Oliver Wight of Sturbridge, Massachusetts

This newly discovered tall case clock is signed by the Sturbridge Massachusetts cabinetmaker Oliver Wight. This example is signed inside the base panel in chalk. It reads, March 23, 1791 / Oliver Wight / Sturbridge. This is a remarkable find. Very few clock cases are signed by their casemaker. Even fewer are signed by historically important individuals. This example exhibits the best in country form having excellent proportions and eye catching inlays.

This well proportioned tall clock case is constructed in cherry and New England white pine is used as a secondary wood. The inlays are comprised of mahogany and maple selections. The case features an appropriate orange shellac finish that promotes the texture, contrast in color and the grain exhibited in the wood. This case stands on boldly formed ogee bracket feet. The profile of the knees and returns are nicely exaggerated. These are applied to a molding which is secured to the base. The base panel is trimmed with a narrow cross banded mahogany border and a lighter maple banding. Each of the four corners of this panel are fitted with quarter fan inlays. These feature eight individual petals of alternating wood comprised of the darker mahogany and the lighter colored maple. The top portion of an eight pointed star is formatted in a similar manner and can be found featured in the center of this panel. The design of this star and the choice of woods provides a visual illusion of being three dimensional. The waist section is long. The center is fitted with a tombstone shaped waist door. This door features the same banded border featured on the base panel and this pattern is again repeated on the bonnet or hood door. The center of this door is inlaid with a fan that is constructed with twenty individual petals. Because the cabinetmaker used an even number of petals, the design starts in a light color maple wood on the left and fans to a the dark shade on mahogany on the right, it appears to be out of balance. This is because the mahogany coloring competes with the cherry color of the door and gives one the illusion that the fan is missing a petal on the right as there fore is tilted. It is not the case. When one approaches the cabinet, the delineation of the two woods becomes more visible and the fan shifts visually to an upright position. Through this door, one can access the original tin can weights and brass faced pendulum bob. The corners of the waist are fitted with turned quarter columns a that are fluted. These terminate in turn wooden quarter capitals. The bonnet or hood is fitted with a traditional New England style pierced fret. This somewhat unusual pattern has design elements that are often repeated in other Central Massachusetts examples. This fret work is support by three fluted chimney or final plinths. Each are capped and support brass finials. Fully turned and fluted bonnet columns or colonnettes visually support the upper bonnet moldings.  These are mounted in brass capitals and are free standing.  The bonnet moldings are complex. The addition of an architectural detail referred to as a Greek key molding is incorporated into the construction. This decorative detail is rarely found in American tall case clocks design. The sides of the hood are fitted with tombstone shaped side lights and they are fitted with glass. The arched bonnet door is also line inlaid. It is fitted with glass and opens to access the painted iron dial.

This imported English dial having a Wilson's false plate features a moon phase or lunar calendar mechanism in the arch. The time track is done in two separate formats. The hours are indicated in Roman numerals. The five minute markers are painted in an Arabic form. A subsidiary seconds dial and month calendar can be seen inside the time ring. The four spandrel areas are colorfully decorated with fruits, florals and berries.

This fine movement is constructed in brass and is good quality.  Four turned pillars support the two brass plates. These pillars are an unusual form in that they incorporate a cone design in their structure. This may be a clue as to the origin of the movement? Hardened steel shafts support the polished steel pinions and brass gearing. The winding drums are grooved. The escapement is designed as a recoil format. The movement is weight driven and designed to run eight days on a full wind.   It is a two train or 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. 

This clock was made in March of 1791. It stands approximately 92.5 inches or 7 feet 8.5 inches tall to the top of the center finial. At the upper bonnet molding, this case is 21 inches wide and 11.25 inches deep.

About Oliver Wight of Sturbridge, Massachusetts

Oliver Wight was born in Medway, Massachusetts on September 27, 1765 and died in Sturbridge on October 22, 1837. His Parents David Wight, born August 16th, 1733 and Catherine Morse, born March 5th 1737 were both originally from Medfield, Massachusetts and married on June 19th, 1760. Together they settled just west in Medway immediately after their marriage. Six years later, they erected a house on the great road in that town and opened it for public entertainment. Here they remained until they sold this property in 1773. In that year, they purchased 1000 acres of land in Sturbridge. Approximately 40 miles west, Sturbridge was at that time considered wild wilderness. By 1775, Mr. Wight and his three boys, David Wight 2nd, Oliver and Alpheus had cleared enough land to grow grains and grass and with this move, they become one of the first settlers of this town.

AT the age of 21, Oliver married Harmony Child in Sturbridge on July 5, 1786. They had eleven children and enjoyed a brief period of prosperity.

Oliver, like his brothers David and Alpheus, acquired property form their father who held expansive property holdings. In 1789, Oliver and Harmony were thought to have had the housewright Samuel Stetson build their Georgian style dwelling. This clap-boarded homestead featured a hipped-gable roof, two interior chimneys and a ballroom on the second story that spans the front of the building. This impressive building is now part of Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) and is one of only two buildings on the OSV property that stands on it’s original site. This property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Here, Oliver also constructed a sizable shop. Oliver was an ambitious cabinetmaker. He is said to have built chairs, tables, chests, bed steads, and other household furniture. He is recorded as advertising his wares in the Massachusetts Spy, a newspaper published in Worcester. An advertisement placed on June 13, 1793 “Respectfully informs the Publick, THAT he carries on the CABINET and CHAIRMAKING BUSINESS in it’s various branches…” Another sign of their prosperity is the existence of the couple’s portraits which can be found in the collections of The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum at Colonial Williamsburg. They are thought to have been painted by Beardsley Limner. Financial troubles soon followed the family sometime around 1793. An advertisement placed on September 5th, 1793 in the Massachusetts Spy was taken out by Deputy Sheriff James Upham. This notice claims that Oliver had absconded and that on the 23rd of that month, He was going to sell “A PRETTY affortment (assortment) of Cabinet Work, Houfehold Furniture, Hard Ware, and many other Articles, too numerous to Mention…” in order to eliminate three hundred and fifty (British) pounds of debt. Later, the family was forced to sell the house in 1795. Oliver moves to Providence, Rhode Island and in April of 1802, The Massachusetts Spy reports that Oliver is to face the court and is bankrupt.

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