Walter Durfee of Providence, Rhode Island. Wall Time Piece or Banjo clock. Retailed by the firm, Tilden-Thurber of the same city. Clockmaker, Waltham. Artist, D. J. Steele. Sceen, Wasp and Frolic.

This is an outstanding example of a Federal Massachusetts improved timepiece or “Banjo” clock made by Walter Durfee of Providence, Rhode Island circa 1910. It was retailed by Tilden – Thurber of Providence, Rhode Island.

What makes this example so outstanding is the presentation of the case and the coloring and skill of the reverse painted tablets.

The case is constructed in mahogany and retains its’ original finish. This model features a presentation bracket, flat mahogany veneered frames, brass side arms and dial bezel that retains elements of their original gilding, and a large cast eagle as a finial. All of which is in excellent condition.

The reverse painted tablets are hand painted in good colors and demonstrate excellent skill. Both tablets are painted from the back. They are somewhat unusual in that they feature a brown field. The throat is decorated with a number of traditional themes. First period banjo clocks throat frames are often found with depictions of the American shield geometric designs and the E. Pluribus Unum insigna of the Eagle clutching arrows over the American Shield. This example incorporates all of these in blue, red and gilt paint. The lower tablet depicts the naval battle of the “WASP AND FROLIC.” On the morning of October 18th, 1812, the USS Wasp came across a damaged and weak HMS Frolic and engaged it in battle. With in hours the Wasp took control and added another naval victory to the Americans resume. (Please read the history of this naval engagement for the rest of the story.) This is an excellent tablet. The skill level is very high. The colors and detail are excellent. It is signed by the artist in the lower left hand corner. The Artist name is D. J. Steele. This scene is framed in an interesting border. It is predominately decorated with floral themes. What I find interesting are the American shield in each of the four corners.

The brass bezel is fitted with convex glass and opens to a painted iron dial featuring Roman hour numerals and the Retailer’s name printed in small block lettering. It reads, “TILDENTHURBER / PROVIDENCE.” The hands are a traditional Waltham Clock Company form.

Durfee signed movements have always been thought of as being made to the highest standards. This movement helps substantiate the legend. The construction of it suggests that it was ordered from the Waltham Clock Company in Waltham, Massachusetts. The weight driven movement and is designed eight days on a full wind. As one might expect, the quality is outstanding. It features heavy cast brass plates, maintaining power and a Geneva Stop winding mechanism. The front plate is die-stamped with the Durfee’s name in the upper right corner. It is also numbered “6113” on the left. (Please note that this clock was photographed before we serviced the movement.) It is powered by a lead weight. This weight is also stamped with the Durfee logo.

This very attractive clock measures approximately 42.5 inches long overall. It was made circa 1910.

About Walter Durfee of Providence, Rhode Island.

Walter Durfee was born in Providence Rhode Island on March 23rd, 1857 to Elisha A. and Sarah Law (Allen) Durfee. He died at the age of 82 on August 4th, 1939. He was buried at the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. Durfee’s father ran the Durfee Mill which made overcoats for the Union Army during the Civil War. Walter was educated in the local school system and studied to become an architect. In 1877, he left that occupation after a very short stint and opened an Antique business on 295 High Street. This was the first of several shop locations in the City of Providence. It is here that he began to sell antiques and developed an interest specifically in clocks. It is said that he traveled extensively looking for them. In 1881, Durfee took on a partner, Charles L. Pendleton. Pendleton was an attorney collector, friend and gambler. This partnership was called “Durfee and Enches.“ This lasted until 1884 when Pendleton was forced to sell out his share to Durfee. Pendleton had lost a fortune in gambling. Yet it is during this partnership, that they decided to purchase new, high quality clocks from England and sell them in the States under their own name. Pendleton was well traveled and began to develop connections to English manufactures. These newer clocks sold very well. So well in fact, that Durfee had to move to a larger shop on two occasions.

In 1887, Walter Durfee made a sound business decision. He obtained the U.S. Patent rights to the tubular chimes that were manufactured by Harrington in England. This new product was very well received and as a result, the rebirth of the Tall case clock was under way. These clocks sold for $500 in the late 1890’s This was and extraordinary sum. Yet the marketplace responded. Competitors began to emerge to take advantage of their popularity. Yet, Durfee was in a commanding position. If you, as a retailer of this type of clock, wanted by to purchase tubes or a tube clock, then you either purchased them from Durfee or directly from England. Either way, Harrington was paid their royalty. Durfee gave the American clock retailers multiple purchase options in this category. One could purchase the entire clock from him and retail it under their own name or purchase various components starting with the tubes. Many firms engaged in the practice. It is not uncommon to find clocks retailed by finer jewelry stores such as Tiffanys and Bigelow and Kennard with Durfee components. Sales for this type of item grew and Durfee expanded the use product due to its great sound. They began to sell them to theaters and opera houses around the world. They were also used in doorbells. In 1896, Durfee invested in the Tubular Bell Company of Methuen, Massachusetts. This firm produced a larger version of the tubular chime to be used in towers located on churches and universities throughout the country. They were so popular that it is reported that the Vatican in Rome purchase a set for $1,000. Business was good until 1902 when his patent was challenged and he lost. This opened the door for his competition to expand. These companies began to lower the quality and as a result lower the prices of these clocks. Durfee refused to follow this business model.

In 1907-1908, Durfee expanded his clock line to include Banjo clocks. The vast majority of these found in today’s marketplace are the Willard form and appear to have been made by the Waltham Clock Company. These clock, true to Durfee’s standard, are the higher grade examples. They almost always have skillfully painted tablets. Often the tablets are signed by the artist D. J. Steele. Several copies of Lemuel Curtis’ Girandole have been found. These are outstanding copies of the original version and also share many Waltham components. By 1930, he is more involved in repairing clocks then he is in selling and or assembling them.

Today, Walter Durfee is remember for making a superior product. This is a wonderful opportunity to purchase an outstanding example.


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