A Quaker, Stretch was born in Leek, Staffordshire, England and probably trained with his uncle, Samuel Stretch, of Leek before immigrating to Philadelphia in 1702. He worked at a shop at the corner of Front and Chestnut Streets known as “Peter Stretch’s Corner,” where he made clocks for many prominent Philadelphia families. He was a member of the Common Council of Philadelphia from 1708 until his death and was commissioned by the Council in 1717 to work on the town clock. His sons Thomas (d. 1765) and William (d. 1748) were also accomplished clockmakers and William received all of his father’s tools, imported clocks and unfinished clockworks upon his death.2
The wide range of the output of Peter Stretch illustrates his versatility as a craftsman. He made both thirty-hour and eight-day engraved brass movements with plain dials and single hands, as well as those with a sweep second hand, a revolving moon dial and musical works. Of the extant tall case examples, those dating earliest have cases with flat top hoods and square doors, others offer flat tops and arched doors while later clocks are housed in cases with domed tops, arched doors and straight bracket feet. All reflect the changing tastes of Philadelphia patrons of the second quarter of the eighteenth century.
With its sarcophagus top, baroque fretwork carving with bird motifs, gilded turned ball-and-spire finials, colonnettes with gilded capital and arched door, the case of this clock represents a fully developed Philadelphia interpretation of the form in the late Queen Anne style. It is attributed to John Head, a cabinetmaker who emigrated from England to Philadelphia in 1717 and established his shop on Mulberry (now Arch) Street east of Third Street. His extant account book survives in the American Philosophical Society. It is the focus of Jay Stiefel’s article, “Philadelphia Cabinetmaking and Commerce, 1718-1753: The Account Book of John Head, Joiner,” published in the American Philosophical Society Library Bulletin (Winter 2001). The account book indicates that Peter Stretch commissioned his first case from Head in 1724 and continued to order over forty more cases until 1742. The least expensive cases cost £2-0-0 while others of walnut and some with a “Squar Case” cost £3-0-0. Additional examples were £4-0-0, two of which were “Arched.” Two others of cherry were itemized at the most expensive price of £5-0-0.3 Entries in the account book note that Head also supplied cases on occasion directly to clients, who commissioned the movement from Stretch.
While Stretch routinely signed his clocks, Head did not sign the cases. Construction characteristics identified as part of Head’s clock case practice include horizontal joint lines at the corners of the glazed dial doors, the uniform and unchanging column design and molding profiles, and the applied molding to the front edges of the plinths under the finials.4 Other features include that the narrow uppermost molding of the ogee head is nailed directly to the top of the cavetto, causing it to sit an angle; the inside edge of the ogee head behind the ovolo is curved rather than straight; the outermost molding on the bonnet is backed with a soft wood; and a double bead is run into the vertical edge at the back of the bonnet below the outermost molding.5
A closely related clock with a movement by Peter Stretch and a case attributed to John Head is in the collection of Bayou Bend.6 The Bayou Bend clock is similarly housed in a case with a sarcophagus top, arched door, colonnettes and fretwork carving with a silvered brass movement lacking a phases of the moon mechanism. Others with a very similar case and Stretch movement include a walnut example with a history in a family from Cecil County, MD, one of walnut at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, another of walnut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, three walnut examples in private collections, one of walnut in the collection of Ross Brudenell and Jackie Robinson, one of walnut in a Southern collection, one of maple that descended in the family of Anthony Morris III and one of walnut in the collection of H.L. Chalfant.7
Another tall case clock with a movement by Peter Stretch and a case with elaborate carving attributed Samuel Harding (died 1758) at Winterthur Museum was sold in these rooms, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jeffords, October 28-9, 2004, sale 8016, lot 205, for a world record price of $1,688,000.
1 Stiefel, Jay, “Philadelphia Cabinetmaking and Commerce, 1718-1753: The Account Book of John Head, Joiner,” American Philosophical Society Library Bulletin (Winter 2001).
2 Brooks Palmer, The Book of American Clocks, New York, 1950, p. 286 and Jack Lindsey, Worldly Goods, Philadelphia, 1999, p. 136-7.
3 Stiefel, “The Account Book of John Head.”
4 As identified by Christopher Storb in Donald L. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III, Stretch: America’s First Family of Clockmakers, Winterthur, DE: The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 2013, p. 110.
5 All noted by Storb in Fennimore and Hohmann, p. 110.
6 Ibid, Cat. No 46, pp. 208-9.
7 Ibid cat 17, pp. 150-1, cat. 19, pp. 154-5, cat. 21, pp. 158-9, cat. 22, pp. 160-1, cat. 24, pp. 164-5, cat. 26, pp. 168-9, cat. 37, pp. 190-1, cat. 42, pp. 200-1, cat. 48, pp. 212-3, and cat. 49, pp. 216-7.
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