Published: October 31, 2000
CONCORD, MASS. – The Concord Museum’s groundbreaking “Keeping Time: , 1790-1835,” which runs through January 1, 2001, is the first major exhibition to reflect on a new and significant reinterpretation of New England clockmaking by focusing on one Federal-era craft community. The exhibition – a fascinating mix of craftsmanship, social history, entrepreneurship, economics, and art – features over 30 of the finest examples of documented Concord clocks from the Concord Museum’s collection and other collections.
At the turn of the Nineteenth Century, Concord was a thriving community, already famous throughout the young nation for its critical early role in the events leading up to the American Revolution. It was the half shire town for Middlesex County, attracting over 500 visitors to the courts twice a year, among them customers for Concord’s hats, shoes, carriages, and clocks. Among Concord’s approximately 400 heads of households in this period, about 65 percent were in agriculture, four percent in commerce, and 35 percent in manufacturing.
Of those in manufacturing, seven men headed clockmaking shops and another 30 or so were engaged in the shops or in businesses that supplied the clockmaking trade – the brass foundry, iron forge, wire-drawing mill, and a number of cabinetmaking shops. In short, the center of Concord – the Milldam – was a machine for the production of clocks, second only in importance to Boston’s industrial Roxbury Neck, where the influential Willard family had been producing clocks since about 1785.
The exhibition presents three important aspects of Concord’s clockmaking industry: “The Mechanics,” the clockmakers and their work; “Counting the Seconds,” the mechanism of the weight-driven clock; and “The Business of Making a Clock, ” the arrangement of craft shops within and outside of Concord.
With working clocks, clock parts, tools, paintings, maps, diary and inventory entries, labels and advertisements, hands-on models, and photographic enlargements, “Keeping Time” conveys not only an appreciation and understanding of the beauty and complexity of Concord clocks but an insight into the time period that produced them and the people who bought and sold them.
Central to the exhibition are the seven clockmakers – Joseph Mulliken, Daniel Munroe, Jr, Nathaniel Munroe, Samuel Whiting, Lemuel Curtis, Joseph Dunning, Joseph Dyar – and the work they produced. Their handsome and well-crafted clocks, featuring inlaid mahogany cases, enameled dials, and reverse painted glasses, are generally perceived as products of a traditional clockmaker – one person at a bench fashioning an eight-day clock from scratch. But they are actually products of a network of shops employing journeyman labor that extended from Concord to Boston and overseas to the highly developed tool trade of Lancashire, England.
Highlights of the exhibition from the collection of the Concord Museum include an eight-day clock inscribed by Joseph Mulliken (1765-1802), Concord, Mass., 1790-1802. Reading “J. Mulliken/CONCORD” on the dial, it is made of hickory, white pine, cherry, painted iron, brass, and steel.
Mulliken was a third-generation clockmaker who created tall clocks for his Concord neighbors to compete with the elegant clocks of Simon and Aaron Willard, manufactured on the Boston-Roxbury town line, and the Munroe brothers in Concord. Mulliken’s hickory case is an exceptionally rare use of this wood in neoclassical case furniture.
In addition to fashionable Willard features such as the pierced fretwork, columns with brass fixtures, and white enamel dial, the case is distinctive for its ornamental inlay, which adds the perception of custom work usually not seen on Willard’s standardized products.
Another piece on view is a miniature eight-day clock inscribed by Mulliken (1765-1802), in a case attributed to Ammi White (born 1754), Concord, Mass., 1790-1802. It was engraved “Joseph Mulliken/CONCORD” on the dial and is made of cherry, white pine, brass, and steel. This unusual clock is an early example of a wall clock in the form of a miniaturized tall clock. Mulliken may have been experimenting with new clock forms to compete with shelf clocks from Roxbury or Concord, or it may have been a custom order.
A timepiece inscribed by Daniel Munroe, Jr (1775-1859), Concord or Boston, 1805-1810, features “DANIEL/MUNROE” on the lower glass and is made of mahogany, mahogany and other veneers, pine, painted iron, brass, steel, and painted glass. Munroe learned clockmaking as an apprentice in Simon Willard’s Roxbury, Mass., shop. There he absorbed the techniques for making tall clocks in batches – a method pioneered by Willard and his brother Aaron in the 1780s and 90s. The Willards also made less expensive wall clocks, including “banjo clocks” patented by Simon Willard in 1802. The distinctive diamond-shaped design and inverted movement of this wall clock may reflect an attempt to circumvent Willard’s patent.
Another timepiece by Joseph Dyar (1795-1850), Concord, Mass., circa 1821, is inscribed “Warranted by J. Dyar/Concord” on its dial and is made of mahogany, gilt pine, painted glass, brass, steel, and painted iron.
Dyar was one of three clockmakers who produced patent timepieces (“banjo clocks”) in Concord between 1800 and 1840. The reverse painting on the lower glass of this clock depicts Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia estate. The glass was painted in Boston and the scene was derived from an English print of 1800.
The exhibition is complemented by an interdisciplinary academic symposium in collaboration with the Massachusetts Historical Society, gallery talks for collectors, walking tours of the clockmaking town, and hands-on family programs in collaboration with the Discovery Museums in Acton.
The Concord Museum is at the intersection of Lexington Road and Cambridge Turnpike. For information, call 978/369-9763.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm