93 1/2 x 21 x 10 3/8 in. (237.5 x 53.3 x 26.4 cm)
(Grafton, MA, April 3, 1753 - August 30, 1848, Roxbury, MA)
Medium and Support:
Mahogany, glass, brass and painted face
Bequest of Jean Craig
Research Curator Marjorie Searl speaks about this object.
Simon Willard's Tall Case Clock, discussed by Marjorie Searl:
Most of us have grown up with clocks and watches all around us, and we take for granted the ability to tell time quite easily, not thinking about what a uniquely complex and human invention this is. For thousands of years, there have been devices used to monitor the passage of time, and as time has gone by, those have become more and more accurate, ranging from early and crude devices that recorded time using marks on the ground, to the most sophisticated atomic clocks. For us as 21st century humans, time is recorded everywhere we look…in our cars, on our phones, on our computers. In fact, we have a hard time escaping time. In early nineteenth century New England, however, when Simon Willard was making this clock, time was still measured in communal ways…church bells, clock towers, crows of the rooster. Only prosperous individuals owned pocket watches and clocks, often imported from Europe.
In the late 1700s in Massachusetts, the Willard family combined farming and clockmaking, and soon moved their flourishing enterprise from rural Grafton to cosmopolitan Boston. MAG’s tall case clock was most likely from the Boston shop, which ran like a production line that assembled brass clockworks manufactured in a nearby foundry, mahogany cases made by local carpenters, and dials painted by local artists.
If you look closely at the face of MAG’s clock, you can see the maker’s name. If we slow down and really look at the clock, we can see how much information is packed into it. Just below Willard’s name are two holes , where the clock was wound. This indicates that it’s an eight-day clock, meaning that it needed to be wound with a key every eight days to keep it running. The moon phase disc under the arch rotated with the lunar cycle, so the clock’s owner would know when the next full moon was, perhaps a help if he were planning to travel by night. This clock even had maps of the Eastern and Western hemispheres! A small calendar was located below the winding openings, and a second hand just under the hour of twelve. Careful looking also reveals that the Roman numeral 4 on the clock is unconventional to our eyes – four lines rather than IV. This is not a mistake on the MAG clock, but rather an earlier way of representing the number four. The Roman numeral IV was not used until more recent times. And before you walk away, look at the side of the clock for a peek at the clockworks.
The Simon Willard tall case clock was a proud possession for American families, a treasure to be handed down through the generations. This classic ‘grandfather clock’ was handed down through many generations of the Cooper family of Massachusetts and Maine until 1974 when it was purchased by Pittsford residents, Mr. and Mrs. Craig. Mrs. Craig generously bequeathed it to MAG in her will. We are fortunate to have such a fine example of early American craftsmanship in the collection.
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