(s):The dial is engraved "John Jeffray / Glasgow."
Inscription(s):A brass plaque inside the trunk door commemorates the owners of the clock and the 1965 gift of the clock to CWF: "Owners of this Clock / John Murray, Early of Dunmore / Last Royal Governor of Virginia / John Ambler II of Jamestown / His son / John Jaquelin Ambler I / His widow / Elizabeth Barbour Ambler / Her grandson / Harrison Trent Nicholas / of Lynchburg, Virginia / Born March 9, 1869 / Died April 29, 1939 / His widow / Mattie H. Craighill Nicholas / 1881-1948 / A Gift of the Five / Nicholas Children / In memory of their / Mother and Father / Mr. and Mrs Harrison Trent Nicholas." A lengthy genealogy and history of the clock typed on white paper is pasted below.