Caleb Wheaton of Providence, RI. A very tall tall case clock

Tall case clocks were among the most highly valued and rarest of possessions, as well as costly to acquire in comparison to other mid-eighteenth century American furniture. This oversized example is the combined effort of two eminent craftsmen: the Providence clockmaker Caleb Wheaton and an unidentified, highly skilled cabinetmaker working in nearby Boston. This example is in a finely proportioned inlaid mahogany case. This case is nearly identical to a clock that is pictured in Albert Sacks’ wonderful book “Fine Points of Furniture: Early American.” The clock is pictured on page 128 and varies in the form of the waist door. That example features a painted dial that is signed by the Boston clockmaker Aaron Willard. What is most interesting is the overall height of this Wheaton example. It stands an impressive 8 feet 11 inches tall. This would suggest that it was made for an affluent client. It is easy to speculate that this client would have had ceiling heights in his home of 9.5 feet or more. Clocks sharing this stature are rare. Another example can be found in the Willard House Museum located in Grafton, Massachusetts. A case displayed in their collection houses a Simon Willard movement and stands 9 feet .25 inches in height. In addition to this example, We have owned at least two clocks with painted dials signed by the Roxbury Clockmaker William Cummens.

This case stands on applied bracket feet. The long sweeping drop apron nearly touches the floor in the center. The base panel is richly figured. It is framed along the outer edge with a line inlaid pattern. This double line inlay features a mahogany filled center that forms a crossbanding. This detail is repeated in the waist door. The waist section is very long. The rectangularly shaped waist door is fitted with an applied molding along the outer edge. This door opens to allow one access to the two tin can weights and the brass faced pendulum bob. Brass stop fluted waist quarter columns terminated in brass quarter capitals. The bonnet features a New England styled fret work top. Three fluted finial plinths help secure the frets to the arch or molded cornice. The three plinths support the brass ball and spiked finials. The bonnet door is an arched form. It is fitted with glass. Fully turned and brass stop fluted bonnet columns terminate in brass capitals. They are mounted one either side of the bonnet door. The dial is iron and is colorfully painted.

This iron dial is a local product and was most likely painted in Boston. It features a time ring that is traditionally formatted. Each of the hours are displayed with Roman numerals. Arabic numerals are used to indicate the five minute markers. This dial also displays the date of the month calendar and the seconds on subsidiary dials which are located inside the time track. Positioned in the arch is a lunar calendar or a moon phase mechanism. This automated feature is designed to to track the progress of the moon in the night sky. Each of the four spandrel areas are colorfully decorated with large robust floral patterns. This dial is signed by the clockmaker in a Script format. It reads, “Caleb Wheaton Providence.” This dial is in very nice original condition.

The time and strike weight driven movement is constructed in brass. It is designed to run eight days on a full wind and to strike each hour on a bell. It is good quality.

This clock stands 8 feet 11 inches tall and was made circa 1800. It is inventory number 27172.

About Caleb Wheaton of Providence, Rhode Island.

Caleb Wheaton (1757 -1827) set up shop in Providence, Rhode Island. His shop was located at 83 Main Street during the period 1785 – 1827. It is here that the Quaker Clock & Watchmaker advertised for sale clocks of his own manufacture, as well as imported watches “lately received from London.” He quickly established himself as a superlative maker of movements, some of which are found in wide range of exceptional Newport and Boston styled cases. Numerous examples have been found to date that incorporate various bonnet forms. They include a pagoda top, a swan’s neck pediment, a simple dome top and the traditional New England fret work form seen on this fine example. This diverse variety in case forms is a testament to his long working career. In 1810, he formed a partnership with one of his sons, possibly Calvin or Godfrey. In October, November and December of 1825, the firm Simon Willard and Son of Boston advertised in the “Rhode Island American” and “Providence Gazette” that Caleb Wheaton was an “Agent for vending their patent Time-peices.” Wheaton was one of the best known clockmakers of his time. He is best known for having made the clock in the tower of the First Baptist Meeting House. His long career yielded a large variety of clocks that were often made in collaboration with other clockmakers from different regions. Tall clocks and watches signed by this maker have been found.

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