John Benson of Whitehaven, England. This unusual AMERICAN CHIPPENDALE CHERRY TALL-CASE CLOCK features an imported English eight-day brass works with Astronomical Complications. Benson made the imported movement while working in Whitehaven, UK. YY67

Tall case clocks with astronomical complications were made in very limited numbers. Complex clock displays like those exhibited in the lunette of this example were provided by a very small number of Clockmakers of the day. Perhaps the best known at the time was the Maker of this clock. His name is John Benson, and he worked in Whitehaven, England. 

The village of Whitehaven is a coastal town located on the west coast of England. It is approximately halfway between Liverpool, England, and Glasgow, Scotland. When Benson made this clock mechanism, Whitehaven was a major seaport. As a result, a significant amount of commerce passed through to and from the American colonies. 

Unfortunately, little is known of Benson, although he was still working in Whitehaven in 1782 when he advertised white painted dials. Due to the complexity of a dial that displays astronomical complications, it is reasonable to assume that they were manufactured under a specific commission. We speculate that the original buyer of this clock was an American who had business in England and traveled to it, passing through the seaport of Whitehaven. The clock’s patron would have specifically ordered this clock mechanism with the intention of transporting it home and housing it in an American-made case. In addition to the traditional dial displays of time of day, calendar day, and lunar calendar, he requested that Benson provide displays for several fashionable and complicated calendrical features relating to the declination of the sun, moon, length of the day, etc. 

The brass composite dial form predates the painted dial format. Its’ construction begins with a hammered flat brass sheet measuring 14 inches across that supports several decorative elements. There are four cast brass corner spandrels. A cherub’s head is centered in the spandrel decoration of pierced swirling foliage designs. They are secured to the sheet and frame the engraved and silvered time ring. There are two additional spandrels positioned at the bottom of the lunette. The engraved time ring is also applied to the dial. This display is skillfully engraved. Arabic style five-minute positions are separated from the Roman style hour numerals by the closed minute ring. Fleur-dis-lis are engraved between the hours. The interior ring is graduated for the calendar date. A third steel pointer originating from the center arbor tracks this function. The minute and hour hands are steel and well-formed. The interior section of the dial is matted, and ring turnings decorate the winding holes. The informational display in the lunette is fascinating. 

Two individual chapter rings are displayed here between the paint-decorated shutters. The rings are engraved with the scales for sunrise and sunset, the length of the day, and the sun’s declination. The correct positions are indicated by the hands or pointers located at the bottom of the two shutters. These rise and fall with the operation of the clock’s mechanism. The main body of the shutters are paint decorated. The steel hands point to a numerical value on one of the four scales. The outer scale is titled “S: Amplitude Ortive Meridies” and “S: Amp:let Occafive.” These represent the tie of sunrise and sunset. The narrow inner silvered ring on the left displays the time of Day Break numbered I to VI.5. Below this is “S:Declination” (sun’s declination) numbered 0 / 10 / 20 . The scales on the right are for the time of twilight (TWL), and “S Place” graduated I to V on one side and VI – X on the other. Blow this is the painted rolling moon phase display, including the moon’s age which is engraved on the outer edge. The Clockmaker’s name and working location plaque is located under the moon display. The calendar work is all powered by a two-train movement.

The works are framed with large rectangular-shaped brass plates. Four turned pillars or posts support the two large brass plates. Hardened steel shafts support the polished steel pinions and brass gearing. The winding drums are grooved. The escapement is designed in 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 American-made case features cherry. The wood used and the case form suggests a Pennsylvania origin made in the late 1700s. The cherry wood retains an older finish that compliments the natural color of the wood. An applied bracket base raises this case off the floor. The bracket feet are small and compact. The construction of the base panel is somewhat unusual. Please note the carved fluted columns located on the outer edges in the front panel. The thin line of dark inlay creates a frame in the base panel. This is subtle detail. The waist molding is constructed with an ogee curve that transitions the base section to the waist section of the case. The access door in the waist is simply shaped at the top. A simple molding frames the edge. Open this door, and one can access the two drive weights and the brass-faced pendulum. Swan’s neck moldings are central to the design of the hood. These arched moldings are hand-carved and boldly formed. They terminate at the top of the hood with turned wooden rosettes. Both arches center a molded plinth. Two additional wooden plinths are fitted at the outer corners of the case. A brass ball and spire finial is mounted atop each plinth. Four free-standing hood columns visually support the top of the case. Two smoothly turned columns are located at the back corners of the hood. Positioned in the front are two columns decorated with fluting and mounted in brass capitals. Tombstone-shaped sidelights are set in the side panels of the bonnet. The hood door is hinged and fitted with glass. It opens to access the dial.

This clock was made circa 1780 and stands approximately 7 feet 10 inches (94 inches) tall to the top of the finials, 24 inches wide, and inches 12.25 deep at the cornice molding.


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