John Roulstone tall case clock. A Boston, Massachusetts Clockmaker, watchmaker and goldsmith. 221092

This is a fine and important pre-revolutionary brass dial American tall case clock made by John Roulstone of Boston, MA circa 1770. Very few pre-revolutionary brass dial clocks exist that were made in Boston. The vast majority of those that do were made by more prolific clockmakers like the Bagnalls and Gawen Brown. Gawen Brown would have been contempory of John Roulstone.

This very clock has been advertised in Antiques Magazine on two separate occasions. Mink Hill Farms in Henniker, New Hampshire advertised it for sale in the October 1964 edition. It was featured in a second ad which was placed sixteen years later in January of 1970 by the Curt C. Deinninger Gallery. This gallery was located on Newbury Street in Boston which is interesting because Roulstones shop was also on Newbury Street some 200 years before. Denninger titled this clock as a “Boston, Masterpiece” and exhibited it at New York City’s Winter Antique Show. The clock was also exhibited in 1975-1976 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, American Decorative Arts Permanent Collection and then again at the Milwaukee Art Museum in May through September 1996 at the John Singleton Copley in America exhibit.

This very nicely proportioned mahogany case exhibits a very light coloring. Finished mahogany is traditionally presented in darker tones. This is a refreshing alternative to the more common darker finishes. The case stands on applied bracket feet. The design is complex and includes shaped returns, spurs, steps and rounded drops. The base section is somewhat compressed. This compressed form is a common design detail for clock cases manufactured in the Colonies during this early period. It is not until after the American Revolution that the base sections begin to lengthen. The waist moldings are well formed and are aggressively curved. The waist section is long and centers a large tombstone shaped waist door. This door is trimmed along its perimeter with an applied molding. This molding has been treated with a darker finish. The contrast is interesting. The door is hinged and opens to allow one access to the interior of the case. This is where one will find the two brass covered drive weights and the brass faced pendulum bob. The rating of the mechanism is adjusted by the threaded nut positioned under the bob. Pasted on the inside of the door is an equation of time table. It is interesting to speculate why this would be necessary and what were the interests of the original owner? The bonnet features a pagoda shaped top. The pagoda form was very popular in London England during the 1770 time period. This would have been considered a modern form for the upscale Boston clientele. The pagoda shape is trimmed with and applied molding. A wonderfully carved fan is featured in the center. The carving is skillfully executed and is finished in gilding. This very unusual and attractive design element certainly attracts one attention. Two large brass ball and spire finials are mounted out on the corners of the hood. The pagoda top design feature is positioned above a molded arch that conforms to the shape of the dial door and the dial. The molded arch is visually supported by a total of six hood columns. These are very interesting. They are decorated with vine relief carvings that extend the full length of the columns. These carved detail would have required a tremendous amount of extra work and must ave been a special order. Four of the six columns are free standing. The other two are fitted onto the sides of the hood door. The sidelights are also a tombstone shape and are fitted with glass. The moldings that frames the openings in the side light and also the arched bonnet door have been treated with a gilt finish.

This composite brass dial predates the painted dial form. It is composed of a brass sheet and is decorated with a number of decorative elements. Four cast corner spandrels frame the applied time ring. These spandrels are decorated with a woman’s head that is surrounded with floral motifs. There are two additional spandrels located in the arch. These are refereed to as the dolphin spandrels and were quite popular. They center a circular engraved ring that is reads, STRIKE / SILENT. A pointer hand of steel can be manually rotated to one of these two positions. One would use this hand to turn the strike part of the clock mechanism on or off as desired. This may be useful if one were to install this clock in their bedroom? The silvered time or chapter ring features Arabic style five minute markers, a closed minute ring and large Roman style hour numerals. Inside this ring, the dial surface has been textured or matted. Here one will also find a small square aperture for the calendar day display and an inset subsidiary engraved seconds dial. The openings for these displays has been decoratively hand filed. The seconds framing features an interesting scolloped design. A large applied plaque is fitted below the center arbor. It is engraved with the Maker’s name. This engraved name plate reads. “John Roulstone / BOSTON.” The hour and minute hands are steel and are a traditional form for the period.

The two train movement is brass, eight-day duration and of good quality. Four turned pillars or posts support the two large 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. The strike is controlled by 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 was made circa 1770 and stands approximately 91 inches or 7 feet 7 inches tall to the top of the pagoda, 21.25 inches wide and 9.5 inches deep measured at the cornice molding.

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About John Roulstone of Boston, MA.

Unfortunately, very little is currently known about John Roulstone. Most of what is known is gleemed from a few advertisements that he palced in the Boston Newspapers. He is recorded as being born on Febuary 12, 1740. His parents were John Roulstone (1712-1776) and Ruth Everden. Who trained him as a clockmaker is currently not known. It is thought he began on his own about 1761 and worked for the Boston Jewler Jonathan Trott. He is recorded as first working in Boston is 1763. On March 27, 1768, he married Mary Greenleaf. They had two daughters. (Mary b. 13 January 1769 and Elizabeth b. 14 October 1770.) In April, he purchased a dwelling house and buildings on Newbury Street from his inlaws. He had maintained a relationship with Trott since he was a witness to the deed. The first adverisement for his buisness is placed in the Boston New-Letter on 12 May, 1768. It reads: “Clock and WatchMaker, Takes this opportunity to inform those Gentlemen who favor him with their Custom:that he has removedthe Shop he lately improv’d to a Shop three doors Southward of that, and the third Door Northward of the White Horse Tavern; Where he does all sorts of Clock and Watch-Work as usual,-hass all sortd of Watch-Chains, Strings, Seals and Keyes, &c. &c..” In July of 1775, John Roulstone and his family were granted a pass to travel out of Boston. This would have been during the seige of Boston. He reported to Abigal Adams, John Adams wife and the daughter of Reverend Smith and Elizabeth Quincy that he gotten passage on a fishing schooner. He reported that the city had been locked down and that the British were in control. This anicdote is gleemed from a letter written by Richard Cranch to John Adams in July of 1775. In 1789, John is listed in the Boston City Directory as a watchmaker working at 18 Newbury Street. This would have been just a few doors down from fellow lockamkers Joseph and his brother Robert Pope. In 1800, John is listed at 16 Newbury Street in the same directory. It is recorded that Roulstone died on January 5, 1803.

An 18th century watch that retains an engraved paper that is formatted with an equation of the solar time table and is engraved “John Roulstone / clock / and Watch Maker Next / Door to the Lamb / Boston” is known. This important engraving is now in the collection of the Old York Historical Society. A second very fine tall clock made by Roulstone is currently in the collection of The Massachusetts Historical Society.

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