DEERFIELD, MASS. — Historic Deerfield acquired the circa 1800 Stebbins family tall clock, made by Aaron Willard (1757–1844) in Boston, at auction at Sotheby’s in New York City on January 25.
This rare and important piece of history was first owned by Asa Stebbins (1767–1844) and was probably among the original furnishings of his brand new house built in Deerfield in 1799, the first brick house in Franklin County, Mass.
“It is a very rare opportunity to return an important artifact of the past to its original setting,” said Philip Zea, president of Historic Deerfield, Inc. “Even more so when you consider that the clock probably left the house right after the Civil War.”
Asa Stebbins served as Deerfield’s state representative for 11 years in Bulfinch’s new Boston Statehouse and would have been a knowledgeable modern shopper for such urbane trappings as this clock. When Stebbins died in 1844, one eight-day clock valued at $15 was inventoried in the North Parlor of his home. The Stebbins house has been open to the public as a museum house since 1950 and features an Asher Benjamin-designed “flying staircase” and molded plaster ceiling. The return of the clock to the Stebbins house will enhance the story of the Stebbins family and their time in Deerfield.
Aside from the strong connection to Deerfield, the Stebbins family and the house, the clock is a highly important and beautiful example of the Willard family’s workmanship. The clock case stands tall at 105 inches and illustrates the Willard brothers’ near top-of-the-line model. The Willards sold four models of tall clocks; this example features a superior case attributed to the cabinetmaker Stephen Badlam (1751–1815) of Dorchester Lower Mills. The clock movement itself was made in Aaron Willard’s “manufactory” on Boston Neck, while the beautiful painted dial is also Boston-made. Stebbins probably paid more than $100 for the clock in an age when a day’s common labor was valued at 25 to 50 cents and when the Willards’ basic eight-day model retailed at a still prestigious $60.
The acquisition of the Stebbins family tall clock was made possible due to the generous pledges of support by more than 50 donors, who raised more than $200,000 in a span of ten days to help Historic Deerfield make the dream of acquiring this important piece for its collection a reality.
The clock will be on view in the Stebbins House at Historic Deerfield later this spring.
Historic Deerfield is at 80 Old Main Street. For more information, 413-775-7176 or www.historic-deerfield.org.