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Bracket clock

1765-1775
Origin: America, Virginia, Fredericksburg
OH: 19 3/4"; OW: 10 7/8"; OD: 8"
Mahogany and yellow pine case; brass and iron movement
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1951-397
Appearance: Bracket clock with bell top case surmounted by a brass carrying handle over a case door with an arched glazed opening flanked at the top by two triangular panels inset with red silk and brass scrolled fret; case sides have arched top rectangular glazed lunettes; rear of case has a rectangular glazed door; ogee base molding above flaring brass bracket feet. Dial consists of a silvered arched dial with hour and minute hands; Roman hour numerals and Arabic minute numerals; "Thomas Walker/ FREDERICKSBURG" engraved below hands; rectangular date aperture below maker's name; strike/silent dial in arch; corners of plate engraved with foliate scrolls, some emanating from dog or leopard heads. Back plate of movement engraved with interlaced baroque strapwork and a central female mask.

Construction: On the case, the molded cornice is mitered at the corners and set onto a mahogany-veneered yellow pine top board open in the center. The top board is dovetailed to the sides of the case and trimmed with glued-on and sprig-nailed moldings. The glazed door frames are mortised and tenoned, and the front door features a brass molding between the glass and the frame. Behind the front door are thin mahogany members that frame the movement itself. These members are face-glued to a mortised-and-tenoned interior frame rabbeted to the case sides. The bottom board rests in rabbets on the case sides and is open at the rear to allow for the pendulum swing. The movement is mounted to a yellow pine seat board presently attached to the bottom board with nuts and bolts. The base moldings are glued and nailed to the lower edges of the case and backed by full-length yellow pine strips. The brass feet are screwed to these glue strips.

The case houses an eight-day, spring-driven bracket movement with a replaced anchor-recoil escapement regulated by a pendulum. A rack-and-snail striking system sounds the hours on a bell. The seven-and-one-quarter-inch-wide cast-brass dial is arched and was originally silvered. There are blued-steel hour and minute hands. A brass strike/silent hand is located in the arch.

The plates are cast brass. Five cast and turned brass pillars are riveted to the backplate and pinned at the front plate. The seat board is secured by two screws threaded into the bottom pillars. There are brass spring barrels with a barrel click work on the front plate. The cast-brass fusees have round-bottomed grooves indicating the original use of gut line rather than a chain. There is a hidden fusee clickwork. The cast-brass wheels are normal thickness with standard epicycloidal teeth, and have four-arm crossings with stepped D-shaped wheel collets. There are cut pinions and parallel arbors. The replaced brass crutch rod has an open-ended fork and is riveted to the pallet arbor. There is a nineteenth-century two-and-one-quarter-inch diameter brass-faced lead pendulum bob; the pendulum rod and crutch rod appear to be from a late nineteenth-century French clock. The striking system has a center-mounted hammer and combination hammer spring/counter. The three-and-three-quarter-inch diameter bell-metal bell has its standard on the outside of the backplate. All of the quarter repeating work has been removed, including the associated bells. There is a conventional motion work. Four cast-brass dial feet are pinned in place. The hour and minute hands are original, although the latter has been repaired.

Materials: Mahogany top board, moldings, side panels, and door frames; yellow pine bottom board, top board, and seat board; brass and iron movement.
Label:Only two bracket clocks made in pre-Revolutionary Virginia are known, both of which bear the engraved label of "Thomas Walker / FREDERICKSBURG." The one featured here is of standard size, while the other, now at Historic Deerfield, is remarkably small (Deerfield accession L-29-84). Its scale is indicated by the size of the brass backplate that is slightly smaller than a standard playing card.

Best known today for his many tall clock movements (see CWF accessions 1984-271 and 2005-105), Walker was Fredericksburg's most prominent and prolific colonial clockmaker. Although the lack of local tax records and newspapers prior to 1782 limits a full understanding of his career, court records confirm that he not only made but repaired both clocks and watches. Walker's reputation extended well beyond the Fredericksburg vicinity: outlying clients included William Cabell of distant Amherst County, who noted in 1774 that he "sent watch by P. Rose to Walker in Fredericksburg to be put in good order." At least one of Walker's tall clock movements must have been exported to the Valley of Virginia in the western part of the colony because it survives in the original Valley-made case (accession 1951-578). That a Fredericksburg movement was shipped to the Valley is noteworthy in light of that region's sizable clockmaking community.

Like many American clockmakers, Walker often used a combination of imported and locally made parts. On the present clock, the main body of the movement is British and apparently was imported assembled but undecorated. Walker attached a dial of his own manufacture and engraved both the dial and the British backplate. Horologist David Todd notes that the eight-day movement reflects the high levels of workmanship associated with urban British movements, particularly those from London. The fusees--cone-shaped devices used to equalize the available mainspring power for each train of wheels--were grooved with a fusee engine, an expensive, highly specialized piece of equipment that likely would not have been found in a provincial town like Fredericksburg.

The relatively plain dial feet on the movement are not typical of British work and probably were made by Walker, as were the minute and hour hands. That Walker produced some of the clock parts in his shop is further suggested by the quality of the castings. An original blow hole on the dial caused by a casting failure inconsistent with London-quality work is covered with a small plate that clearly predates the engraving, which stylistic analysis strongly suggests to be Walker's. Given Fredericksburg's role as a major center for the production of metals, Walker's manufacture of brass and iron clock components is not surprising. In 1770, an observer described James Hunter's Falmouth Iron Works, located just across the river from Fredericksburg, as the largest in America. The presence of a major community of metalworkers in a town that also supported many cabinetmakers accounts for Fredericksburg's role as the primary clockmaking center for colonial eastern Virginia.

While some of Walker's engraved ornaments are simple, his most ambitious efforts rival the quality of the best British work. Most are in the late baroque style despite the fact that he was active in the 1760s and 1770s when the rococo fashion was at its height. The backplate on the Deerfield clock is adorned with symmetrical foliated engraving and highlighted by a grotesque mask wearing a stylized shell crown flanked by voluted C-scrolls. The backplate on the CWF clock, which by virtue of its much larger size was engraved more precisely, features interlaced baroque strapwork and a central female mask. Similar masks were carved on high-level urban British furniture during the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

The mahogany and yellow pine case of this clock was probably built by a Fredericksburg-area artisan, as was that of the Deerfield clock. Both feature the same series of ovolo, fillet, and scotia moldings, although in different scales, contain yellow pine secondary wood, and exhibit similar construction. Possible candidates as makers of such work include Walker's brothers, Robert Walker II (d. 1795) and William Walker II (1744-1807). A joiner and riding chair maker, Robert lived in Fredericksburg. Cabinetmaker William lived in the nearby Falmouth vicinity.

Thomas Walker died in 1786, by which time he had amassed a considerable estate. His wife, Jane, was named executrix and charged with the care and education of their eight children. Walker's will stipulated that sons Thomas and James were to assume ownership of several lots in town when they attained their majority. Walker further bequeathed "to either of my sons that shall actually follow & exercise my trade of clock and watch making, all my tools & instruments belonging to said trade, Or if they [both] follow said trade I direct that said tools be equally divided between them." Following his father's wishes, Thomas became a clockmaker, while James pursued the chair- and cabinetmaking trades, which suggests that the trade connection the elder Thomas may have had with his woodworking brothers continued into the next generation.
Provenance:The clock was purchased by CWF in 1951 from Mrs. Daniel Bruce Moffett, a clock collector from Washington, D. C.
Mark(s):None
Inscription(s):The dial is engraved "Thomas Walker / FREDERICKSBURG."