Tall Case Clock, 1775-1794
Published March, 2020
In the late eighteenth century, fewer than ten percent of Americans owned a clock or a watch, so this tall case clock would have been a valuable and treasured possession.
Tall case clocks represent the best of American artistry and mechanical ingenuity and illustrate the unique collaboration between diverse craftsmen, most notably the metalsmith and the cabinetmaker. Known to collectors and scholars, including Wallace Nutting, since the early twentieth century, this tall case clock made by Reuben Ingraham and elaborately engraved by clockmaker and silversmith John Avery II represents one of the rarest and most finely rendered expressions of Connecticut vernacular art. The combination of the exuberant, elaborately engraved dial and the simple but elegant country aesthetic of the case makes this clock both desirable and exceptional.
The dial spandrels are engraved with rare figural scenes personifying the four seasons bordered by rococo scrolls. Charming figures and household scenes illustrate the passing of time and tell a narrative about the human condition. The engraved verse below remarks on the steadiness of the clock as a machine and the unpredictability of humankind.
Could but our tempers Move
Like this Machine; Not Urg’d
by Passion, nor allay’d by Spleen,
Then health & joy would follow
as it ought; The Law of
Motion & the Law of thought;
And in Sweet health we’d
pass those Pleasant moments o’re
In Everlasting joy, when
time shall be no more.
Although the clockmaker and engraver are clearly identified as the dial bears both the signature of Avery and Ingraham, the cabinetmaker remains unidentified but he was undoubtedly from Eastern Connecticut.
This recent acquisition propels new research by Richard Koopman Curator of American Decorative Art, Brandy S. Culp and antique clock and furniture expert Gary Sullivan. It will have pride of place in their future exhibition of exceptional Connecticut clocks at the Wadsworth.