One of the first things that I realized as I’ve been researching my next project is the maker of the clock case is not always known. It’s all about the maker of the movement that interests people. There are exceptions where well-known cabinetmakers are listed, but the exceptions are few. The clock maker’s name usually appears on the face of the clock. Sometimes, if the piece was commissioned, the person that bought the clock is shown “Warranted to insertyournamehere”. Sometimes the name of the printer that made the clock maker’s label is better known than the cabinet maker. It’s really interesting (to me anyway).
I’ve been reading and finding as many images I can on the subject of Roxbury Tall Case clocks. Generally they weren’t called “grandfather” clocks until much later. Like any other type of furniture the designs went through a lot of stylistic changes, but probably not as many as other forms of furniture. It seems that once a design was set it stuck around for a while – it didn’t change with other fashions. You can still buy a Howard Miller clock that at least has roots in the 18th Century. When I first started making furniture, I thought I would make a Craftsman-inspired clock that Norm had made on his show. I still think it’s an attractive piece, but it’s not longer what I want to do.
A few years ago I stumbled on a photo in Albert Sack’s The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American: The Good, Better, Best, Superior, Masterpiece. This was the first book that I would page through and just imagine I could make some of the amazing pieces if I learned a bit more. It was also interesting because I started to understand how proportion really affected the finished piece. In that book I first saw a Roxbury clock made by Samuel Willard. I thought it was fantastic.
Samuel Willard is one of the most well-known and celebrated clock makers of the 19th Century and is still known today. Aside from a few major innovations, patents (The “Timepiece” and a lot of production clocks, he’s also known for the Franzoni sculpture clock in Statuary Hall of the Capitol building. He was friends with Jefferson. He was an important guy in the clock world. Several of his brothers, including Aaron also made clocks. His sons (and nephews) also made clocks. If your name was Willard you could probably make and sell clocks – even though only a few of them ever worked together. All of them worked in and around Roxbury (Boston) and that seems to be where the style originated.
Later I realized the clock in the Oval Office was a remarkable Roxbury, with the case attributed to the Seymour shop and the works thought to be by James Doull. Link Here.
So I’ve been dreaming of making one of these for a number of years. I also knew I had to improve my skills. As I’ve been building, thinking and researching more I think I can pull it off now, but it will clearly be the greatest challenge yet. I’m excited.
First I need to decide what path I’ll take. A straight reproduction of another piece or a piece of my own design, inspired by my research. I’m not sure on that yet. Then I need to do some drawing. It might be strange to have a reproduction of the Oval Office clock in my living room – perhaps something of my own creation in the style of Roxbury is best. There are a few plans out there for tall case clocks, including two available to SAPFM members on their website that are somewhat specific to what I want to build. I’ll surely study those to better understand the construction but I won’t copy them outright. I always have to make it just a little harder. In the end it’s so easy to stylize the final piece, beyond the basic construction. Then I need to gather the materials – luckily that will be easy. And I think I have a friend from college that will do the dial painting – that’s a whole other thing.
Last summer I had a chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and looked at a few clocks in their collection. Two are sadly behind glass, this one made by Aaron Willard Jr. with a case by John Doggett:
You can take your graceful swan or goose neck mouldings at the top of a clock. That fretwork at the top is just so cool. The proportions on these are so wonderful. I’m inspired every time I look at these fantastic pieces.