A Federal era Block & Shell tall case clock most likely made in Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1786. This clock is not signed but attributed to Seril Dodge. SS138

An important Rhode Island tall case clock. The case is very unusual in that it features two hand carved shells. One is located on the waist door. A second shell is applied to the base panel. In the eighteenth-century, the use of carved shell decoration in American furniture is arguably the most celebrated furniture design element found. The incorporation of this coveted decoration and the proficiency of skilled execution suggests a highly talented cabinetmaker working in Providence.

This impressive case is constructed in cherry. It retains an older finish that has been hand polished. The nut brown color is excellent. The secondary wood used in the case structure is chestnut. This case stands on four ogee bracket formed feet. These are applied to a molding that is fitted to the bottom of the base. The base construction is interesting. The front corners are canted. This decorative detail is one that greatly increases the amount of work the cabinetmaker has to spend in constructing this section. The forty-five degree angle creates fitting problems with the moldings at the top and the bottom of the base. At the bottom, a lamb’s tongue molding is required in order to return the corner to a ninety degree angle. This is the angle of the base molding. The top of this canted detail requires a change in shape of the waist molding in order to match up with the canted design. The more common tall clock molding often used requires only three pieces of wood fitted at ninety degree angles. This canted design requires two additional sections of molding for a total of five. They are joined together at forty five degree angles in order to follow the shape of the base. Please note that this base to waist molding is also complex in its design in that it is an ogee form as opposed to the more common cove version. The front of the base panel features framed construction. The central panel is applied onto the frame. This decorative panel features a molded edge and a block and shell molding detail. Very few Rhode Island cases feature a carved shell in the base section. The convex scallop shell has been expertly carved by hand. The lobes are sharply defined between the convex and concave shapes. The inner ends of the serpentine bottom edges of the shell terminate in closed volutes. These volutes flank a horizontal bar and support a semicircle that encloses seven separate carved petals. This is highly developed designed and is repeated on a smaller scale in design of the blocked pendulum waist door. The waist is long and door is a tombstone form. The waist door construction is assembled from rails and the stiles are tenoned together. The block and shell details are then applied to the frame. The corners of the waist are fitted with fluted quarter columns. These terminate at both ends in turned wooden capitals. The bonnet or hood features a nicely shape moulded swan’s neck pediment. The moldings terminate in large carved rosettes. The carving has a floral theme. The arches also center a long and fluted keystone that forms the central finial plinth. Above the moldings, at the outer corners of the hood are additional fluted and capped plinths. All three plinths support a hand carved wooden finial that features a fluted urn and a twisted flame spire. This is a traditional form for the region. The arched, glazed door is flanked by free standing fluted columns. The front two are fitted into brass capitals. The two colonnettes that are mounted at the back of the bonnet are split into half columns and are secured in place with tenons.

This thirteen inch painted iron dial was manufactured and painted in England. The raise gesso work is highlighted in gilt paint. The four spandrel areas are decorated with colorful floral and fruit patterns. Strawberries are featured in the two upper corners. In the lunette is a moon phase or lunar calendar display. This mechanical almanac is thought to have been a special order function. It would have been a valuable addition. Farmers would use this calendar display in order to anticipate the nights with the most available moonlight. This would aide them in scheduling their planting, tilling of the fields and harvesting. Knowing the moon’s age would benefit sailors and merchants and its effects on the tides. Many religious groups had an almost superstitious litany of rituals best performed in accordance with lunar events. One other use would be the scheduling of traveling by moonlight at night. A full moon often provides ample light to do so. The lunar month represents an inconvenient interval of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds. A clocks lunar calendar is set at 29.5 days from new moon to new moon, a full cycle. Thus would require a 9 hour setback at the end of a single year. The time is displayed on the time ring and is indicated by the two hand filed steel hands. One should notice the addition of a long counter weighted brass hand that is also fitted from the center arbor. This is a sweep second hand and will rotate around the dial once per minute. Very few New England made clocks are fitted with this feature. On such clock is pictured on pages 290-291 in Frank L. Hohmann’s book, Timeless: Masterpiece American Brass Dial Clocks (New York, 2009). The seconds indications on the dial also serve as the minutes. This ring is graduated with dots that are positioned between the Arabic five minute markers and the large Roman style hour numerals. Another unusual feature is the day of the week display. This is conveniently located in the traditional location of the subsidiary seconds dial. This is a very unusual feature. The calendar date is displayed in the traditional location.

This fine movement is constructed in brass and is good quality. Four turned and cigar shaped pillars support the two large rectangular shaped brass plates. Seril Doge was the only clockmaker working in Rhode Island that was trained by Thomas Harland. The shape of the posts are a clue as to the Maker of this movement. Both plates have a half round cutouts that the bottom. Hardened steel shafts support the polished steel pinions and brass gearing. The winding drums are grooved. The escapement is designed as a deadbeat and because the dial displays the seconds with a sweep hand, the escape wheel is positioned lower in the train. 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 import and formal clock was made circa 1785. It stands approximately 94 inches tall to the top of the center finial. It is 23 inches wide and 11 inches deep.


About Seril Dodge Of Providence, Rhode Island.

Seril Dodge was born in Pomfret, Connecticut on August 19, 1759. His parents were Nehemiah Dodge (1733?-1796? and Lois (Paine) Dodge (1737? – ?) He is thought to have trained with Thomas Harland in Norwich, CT. His movement designs are certainly manufactured in the Harland school having the distinctive cigar shaped pillars that support the plates. On March 4, 1783, Seril Married Anna Williams of Pomfret. By 1784, he had removed to Providence and was working as a silversmith and clockmaker. In August of the same year, he advertised in the Providence Gazette that he was a clock and watch maker and his shop was located north of the Baptist meeting House. Seril became the foremost clockmaker and silversmith in late eighteenth-century Providence. Dodge is also credited with being the city’s first jeweler and it is highly likely that he executed the engraving on his silvered brass dials. Including meandering vines, scrolls, floral devices, stylized serpents (or birds) and columns, the vocabulary of motifs seen on this clock is also present in part or wholly on four of the other dials bearing his name. He purchased land from fellow Quaker and renowned merchant Moses Brown on Angell’s Lane (now Thomas Street) and subsequently built two houses on the street, both of which stand today. In 1799, Dodge left Providence for his hometown of Pomfret where he died on April 2 1802.

Severa clocks are known with dials signed by Seril Dodge. An engraved brass dial shelf-clock is in the collection of Rhode Island Historical Society. A brass dial tall case clock was sold at Sotheby’s in New York. The sale, Important American Furniture from the Collection of the Late Thomas Mellon and Betty Evans, 19 June 1998. This clock was lot 2022 and was purchased by Israel Sack, Inc. It is pictured in American Antiques from Israel Sack, vol. VI, p. 1615, P4706. A composite brass dial example was sold publicly in May of 2019 at Americana Auctions in Rehoboth, MA. R. Jorgensen Antiques advertised a clock with a Massachusetts-style case in www.antiquesandfineart.com. An engraved dial example is pictured on pages 290-291 in Timeless: Masterpiece American Brass Dial Clocks (New York, 2009) written by Frank L. Hohmann III. One painted dial tall clock in a carved shell case offered by Delaney Antique Clocks is attributed to him.


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