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  • American Skippet
    American Skippet
  • General Josiah Harmar
    General Josiah Harmar
  • Appeal to the Great Spirit
    Appeal to the Great Spirit
  • Hong Punch Bowl
    Hong Punch Bowl
  • Barter for a Bride
    Barter for a Bride
  • Artist/MakerWood, David (1766-ca.1850)
  • Date Madec. 1815-1820
  • Place MadeUSA: Massachusetts, Newburyport
  • MaterialsWood; Mahogany; Eastern white pine; Yellow-poplar; Basswood; Satinwood veneer
  • Measurements33"h
  • Gift Bequest of Estate of Caroline Ryan Foulke.
  • Accession #1988.0037

David Wood Shelf Clock

Few details are known of David Wood's life between the opening of his shop in Newburyport in 1792 and his last recorded advertisement in 1824 in which he announced "new and second hand clocks for sale at the shop to which he has recently moved."  Like many New England clockmakers, Wood also served as a sales agent for Simon Willard, his chief competitor in Boston, who, in the 1780s, had developed the first inexpensive, pre-industrial shelf clocks, which inspired this and so many other New England examples.
Shelf timepieces like this one were less costly alternatives to eight-day tall clocks.  Compact and made without striking mechanisms, they required smaller amounts of brass and far less labor to produce. However, the elaborately inlaid cases on many of Wood's timepieces belie their modest cost and stand among the most stylish case furniture produced during the federal period.  Patriotic incidents drawn from the recent history of the new republic are appropriately commemorated on the painted iron dial, possibly by Lemuel Curtis of Boston.[1] The addition of quarter-columns in the front corners, and brass handles on either side of the upper case, a veneered door, and French bracket feet enhance the resemblance between this and much larger, more substantial case furniture.
No document has yet come to light that links any of Wood's clock cases to a specific cabinetmaker.  Three contemporary Newburyport clockmakers—Samuel Mulliken, Daniel Balch, and Paine Wingate—are all known to have ordered clock cases from the Newburyport cabinetmaker Jonathan Kettell (1759–1848), yet Wood's is one of the few names of local clockmakers that does not appear among Kettell's accounts.[2]
A shelf clock at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an architectural case with a pagoda top may be one of Wood's earliest clocks.  A second group has pierced and gilt pewter fretwork, and a third group, to which this clock belongs, has solid crests with inlay ranging from circles and stars to the more unusual radiating pattern of mahogany and satinwood veneers, such as that seen on this example.[3]
Inexpensive shelf clocks were one of this country's major contributions to the history of clockmaking.  Although this clock was the product of a traditional system of master craftsmen and apprentices, it marks the end of an era, for mass-production methods first developed in the New England clock industry soon would pervade every branch of American manufacture.
Thomas S. Michie
1. Edward F. LaFond, Jr., first suggested this attribution.  This piece was exhibited at the Girl Scouts Loan Exhibition, American Art Galleries, New York, 1929 (see Girl Scouts, no. 735); and published in "Long Text and Brief Sermon," Antiques 16, no. 5 (November 1929): 367.
2. Fales 1965, no. 59; and Benes, no. 58.
3. The Metropolitan Museum’s clock is illustrated in Heckscher 1985, cat. no. 201.  For clocks with pierced fretwork, see Rodriguez Roque, cat. no. 44, and an example at the Department of State (88.9; funds donated by Miss Louise Ines Doyle).  See also Fitzgerald 1982, 84.