John Whitear of Fairfield, Connecticut. Number 98. A Pre-Revolutionary Connecticut made tall clock. ZZ20

This style of brass dial predates the painted dial. It is composed of a brass base sheet or dial plate that is hand-hammered flat and decorated with applied brass spandrels and chapter rings. The chapter ring, domed-shaped name boss, subsidiary seconds dial and calendar dial are finished in a silver wash for contrast. In the arch of this dial is the name boss. This three-dimensional detail is skillfully engraved with the Clockmaker’s name, working location and clock number. The decoratively engraved perimeter band is described as a comet border. Applied dolphin-shaped spandrels center this boss in the lunette. The large chapter ring is also applied to the dial. From the inside out, this ring displays an interior quarter-hour ring. This is a detail that was carried over from a time when most clocks had a single hand. In America, this ring is omitted in most cases by the 1770’s1770’s. The hours are depicted in a large Roman numeral format. These are separated by half-hour decorations between the hours. An additional minute ring separates the hours from the Arabic-style five-minute markers. The center of this section is nicely matted. This was most likely done to aid in one’s ability to locate the hands while reading the dial. A brass dial will tarnish, making it somewhat difficult to read in a room lit by candles. This dial also features the subsidiary seconds dial, which is engraved and silvered. The perimeter of this is decoratively scalloped. The calendar day is located in the small square aperture below the center arbor. The steel hands are nicely detailed. The four spandrel areas are fitted with cast spandrels. These are often described as twin cherubs with maces and a large crown.

The movement is constructed in brass. As is the tradition with Whitear clocks, the backplate is nicely finished. The front plate is somewhat pitted and has a higher content of copper. This gives the plates a pinkish hue. Both plates are supported by four knobbed and finned brass pillar posts. The gearing is brass, and the pinions are steel. The movement is weight-driven and designed to run for eight days on a full wind. This clock strikes the hour on a bell. The strike train is located between the plates and is actuated by a rack and snail design. The winding barrels grooved. The movement is supported by a seat-board.

This mahogany constructed case retains an early dry and lightly crazed finish. The deep rich nut-brown color is pleasing to the eye. The base sits flat to the floor on a broadly shaped applied molding that is secured to the bottom of the base. The short or compressed base section is a traditional feature of this early form and is formatted with the wood-grained positioned in a horizontal manner. The long waist section is fitted with a large tombstone-shaped waist door. This door is nicely trimmed with an applied molding. The door fills the waist or middle section of the case. Open this, and one will gain easy access to the two brass-covered lead weights and the brass-faced pendulum bob. The door is fitted with a circular window or a lenticle. The trim ring or frame is brass and helps secure the fitted circular-shaped glass. The cornice-shaped bonnet or hood is considered an early form. It was popular during this time period in London as well. Below it is an arch molding that follows the shape of the dial. Please note the sides of the case are also fitted with an arch molded detail over the tombstone-shaped side lights. The bonnet door is an arched form and opens to a composite brass dial. This hood did not have forward bonnet columns. Turned and shaped columns are fitted into the back corners of the hood.

This is a fine example was made by a well-known Connecticut Clockmaker circa 1760. This example stands 7 feet 1.5 inches tall overall. It is approximately 20.25 inches wide and 10.25 inches deep.

For a more in-depth discussion of John Whitear, please read Winthrop Warren’sWarren’s and Christopher Nevin’s book, Clocks and Clockmakers of Colonial Fairfield Connecticut 1713-1813. It is available through the NAWCC.


About John Senior and John Junior Whitear of Fairfield, Connecticut. Bell founders and Clockmakers.

John Whitear Senior’s birth date is not currently known. It is currently thought that he may have been born in Fairfield and traveled to Boston to learn the art of clockmaking and bell casting. It is known that he returned to Fairfield in 1736 because he is listed as a member of the Church of England under the pastorship of Reverend Henry Caner in that year. On May 29, 1738, Senior advertised in the Boston Gazette “John Whitear of Fairfield (CT) Bell-founder, makes and sells all sorts of bells from the lowest size to two-thousand weight.” He was skilled in metal work and is recorded as casting a bell for the new Anglican Church in Fairfield in 1739. In 1743/44 he cast aWhitear bell for Dr. Johnson who was a member of the Christ Church in Stratford. Whitear also made a clock for Dr. Johnson in 1750. This clock may have also been for the church?  In 1751, he cast a bell the Congregational Church in Fairfield. John was married, his wife’s name is not currently known. They had at lest four children that were born in Fairfield. His son John Jr, was born 1738 and died August 26, 1773 at the age of 35. He was also trained as a clockmaker and bell founder and worked for many years with his father until his Father passed in 1762 in Fairfield. John Senior had a working career that spanned approximately 28 years. His estate was settled by his son John Jr who succeeded both branches of his business, Bell founder and Clockmaker. Assuming John started with clock No.1 and we know that clock No. 103 (made by his son) is dated 1764 two years after his father death, this suggests that they made approximately three or four clocks a year.

John Whitear Junior was born in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1738. He was the John of John Whitear Senior who was best known as a bell founder. John Jr was a member of Trinty (Episcopal) Church of Fairfield. He lived in a neighborhood called Black Rock which is located on the seashore. It is thought that he trained under his father and continued to work in business with him until his father died in 1762. In that year, he is known to have made a clock for Peter Perry. Junior married Abigail, Rowland (b. 1742 – d. 1813) on June 11, 1767. She was a member of the Christ Chruch in Fairfield. It is thought that he may have trained Joseph Buckley of the same town. In 1767, he was appointed an Ensign of the second trainband of fairfield. In 1771, he was promoted to the grade of Lieutenant. John Jr. died on August 26, 1773 and was buried in the “Ye Old Burying Ground of Fairfield, Conn.” His estate was settled and a record or his inventory is listed. It was extensive.

A small number of tall clocks are known. Several of these are numbered and luckily a few are dated. The lowest number now currently known to us is No. 33. The highest number is No. 103. This No. 103 example is also dated “1764.” This clock would have been made two years after John Seniors death. An interesting observation is that a high percentage of the known clocks have been re-cased. This is also true of the other known Fairfield Clockmakers that include Joseph Buckley, William Burr Jr., The partnership of Whiting and Marquand and Richardson Minor. This may be a result of the British burning 192 houses, barns, shops and churches during their attack on Fairfield on July 7, 1779.

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