David Williams of Newport, Rhode Island. An attractive inlaid mahogany tall case clock. 220028

This finely inlaid mahogany case tall clock was made by David Williams of Newport, Rhode Island. The mahogany selected for the construction of this example exhibits long sweeping lines. The case has been recently refinished and the color is excellent.

This case stands on four nicely shaped ogee bracket feet. These are applied to the bottom of a single stepped molding that is applied to the base section of the clock. The base is decorated with a single light line inlay that frames the panel. This simple line inlay design is repeated in the long rectangular shaped waist door, on the plinths that support the smoothly turned quarter columns and in the flat area below the bonnet arches. The formatted on the hood is a little more complex in that the design uses a double line. The waist door is trimmed with a cock-beaded molding. This is a design element that was popular in Rhode Island tall case construction. Open this door and one will gain access to the two drive weights and the brass faced pendulum bob. The quarter columns that are fitted into the front corners of the waist terminate in brass quarter capitals. This detail visually sits on nicely figured veneered blocks. The bonnet or hood features a swan’s neck pediment. The arches are somewhat compressed and center a plinth. Rectangular shaped windows are fitted in the hood sides. Through these one can view the mechanism. Smoothly turned bonnet columns ending in brass capitals flank the hood door which is glazed. It is also line inlaid. The door opening is fitted with glass and opens to access the colorfully paint decorated dial.

This iron dial is skillfully paint decorated and features traditional themes for this period. It is a Boston made product from the dial house of Spencer Nolen. The four spandrel areas are decorated with stylized urns that are surrounded with gilt decorations. Much of this is raised off the surface of the dial with the application of gesso. In the arch, one will find a lunar calendar display. The lunar calendar or moon phase mechanism is a mechanical almanac. This feature was most likely made on special order due to the extra work involved in producing it. This display would have been valuable to a number of occupations during the colonial era. Farmers were known to track the moon phase so they could anticipate the days that offered the most available moonlight. A bright night would be more beneficial to them in scheduling their tilling and harvesting of their fields. Sailors and merchants track the lunar phases in oder to know when the high tide would allow their ships to sail easily from port or when the fishing might be best. Numerous religious groups had an almost superstitious litany of rituals that were best performed in accordance with lunar events. The actual lunar month represents an inconvenient interval of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds. A tall clocks lunar calendar is set constant at 29.5 days which represents a full cycle. As a result, a 9 hour setback is required at the end of a single year in order to keep the lunar display current.  The time track is formatted in a traditional manner. The hours are displayed in Roman numerals. The five minute markers are indicated in an Arabic style. This dial also displays the seconds and the date of the month. The Clockmaker’s signature and working location are located just below the calendar aperture. It reads, “David Williams / Newport.”

This fine movement is constructed in brass and is good quality. Four turned pillars support the two brass plates. Hardened steel shafts support the polished steel pinions and brass gearing. The winding drums are grooved. The escapement is designed as 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 clock is fitted with cast iron drive weights and its original wooden pendulum rod and brass faced pendulum bob.

This case measures approximately 93.5 inches tall to the top of the brass finial. Measured at the upper hood molding , the case is 20 inches wide and 10.5 inches deep. This fine clock was made circa 1817.


About David Williams of Newport and Providence, Rhode Island. Clockmaker, watchmaker, silversmith and jeweler.

David Williams was born in Rochester, Massachusetts on March 29, 1769. His parents were John Williams (b. 1731- ) and Mary (Peckham) Williams of Middletown, RI (b. 1733-). David was a Quaker. It is not clear who trained David as a clockmaker. It is thought that he was at work in Newport by 1800. His shop was located on the corner of Duke and Queen Streets. In 1811, he moved his shop on the north side of Parade. This location was ten doors down above his old stand. This shop was most recently occupied by Zenas Fearing. In 1818, he moved again to 56 Broad Street. All the while, he must have had a retail outlet in the city of Providence. He was one of, if not the most prolific Clockmakers in Rhode Island. We have owned many tall clocks, Massachusetts Shelf clocks and other banjo clocks in the recent past. It is interesting to note that we know who made the banjo clock cases for Williams. A probate court record exists that indicates that John Young performed this service. David Williams died in Newport on June 29,1823 at the age of 54.


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