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The Popular Pillar-and-Scroll Clock

The appearance of a package frequently is the key to its success or failure. Eli Terry discovered this when he began making wooden-works shelf clocks in quantity. Since the primary purpose of a clock is to tell time accurately, he had seen to it that his thirty-hour wood-movement could do that and could also be produced at a price within reach of the many clock-less households. At first he put his new clock in a plain but well-proportioned box case. It would be inaccurate to assume that this plain package was without takers in a day when inexpensive timepieces were in demand. But from it evolved an ornamental case which Terry named his "pillar-and-scroll." A handsome clock with the neat proportions of the earlier box case but with Sheraton details added, such as the valanced bracket base, the slender colonnettes or pillars, and scrolled pediment usually with brass urn finials, it was popular from the start.

It sold for only fifteen dollars and, although money was scarce after the War of 1812, demand was so great that Seth Thomas paid Terry a thousand dollars for a license to make this type of clock. The arrangement was apparentlv profitable, for each man made a profit of six thousand dollars the first year. Other clockmakers pirated the design without shame and without the courtesy of a license, especially those in and around Plymouth, Connecticut. Patents were seemingly made to be infringed on in the early nineteenth century. An exception to this was Silas Hoadley, an early partner of Terry and Thomas. He showed considerable originality in movement design and so did not infringe on Terry's patent. A number of his pillar-and-scroll clocks are known as Franklin clocks because of the label, "Time Is Money, Franklin: Clocks with improvement of Burling Pivots."

With so many clockmakers producing this type of shelf clock, technical variations in the wooden movement and in case decoration resulted. Terry also continued to experiment. With his earlier pillar-and-scrolls, for instance, the escapement wheel is outside the dial. With the clocks made about 1820, it is inside and therefore not visible.

The pillar-and-scroll clock stayed in fashion for about twenty-five years. Its largest production was in the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut. Massachusetts had a less pleasing version with an American Empire flavor. There was also a Pennsylvania variation which housed an eight-day cast brass movement. These were made from about 1820 to 1830.

Because these clocks were made in quantity and in an era when good workmanship was the rule, quite a number in running condition are still extant. They are deservedly popular now with those who want a beautiful old clock to go with their heirlooms. If such a clock has Eli Terry's label and the painted glass in the lower half of the glazed door is original, it is worth many times the price asked by its originator. Of course, one with a Seth Thomas label is not to be passed up, nor those of other makers who pirated the model and were able craftsmen who recognized a good design and, according to the easy-going custom of the time, copied it.

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