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Tall case clock

1775-1790
Origin: America, Maryland, Frederick
OH: 97 5/8"; OW: 20 1/8"; OD: 10 5/8"
Cherry, tulip poplar, glass, iron, brass, and steel
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1992-15,A
Appearance: tall case clock with upswept "pagoda" shaped top; arched glazed hood door flanked by tapered columns with corresponding molding above containing a fluted keystone in center of arch; hood sides have rectangular lunettes with wooden fret backed by green silk and engaged quarter columns at rear; complex shoulder molding over trunk with quarter columns; rectangular trunk door with shaped top carved in center with a shell and outcuving vines; ogee waist molding over a base with an applied square panel with molded edges; stepped base molding over scalloped skirt and straight bracket feet on pads; brass dial with silvered chapter ring with Roman hour numerals and Arabic minute numerals, matted center with an arched banner below the hands engraved in script "John Myer in Frederick Town" over a square date aperture; cast rococo spandrels in corners of face and flanking applied round foliate medallion in center of arch.

Construction: On the hood, the moldings are sprig-nailed in place with some of the nails peened over on the interior. The peak of the cornice is further secured with a steel screw that holds the two sides together. The upper side panels are open dovetailed to the tympanum, overlap the lower side panels, and are nailed in place. Quarter-round moldings adorn the fenestration on the lower side panels that are filled with a pierced fretwork and textile backing. Glue blocks run along the front and sides of the top board that sits on end runners resting on similarly shaped runners dovetailed into the top edge of the lower side panels. The lap-joined interior frame behind the door is diagonally pinned at the corners and rabbeted at the rear to accept the dial. The frame is flush-mounted and held in place with small glue blocks. On the door frame, the top and bottom rail are open mortised into the stiles and diagonally pinned at the corners. The glass rests in a rabbet on the rear of the frame and is secured with putty. The engaged columns at the rear of the case are sprig-nailed in place, while the full front columns are tenoned at the top and screwed from below. A bottom runner frame is mortised and tenoned together, and the applied moldings are mitered at the front corners.

On the trunk and base, a one-piece back board with added flankers at the top and bottom is butt-joined to the sides and secured with large exposed wooden pins. The moldings are nailed in place and many of the holes are filled with wooden plugs. The quarter-columns are glued to the side boards and stiles, which are secured with alternating rectangular and angled glue blocks pinned to the stiles and nailed to the sides. The rails above and below the door are tenoned into the stiles and pinned. The top of the one-piece door is cut to a triangular profile on its inner face and fits into a corresponding fenestration on the trunk. Brass table hinges are used to hang the door. The hinge leaves attached to the door are peened over to allow it to close. The base sides are rabbeted into the solid front board, which is faced with a nailed-on molded panel. A tall, transitional molding surmounts the one-piece foot boards dovetailed at the leading corners and backed by angled glue blocks. The bottom boards are nailed to the case sides.

The clock features a thirty-hour, 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 eleven-inch cast-brass arched dial has cast-brass spandrels. The hour and minute hands are of blued steel, and there is a date aperture below the dial center.

The plates are of cast brass with all surfaces hammered, filed, scraped, and stoned. Four cast and turned brass pillars are riveted to the front plate and pinned at the backplate. The movement is secured to the seat board with hooks over the bottom pillars. The chain pulley on the timekeeping train great wheel is fixed, while that on the striking train is fitted with a brass click work, the clock using Huygen's endless chain system of drive. The tailed steel click is threaded into the great wheel. There is a riveted brass click spring. Some wheels are thicker than usual and have longer than standard epicycloidal teeth. The wheels have four-arm crossings and brass decorative collets. There are cut pinions and slightly convex arbors. The pallets are mounted on a decorative collet. The bent-wire crutch rod is not original. The back-cock is without steady pins. The pendulum has a brass rod and a four-and-one-quarter-inch brass-faced lead bob. There is a German-pattern striking system, with the hammer located against the backplate and a combination hammer spring/counter. The four-and-one-half-inch bell is of a non-ferrous metal, possibly bronze, and the bell standard is screwed to the inside of the backplate. The motion work is taken from the extended front pivot of the great wheel arbor. All motion work wheels are uncrossed. The minute and hour wheel pipes are mounted on a start threaded into the front plate. The three-piece dial is made of very thin brass, and the arch and dial center are held together with thin steel strips riveted in place. Four cast and turned brass dial feet are pinned to the front plate. There are blued-steel hour and minute hands, the latter unusually long. The nine-and-one-quarter-pound cast iron weights are rectangular in cross-section and have a cast-in hole to receive the hanging hook. The movement is driven with a (modern) chain that has a wooden weight pulley with a steel stirrup and a lead counterweight.

Materials: Cherry bottom board and all exposed parts of hood, trunk, and base; tulip poplar back board, foot blocks, interior blocking, and hood framing members; iron, steel, and brass movement.
Label:The movement in this cherry tall clock was made by "John Myer in Fredrick [sic] Town," Maryland, a community established in the upper Potomac River basin in 1745. With the development of wagon and post roads to Baltimore, Annapolis, and Winchester, Frederick became an important regional market center, and by 1800 the population exceeded 2,500. Although British settlers resided in Frederick, a substantial number of the inhabitants were of German birth or descent. During the Revolution, the town was the site of a Hessian prisoner-of-war camp, and when peace came, some ex-prisoners chose to remain in Frederick because of its large, well-established German community.

German woodworking traditions abounded in Frederick. Joints were often fastened with a combination of exposed wrought nails and large visible wooden pins that were considered symbols of sound workmanship in German communities. The dovetailing of the hood assembly on this clock is similarly revealed. Its thick case sides differ dramatically from the thin, lightweight panels on Anglo-inspired cases. The sides of the Myer case are joined to the front assembly with a series of enormous glue blocks, many of which are also pinned and nailed in position.

Most of the Myer clock's stylistic features closely follow German practices prevalent in the backcountry. These include the large, unmolded quarter-columns, the baroque shaping at the top of the trunk door, the coarsely formed keystone in the hood, and paneled base.

In the midst of these Germanic expressions, the Myer clock also features a striking hood configuration inspired by the roof structures of east Asian pagodas. It recalls the mid-eighteenth-century British and American fascination with what Thomas Chippendale termed the "Chinese Taste." Indeed, a tall clock design in the first edition of Chippendale's Director (1754) may have indirectly served as the design source for this pagoda. Beginning in the 1750s, Chinese designs were imitated and interpreted by many artisans working in the coastal South, yet this remarkable backcountry combination of Germanic detailing with a British interpretation of Asian architectural components is unprecedented.

Little is known about clockmaker Myer or his career in Frederick. While "Myer" suggests a German heritage, the movement he made for this case exhibits a number of British clockmaking customs. However, many of the movements in clock cases from German-influenced areas of eastern Pennsylvania and the southern backcountry were imported from Britain or made in America in the British style. This pattern suggests that the broad commercial availability of ready-made British clock parts had a strong influence on the nature of local production, even in largely German communities.

Myer's thirty-hour movement is of high quality. Small details like the rabbet cut into the bottom of the bell standard, a time-consuming modification allowing that feature to be steadied where it joins the backplate, is evidence of the artisan's attention to detail. Another sophisticated refinement rarely found on American clock movements is the presence of a wrought safety spring that allows the hands to be turned backward without damaging the moving parts. A sprung rack tail likewise prevents breakage if the clock continues to tick after the strike train has run down.

That the British-inspired movement reflects Myer's work rather than an imported piece is indicated by several structural idiosyncrasies. The click spring is of the sort commonly associated with eight-day movements rather than thirty-hour models. The original join between the main dial plate and that of the arch, a feature of many backcountry southern clocks, may represent an attempt to save on materials. The weights ride on wooden pulleys instead of metal ones and resemble those on other rural clocks. The relatively coarse cast-iron weights may be the work of an iron furnace in western Maryland. Finally, while the date aperture of the dial mirrors those on British clocks from the 1720s and 1730s, the dial plate is extremely thin and matches the construction of late eighteenth-century backcountry examples. Despite its local production, however, the movement includes imported parts such as the chapter ring. Differences between the engraving on the signature plate and that on the ring suggest that the latter was bought ready made from Great Britain.
Provenance:The clock was purchased from Richmond, Va., antiques dealer Sumpter Priddy III. He had acquired the piece from Kemble's Antiques in Norwich, Ohio.
Mark(s):None
Inscription(s):Dial engraved "John Myer in Fredrick Town."