Stephen Taber. A talented clockmaker working in New Bedford, Massachusetts. 221020.

This lovely mahogany case features excellent mahogany veneers and a finish that has wonderfully mellowed over the years. The form reflects a New Bedford influence. One could speculate that the case maker was Rueben Swift from that town. Taber purchased several cases from him in 1810 through the 1812 time period. This fine example is raised up on four nicely shaped French feet that are applied to the bottom of the base. The base section is framed with a thin cross-banded mahogany border. This is separated from the center panel by a lighter line inlay. The center panel features an interestingly figured mahogany selection of veneer. The grain pattern features two large knots. The waist section is long and is fitted with a large rectangular-shaped waist door. The door features a crotch veneer pattern that is oriented in a vertical format. The waist door is trimmed with an applied molding and opens to access the interior of the case. Through this door, one will see the brass-faced pendulum bob and two drive weights. The sides of the cabinet are fitted with fluted quarter columns. These terminate in brass quarter capitals. The bonnet features a pierced and open fretwork pattern, three fluted plinths, and three brass ball and spike finials. Fluted bonnet columns flank the bonnet door. These are mounted in brass capitals. The hood door opens to access a colorfully painted iron dial.

This colorfully painted dial is signed by the clockmaker above the hour numeral six within the time track. It reads, “S. TABER.” In the arch of this dial is a lunar calendar or moon phase mechanism. 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 the tilling and harvesting of their fields. Sailors and merchants track the lunar phases in order to know when the high tide would allow their ships to sail easily from the 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 clock’s 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. Each of the five-minute markers and the subsidiary seconds ring are displayed in an Arabic format. This dial also displays the seconds and the date of the month.
The four spandrel areas are colorfully decorated with geometric style patterns.

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 a recoil design. The movement is weight-driven and designed to run eight. It is a two-train or a time and strike design having a rack and snail. 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. The time and strike brass constructed movement is weight powered and designed to run for an eight-day duration. It is excellent quality.

This clock was made circa 1811 and stands approximately 8 feet 1 inch tall to the top of the center finial.


About Stephen Taber of Achusnet and New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Stephen Taber was born on October 23, 1777 in New Bedford, Massachusetts and died there on September 10th, 1862. His older brother Elnathan, was nine years his senior and had moved North to Roxbury where he served his clockmaking apprenticeship under Simon Willard. Simon considered Elnathan a highly skilled mechanic and his best apprentice. Elnathan remained in Roxbury after his indenture and continue to build clocks for himself and others in the Roxbury group of Clockmakers. It is because of Elnathan’s success, that it is logical to assume that Stephen was also attracted to the clockmaking community in Roxbury. Stephen was trained in Boston by Aaron Willard, Simon’s younger brother. By 1798, Stephen is recorded in the town of Roxbury’s Tax Records as being a resident of Roxbury. This would suggest that he moved to Roxbury to start his apprenticeship some time in 1791-92 at the age of 14. After having served his apprenticeship, he stayed in Roxbury for one year and then returned to New Bedford in 1799. Here he advertised in October of that year that “Stephen Taber, (Late apprentice to Mr. Aaron Willard, Clock-Maker in Boston,) Respectfully informs the public That he carries on the Clock Making Business… at his shop in Union Street…” From this time period, until his death in 1862, it appears that he lived and worked primarily in New Bedford. He is also listed as working in Achushnet for a short period of time. Over the later part of his life the extent of his clockmaking seems to have trickled off as the years passed. This is assumed because he is listed more commonly as a merchant or as a trader by 1810. By 1860, his estate was valued at over $100,000. At the time of his death in 1862, his wealth had almost doubled. His wife Elizabeth, was one of the founding members of Tabor Academy in the town of Marion.


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