Elmer Stennes. Reproduction Wall Timepiece, Girandole. This example was made in 1968.

This is an outstanding reproduction of a Girandole Wall Timepiece originally created by Lemuel Curtis of Concord, Massachusetts. This successful recreation was made by Elmer Stennes of East Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Lemuel Curtis was a very talented apprentice of the Willard family. His apprenticeship started in 1802. In 1811, it is recorded that he moved to Concord and set up shop there as a Clockmaker. Here he specialized in the production of finely made timepieces. Over the years he made several improvements in Simon Willard’s original timepiece design. An example of one such improvement is the single screw movement mounting system. The Curtis design used a screw to mount the movement to the case from the back of the backboard. This screw held the movement securely in place and put the thread pressure on the backplate. Willard’s design used two screws that were diagonally positioned on the movement and screwed into the wood of the backboard from the front of the movement. The threading of the wood in the backboard has a tendency to fail over time because the thread pressure is in the wood and not on metal. As a result, the vast majority of the clocks mounted this way have had the original screws are replaced. Lemuel’s ultimate achievement would have to be the design of the Girandole form which is often called America’s most beautiful clock. However, this model was not a financial success. As a result, a small number were originally produced. Most of which are in the collections of our countries best museums. Two fine examples are currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Many reproductions of this original form have been made. The Waltham Clock Company made approximately 25 examples in the 1920’s. Since the 1960’s, individuals like Elmer Stennes, Ted Burleigh and Foster Campos all produced a limited number of faithful copies. The clock described below is a very good example of one of the clocks.

This mahogany constructed case is in excellent original condition. The dark wood contrasts with the gilded frames and is striking. The case measures approximately 45 inches in length. The lower presentation bracket is wonderfully carved from wood and is a traditional form. The lower door frame is nicely constructed. A large cove molding is central to the design. In the center of this are 28 turned wooden decorative balls. This theme is again repeated at the top of this molding with a beaded ring. The throat frame is decorated with a rope carving that runs the vertical length of this frame on all four sides. These applied moldings terminate in corner blocks. One may notice that this fame is bowed in the middle. This is constructed in this manner to compliment the circular lower and upper door as well as the shaping of the glass. The bezel is brass. Positioned here are an additional 25 smaller brass decorative balls. This bezel is also fitted with glass that is designed to protect the dial. The forward facing eagle finial is carved from wood and is wonderfully executed. It’s wings are outstretched and the bird is standing on a traditionally shaped plinth. The reverse serpentine sidearms are well formed and made of brass. (The sidearms are the decorations that are fitted to the sides of the case.) The shape of these are a traditional girandole form and are very attractive.

The two gilt decorated frames are fitted with reverse painted tablets. The egloimse’ convex panels are done in very good colors over a blue / green background or field. The throat panel features an intricate theme that is traditionally formed. It is also signed “PATENT” in the banner located in the lower section of this glass. The lower circular tablet depicts the scene of “AURORA” and is so titled. She is depicted standing in her chariot that is being pulled across the sky by her two winged houses. This represents the passing of the sun across the sky. A small section of the center of this scene is left open in order to view the motion of the pendulum. It will flash the reflected light as it passes across the opening. It is worth noting that not all Stennes painted glasses share the same level of artistic skill. These tablets are done to a higher level of skill and features more brilliant colors than most.

The brass bezel opens to access the painted dial. It features the traditional fancy Concord format. Some of the decorative features included a scolloped border around the perimeter of the dial, Closed minute ring, a gold ring inside the time track, and a daisy petal design radiating from the center and winding holes. The center of the dial is signed with the Maker’s signature and his working location in script. It reads, “Elmer O. Stennes / WEYMOUTH, MASS.” Below the 6:12 position on the closed time ring, one will notice a small bee painted on this dial. The hands are a traditional Curtis form having concentric circles and barbed pointers. Who doesn’t like fancy hands.

The movement weight powered. It is a time only design and is constructed in brass. It is designed to run eight days on a full wind. The front plate is die stamped “E. O. STENNES / WEYMOUTH /MASS.” The two brass plates that frame the movement are supported with four posts. The escapement is a recoil format. Overall it is good quality.

This decorative clock has great presence. It is fitting for a formal space.

About Elmer Stennes of Weymouth, Massachusetts.

For 30 years, between the 1940s and the 1970s, Stennes was famous for being the only large-scale reproducer of classic American clock cases in the country. But his former friends and associates remember him for another reason. Elmer killed his wife and later was himself killed. In fact, it’s hard to say whether the clocks and other items made by Stennes are so collectible today because of their quality or because of his notoriety. He lived at 45 Church Street in East Weymouth, Massachusetts, in a house he built himself in 1938. He used a design by Royal Barry Wills, the 20th-century American designer of reproduction Colonial-era dwellings. (So, the house, like his clocks, is a facsimile.) It is a classic two-story cedar-shingle Cape Home.

Elmer Osbourne Stennes was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1911. Trained as a cabinetmaker who worked in the shipyards, Stennes made his mark as a case-maker for the clocks he sold with his name painted on the dials. His production was significant as compared to others that were not set up as a factory with employees. He made a variety of forms. These included the Willard style time piece or banjo clock, a copy of Lemuel Curtis’s girandole, several shelf clock forms, tall case clocks which he called grandfathers, grandmothers and an in between size he designed and dubbed the Wessagusset. The name Wessagusset is the Native American name for the Weymouth shore. Elmer was a good marketer and his clocks were sold nationwide through the contacts he made as a member of the National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors (NAWCC).

Stennes began making is cases full time by 1948. It is then that he left the shipyards to manufacture clocks. He did not manufacture the movements. At first, he used movements from what was then common clocks. Soon he had to find another more reliable source and used good quality reproductions. By 1959, he built a barn to set up his workshop. He told people his shop was located on Tic Tock Lane.

Elmer’s first wife was Eva who had three of her own children before they married. Together, they had a daughter. Eva died on December 2, 1968. As a result of an argument, Elmer took out his .357 magnum derringer and shot one bullet into Eva’s head. She staggered from the kitchen and died on the bathroom floor. Elmer reportedly called the Weymouth police himself. He was arrested in his home and later released on a bond of $25,000. It was business as usual until his trail. During this period he branded his clock cases with the initials, “O.O.B.,” to signify his new status out on bond. Stennes pleaded not guilty to murder, but admitted guilt to manslaughter and was sentenced to eight to ten years. His term was to be served at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Plymouth. The retired Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts, Judge Steadman was Stennes’ personal friend customer and counsel before the crime. He had purchased a cherry-wood grandmother clock and Elmer had made him a gavel for his bench. Soon Stennes was teaching carpentry classes in the prison wood shop. One could argue that he was using prison equipment and inmates to construct clock cases. These were stamped “M.C.I.P.,” the abbreviation for “Made Case in Prison” or some have claimed it was the acronym for the prison, “Massachusetts Correctional Institute Plymouth, which was actually in Carver, Mass.

After having served only two years and four months, Stennes was paroled in January 1972. He soon remarried on December 15, 1973. Her name was Phyllis Means. On October 4, 1975 the couple was shot while they were sleeping in their upstairs bedroom. Two men broke into the house, Elmer was shot five times. Phyllis was shot seven times. When the police arrived, she was covered in blood and was screaming that Elmer was dead.

Phyllis accused her 24-year old step son Elliot of being one of the shooters. She had seen his face, recognized his clothes, and heard his voice say, “Dad.” Elliot had five witnesses testified that at the time of the shooting he had been with them at a bar in Franconia, New Hampshire. As a result, the charges were dropped.


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