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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Banjo Clocks

Many a banjo clock-a form of timepiece distinctly American in origin-is still marking time as well as lending an authentic touch to interiors with an early Republic air. The unusual and often graceful shape of this clock is again winning for it popularity, as it did when it was first invented by Simon Willard in 1802 and forced the larger and more expensive grandfather clock into temporary oblivion. The banjo clock associates very well with the tables and chairs of the Chippendale and Sheraton periods and the best of the early Victorian furnishings that are today being accepted as worthy of preserving or reproducing. Examples of this type of clock are becoming rare, but there are still enough available for those who have a penchant for the old. The comparatively large size of the clock allows it to give a dignified effect above a fireplace or at the end of an entrance hall. Many with brass works that were, in the early examples, cut entirely by hand, are still keeping time a century after they were constructed. Modern clock makers have resurrected this old style, and their clocks may be had with the gilt decorations and quaint pictures that pleased the householders of the early days.

Banjo clocks are of one general shape-a circular dial with a long widening neck terminating in a rectangular box at the bottom. This peculiar shape allowed the pendu lum space in which to swing. Variation of detail is found in the carved decoration in the form of a bracket at the bottom, different kinds of ornament surmounting the top, and the painted designs on the front. In clocks made by Lemuel Curtis the rectangular box at the bottom is replaced by a circular form. The decorations on the front of the clocks vary. Some are severely plain: others are more elaborate, with pictures, flowers and scroll designs.

As a bit of furniture the first banjo clock or "patent timepiece," as its inventor called it, was undoubtedly more of a departure from the accepted form than we realize to day. The only other type of wall clock was the "wag-on-thewall," a clock dial and works without a case, placed on a shelf with the weights hanging below.

The earliest examples of banjo clocks were no doubt made with little ornamentation in order that they might be manufactured at a low price and thus command a large market. As time went on, however, the banjo clock took ori many refinements and decorative touches, and in the clocks made by Curtis we find a high grade of design and execution.

Many other clockmakers of the first quarter of the century constructed banjo clocks, for Simon Willard sold the right to manufacture them to others. His brother Aaron made banjo timepieces, and Wallace Nutting in "The Clock Book" mentions Samuel Whiting of Concord, William Grant and John Sawin of Boston, and David Wood of Newburyport as a few of the early makers of this popular wall clock.

A disputed point about these old banjo clocks has been the use of the spread-eagle ornamenting the top. In spite of assertions that Simon Willard never placed an eagle on his clocks, but always used an acorn or a ball ornament, it seems probable that this form of decoration found on so many banjo clocks today, both of his make and others, was a popular contemporary form of decoration.

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