1153

Details & Cataloguing

Important Americana

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Very Fine and Rare Classical Stenciled and Parcel Gilt Mahogany and Églomisé Panel 'Patent Timepiece', Simon Willard and Son, Roxbury, Massachusetts, Circa 1825
signed and inscribed on the dial Simon Willard & Son / No 4378.
Height 40 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.

Catalogue Note

One of the household names in the pantheon of American artists of the past is that of Simon Willard (1753-1848), whose name is as familiar as those of many of our leading American artists and craftsmen. Maker of tall-case ("grandfather") clocks, thirty-hour Grafton wall clocks, shelf clocks, improved timepieces ("banjo" clocks), and patent alarm ("lighthouse") clocks, Willard was a member of a large family of clockmakers, who began in Grafton, Massachusetts, in 1766. His mature years were spent in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where he received a patent in 1802 for his "improved timepiece," known today as a "Banjo Clock," which had probably already been in production for about five years. Willard historians Robinson and Burt note: "It was a significant improvement over the thirty-hour wall clock as it only had to be wound once a week" (Dr. Roger W. Robinson and Herschel B. Burt, The Willard House and Clock Museum and The Willard Family Clockmakers [National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc., Columbia, Pennsylvania, 1996] p. 11). Robinson and Burt give a lengthy description of the characteristics of Willard banjo clocks (ibid, pp. 141-43 and 237-44), citing the standard details of construction, decoration, and the mechanics of the works, noting the frequency of variation.

Some of Simon Willard's later banjo clocks, as well as his patented alarm, or "lighthouse," clocks, bear the signature of Simon Willard & Son, the "Son" being Simon Willard, Jr. (1795- 1874), who is known to have joined his father in business in the years 1824-26. Among the most elaborate cases that accompany Simon Willard's "Improved Timepieces" are those that date from the period of "Simon Willard & Son." As in this example (see also Nutting, II, fig. 3361), parts of the mahogany case are often painted with a black background, which is then ornamented with a variety of gilded and bronzed leaves and scrolls, to achieve a rich and decorative effect. At the bottom there is often a gilded bracket with a pendant acorn that here repeats the pattern of the acorn finial at the top. The curved brass side rails are usually ornamented with three diamond motifs. And whereas the two glass panels follow the geometric designs of the earlier clocks, gilded rocaille borders now dominate the composition of both the panel on the waist and the door below.

Several Simon Willard & Son clocks of this design have appeared, including not only the one published by Nutting, but also one included in Stuart P. Feld, Boston in the Age of Neo-Classicism, exhib. cat. (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1999), p. 58, illus. in color; one formerly with Thomas Pierce, West Palm Beach, Florida (adv., Maine Antiques Digest, Nov. 1995), which is stated to be the one published by Nutting, but is not; and one formerly with Nathan Liverant & Son, Colchester, Connecticut (adv., Antiques, 89, Jan. 1966, p. 62 illus.), with a slightly more elongated finial. Although most cases of this design have appeared with works that are signed by Simon Willard & Son, a similar case with a brass ball finial and lacking the skirt bears the name of Levi Hutchins. A similar case at Winterthur, with more elaborate carved sidepieces and different glass panels, is unsigned but bears an inscription indicating that it was cleaned by Willard's successor, Elnathan Taber, in 1847 (see Dean A. Fales, Jr., American Painted Furniture 1660-1880, [Bonanza Books, New York, 1986], p. 174, fig. 279).

Important Americana

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New York