Aaron Willard of Boston, Massachusetts. A labeled case with a rocking ship dial.
This important labeled mahogany case tall clock was made by Aaron Willard of Boston, Massachusetts.
This is a classic Boston example. This case exhibits excellent proportions constructed by the Roxbury school of cabinetmakers. This case features good wood selections and a modern finish. It measures approximately 7 feet 10.5 inches or 94.5 inches tall to the top of the center finial, 20 inches wide and 10.5 inches deep. The dial measures the standard 12 inches across.
This mahogany case stands on four nicely formed flared French feet. The feet and drop apron are visually separated from the base with the application of a delicate applied molding. The base panel features good vertical graining based on a large crotch pattern. This is framed with a cross banded border. The rectangular waist door features a veneer that is vertical positioned. This is also framed with a crossbanded mahogany border, The outer edge is fitted with an applied molding that frames t. One would open this door in order to gains access to the inside of the case. Here, the original wooden pendulum rod, brass faced bob, rating nut and the two red painted tin can weights are accessible. On the back of this door is the Maker’s set up label. This is the version that is associated as being engraved by the American Patriot, Paul Revere. (There is current speculation refutes this claim. For a reference to this discussion please read Richard W. Philbrick’s article, Simon Willard’s Astronomical Shelf Timekeeper in Herschel B. Burt’s Eighteenth Century, Thirty-Hour Willard Clocks 1770-1790.) Very few Willard clocks retain their original set up labels and as a result is a wonderful and important additional detail. The sides of the waist or case are fitted with boldly reeded quarter columns. These terminate in brass quarter capitals. The bonnet features traditional New England variant of a pierced and open fret work design. This is supported by three reeded and capped plinths that are surmounted by three brass finials. Fully turned and reeded bonnet columns visually support the upper bonnet molding. They are mounted in brass capitals and are free standing. The sides of the bonnet are fitted with tombstone shaped side lights. The arched bonnet door is fitted with glass and opens to access the colorfully painted iron dial.
This iron dial was paint decorated by the Boston ornamental artists, Spencer & Nolen. The four spandrel areas are decorated with a striking color combination of gilt florals positioned on a bright red oval background. This is set on top of a mustard yellow field. Additional gilt decorations are also located on top of the yellow. The automated feature of a rocking ship is located in the arch of this dial. The painted ship is depicted flying the American flag. It actually moves or rocks gently from side to side with the motion of the pendulum. The painted scene behind the sailing ship includes a large residence is built out on a peninsula to the left. This nautical theme is painted on a convex piece of metal and adds to the visual depth to the scene. This dial displays only the hours and minutes. In the calendar aperture, this dial is boldly signed on glass by the Clockmaker in block lettering. The signature simply reads, “Aaron Willard.” Two other clocks are known signed in this manner. It is interesting to note that all three of these examples feature rocking ship dials.
This movement is constructed in brass and is good quality. It is weight driven and designed to run eight days on a full wind. It is a time and strike design having a rack and snail striking system. As a result, it will strike each hour on the hour. This is done on a cast iron bell which is mounted above the movement.
About Aaron Willard of Grafton, Roxbury and Boston, Massachusetts.
Aaron Willard was born in Grafton, Massachusetts on October 13th, 1757. Little is known of his early life in Grafton. It is here that he probably learned the skill of clock making from his older brothers Benjamin and Simon. It is recorded that he did march with them in response to the Lexington Alarm on April 19,1775. In 1780, Aaron moved from Grafton to Roxbury along with his brother Simon. Here the two Willard brothers establish a reputation for themselves as fine clock manufactures. They were both responsible for training a large number of apprentices, many of which became famous clock makers in their own right. The Willards dominated the clock making industry in the Boston area during the first half of the nineteenth century. Aaron worked in a separate location in Roxbury from his brother and relocated about a quarter mile away from Simon’s shop across the Boston line about 1792. Aaron is listed in the 1798 Boston directory as a clock maker ‘on the Neck’ and his large shop employed up to 30 people, while 21 other clock makers, cabinetmakers, dial and ornamental painters and gilders worked within a quarter-mile radius by 1807. We have owned a large number of tall case clocks made by this important Maker. In addition, we have also owned a good number of wall timepieces in the form of banjo clocks as well as numerous Massachusetts shelf clock forms.
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