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Tall case clock

1790-1800
Origin: America, Virginia, Winchester
OH: 87 3/4"; OW: 22 1/4"; OD: 12 1/4"
Maple, yellow pine, black walnut, glass, brass, iron, lead, and steel
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1993-9
Appearance: Tall case clock with a broken scroll pediment with carved rosettes flanking a central carved cartouche of a two handled cup containing a rose and two four petaled flowers, all flanked by fluted plinths surmounted by turned urn and spire finials; arched glazed hood door flanked by tapered columns; hood sides with arched rectangular glazed lunettes and rear tapered columns; coved shoulder molding over a trunk with stop-fluted quarter columns, stop-fluting swaged, and a rectangular trunk door with a scalloped top; ogee waist molding over a base with stop-fluted quarter columns, stop-fluting swaged, and a shaped applied base panel over a base molding and ogee bracket feet. White painted dial with Roman hour numerals and Arabic minute numerals; seconds dial over hands; arched date aperture under hands; two winding holes; painted flowers in corners of dial; hemispheres and painted moon dial in arch. Eight-day movement.

Construction: On the hood, the glazed side panels are open dovetailed at the top to a yellow pine board into which two holes, perhaps for sound, are drilled. The top board and the side panels are rabbeted along the rear edges to receive the back board on the trunk and are similarly rabbeted along the front edges to receive the nailed-in interior break arch frame that mirrors the fenestration on the glazed door and consists of four members half-lapped together. An arched board cut in the form of a broken-scroll pediment at the top sits above the hood door and is open dovetailed to plain frieze panels connected to the side panels with three-quarter-inch-wide spacer blocks. One-piece moldings are then directly applied to this arched board and to the plain frieze panels. The fluted plinths are doweled into the tops of the cornice molding, and the central carved finial sits on a solid molded plinth attached with a modern brass pin. Projecting below the side frieze panels are fully turned columns square-tenoned in place. At the bottom they rest in the lower frame, which is mortised and tenoned together and faced with an applied molding. The side panels are through-tenoned into the lower frame as well.

On the trunk, the back board is nailed into rabbets on the case sides and dadoed into a horizontal rail nailed into the case sides where the trunk meets the base and projects inside of the case. Hood kickers are attached with cut nails to the tops of the case sides, and the two-piece shoulder moldings are glued and nailed in place, with a small astragal molding nailed below. The columns are butt-joined to the upper and lower plinths and flush-mounted to the leading edges of the case sides. These column assemblies are most likely glued in place, secured with nails set-in behind the moldings, and similarly mounted to the door stiles. Completing the door frame are rails tenoned into the top and bottom of the stiles. Chamfered glue blocks between three and five inches long are set inside the case behind the columns to additionally secure the case sides to the door frame. The case sides extend down inside of the base and rest against spacer blocks flush-mounted to the base sides. The door frame similarly extends into the base and sits on a large glue block flush-mounted behind the front waist molding. All of the two-piece waist moldings are glued and nailed to the trunk.

On the separate base, a pair of horizontal back boards is nailed into rabbets. The column assemblies are butt-joined to the side and front panels and backed with chamfered glue blocks. The front panel consists of a pair of wide rails tenoned into a pair of wide stiles to create an open frame covered by the glued and nailed shaped panel. The base moldings extend beneath the base and are nailed in place. Interior bottom boards are flush-mounted on top of these molding extensions. The mitered ogee bracket feet are attached to vertical foot blocks and further secured with shaped flankers.

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 thirteen-inch arched dial is painted iron. There are blued-steel hour, minute, and seconds hands, a date aperture below the dial center, and a lunar indication in the arch.

The plates are cast brass, but accumulations of grime make it impossible to ascertain their finish. Four cast and turned brass pillars are riveted to the backplate and pinned at the front plate. The seat board is attached with hooks over the bottom pillars. The brass tube barrels are not grooved and have applied end plates pinned in place. Tailless steel clicks are threaded into the great wheels; plain brass click springs are riveted in place. Plain brass collets are secured with pins through the barrel arbors, an unusual departure for a British-style movement. The cast-brass wheels are of normal thickness with longer than standard epicycloidal teeth. The center and third wheels are mounted on pinions. The rest are on decorative step collets. There are cut pinions and parallel arbors. The pallets are mounted on a decorative collet. The round steel crutch-rod has a closed-end fork and is riveted into the pallet arbor. The back-cock is without steady pins. The pendulum has a square-sectioned steel rod and a four-and-one-half-inch brass-faced lead bob. The pendulum impulse block is uncharacteristically shaped with a lipped lower edge and an extremely small suspension spring. The striking system has a center-mounted hammer, and the hammer spring is screwed to the backplate while the hammer is counter-screwed to the pillar. The standard of the four-and-one-half-inch bell-metal bell is screwed to the inside of the backplate. The conventional motion work is uncrossed, has a minute wheel, and its brass pinion runs on a start screwed into the front plate. The bridge is square-ended. There is a twelve-hour date work. A twelve-hour lunar work appears in the arch. Four cast and turned brass dial feet are pinned to the false plate that has four cast-brass feet pinned to the front plate. The sixteen-pound, cast-iron weights are cylindrical in form.

Materials: Maple runner frame on hood, spacer blocks, waist rail between back boards, glue block under door frame, foot blocks, backing strips on shoulder, and all exposed parts of hood, trunk, and base; yellow pine seat board, back boards, top board, kickers on hood, and bottom boards; black walnut glue blocks in trunk and base; iron, steel, and brass movement.
Label:Located in the northern Valley of Virginia, Winchester was home to a number of clockmakers and cabinetmakers who together produced a surprising number of tall clocks in the period 1790-1800. The case design most often associated with Winchester at this period is represented by this well-preserved maple clock that descended through the Keller family. A black walnut clock also discovered in the Winchester area is almost certainly from the shop of the same unidentified maker (MESDA research file 11,189). With their broken-scroll pediments, carved rosettes, quarter-columns, shaped trunk doors, curvilinear base panels, and ogee bracket feet, these and other Winchester examples resemble contemporary clocks from eastern Pennsylvania, a pattern that recalls the close cultural connections between the two places.

If the decorative elements on the Keller family clock are typical for their time and place, the construction is not. The case was built in three separate sections instead of the standard two. The hood is removable, as usual, but the trunk can also be lifted out of the base for ease of movement. Stability was achieved by extending the side and front panels of the trunk deep into the base, yet there is no evidence that glue or nails ever fastened the two sections. The large molding that rests atop the base has always been attached only to the trunk. This design may represent an experiment on the part of the maker or a request from the original patron. The case also differs from most Valley clocks in its relatively short stance, further suggesting that the first owner played a role in its design. Standing just under seven feet, four inches, the clock was likely made for use on a stair landing or other low-ceilinged space. The equal height of the three original finials leads to the same conclusion.

The movements in both the Keller clock and the black walnut example feature very similar British-made dials. The false plate and date wheel on the former are marked "Osborne's / MANUFACTORY / BIRMINGHAM." Beginning in 1772, Thomas Hadley Osborne and James Wilson of Birmingham, England, offered a revolutionary alternative to the long-accepted brass dial. Their so-called white dials with japanned and/or transfer-printed decoration were fashionable, affordable alternatives to brass and rapidly became the preferred form. That nearly fifty Birmingham firms produced painted dials between the mid-1770s and 1815 is a mark of their popularity. Much of the white dial's success lay in its versatility. Clockmakers in different locales had their own ways of attaching dials to movements, so the white dial was built with a secondary plate, or false plate, which allowed the artisan to custom mount it to any kind of movement.

By the 1790s, British white dials were exported to America in great numbers. Dials could be custom ordered from the factory with the clockmaker's name already in place, but many were made with blanks above and below the dial center where a maker could insert his name and the town where he worked. Because the lettering was applied over the painted and heat-treated surface, signatures and transfer-printed images were subject to fading and abrasion. Neither the dial on the CWF clock nor that on the black walnut example bears any evidence that a maker's name was ever applied, which suggests that the retailer--whether clockmaker, jeweler, cabinetmaker, or furniture warehouser--saw no advantage in such a modification.

While the dial and false plate on the Keller clock are unmistakably British, the British-styled eight-day movement is probably a Winchester product. Evidence of this appears in the shape of the pillars, which are tapered from the center ring outward, an American feature not often found on British works. The barrels on the going and strike trains are plain, while almost all British examples are grooved. As occurs on many backcountry Virginia clocks, the pinions are cut rather than being made with manufactured pinion wire. The hour and minute hands, which match those on the second shop example, are based on British designs but appear to have been made locally. It is impossible to ascertain who made the movement in this clock. Among local candidates are Goldsmith Chandlee (w. 1778-1821) and several prolific clockmakers who worked in the Winchester area during the period.
Provenance:This clock was owned in the mid-19th century by George W. Keller, Sr. of Magill-Keller House, 418 North Landon Street, Winchester. It descended in his family until the late twentieth century. After passing through the hands of several antiques dealers, the clock was acquired by Sumpter Priddy III of Richmond, Va., from whom it was purchased by CWF in 1993.
Mark(s):The false plate on the dial is stamped "Osborne's / MANUFACTORY / BIRMINGHAM," and the date wheel is similarly stamped on its reverse.
Inscription(s):In pencil on the inside of the trunk door are a number of mid- to late nineteenth-century cleaning dates and an illegible associated signature. The false plate on the dial is stamped "Osborne's / MANUFACTORY / BIRMINGHAM," and the date wheel is similarly stamped on its reverse. "15-1947 / O C H" is penciled on the back of the moon dial.