Charles Kirk of Bristol, Conn. A musical shelf clock. Over sized Empire case. TT-67

This is one of four currently known examples associated with this clockmaker. A fine example is now on display in Bristol, Connecticut’s American Clock and Watch Museum. This clock is pictured in Chris Bailey’s, TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF CLOCKS AND WATCHES (1975), on page 142. It is interesting to note that this clock retains a label that reads, “PATENT / EIGHT DAY REPEATING / MUSICAL / BRASS CLOCKS, / MANUFACTURED AND SOLD BY / KIRK AND TODD, / WOLCOTT, CONN.” The firm Kirk and Todd is listed as being in Wolcott in 1837-1845. Charles Kirk is listed as working in Bristol before this partnership. Kirk was in Bristol from 1826 to 1836. A third clock is reported to be in a private collection on the West Coast. 

This rare oversized empire case is fitted Kirks’ patent 8-day spring-powered movement. This version features his cast-iron backplate and rack and snail actuated strike train. The clock is designed to strike the hour on a bell mounted inside the case onto the backboard. It is a large bell and sounds terrific when rung. This example is also fitted with a whistle pipe barrel organ. Amazingly, both mechanisms retain their original brass springs. 

The 16 wooden pipe organ is powered by a huge and powerful brass spring. It is encased in a steel canister. The spring is connected to a large fusee cone by a nicely made chain. This combination powers a mechanism that drives a set of bellows located at the bottom of the case. The bellows have been wonderfully restored and provide adequate airflow. The air from the bellows is forced into the wooden pipes. The valves at the bottom of each pipe open and close depending on the position of the brass pins that are inserted into a wooden drum. The drum rotates to schedule the song. This drum is pinned for seven songs—one song for each day of the week. The upper clock movement sets the organ in motion each day. This is set up to happen around noontime. This movement needs to be wound once a week. Musical movements are very complicated to manufacture. Very few were originally made and, as a result, are rare. Although a fair number of clockmakers advertised making them, they are seldom seen on the open marketplace. Their original production cost must have been prohibitive. 

The case that houses this mechanical wonder is the ultimate expression of the Empire period. It is oversized, measuring approximately 41 inches tall, 24.25 inches wide, and 10 inches deep. The form is called a column and cornice. The case is veneered in richly figured mahogany. Much of the veneer is laid out in a vertical pattern—the sections of crotch veneer cascade towards the bottom of the case. The lower door is fitted with a reverse painted tablet. This is original to this clock and is in excellent condition. The pictorial scene has virtually no loss. The middle panel or lower section of the upper door is fitted with a pipe organ facade. These 15 gilt pipes are graduated in size and have been restored. The design is copied from the example displayed in Bristol. These are not operational and do not make noise. The pipes that do make music are located inside the case. The upper section of the door is fitted with clear glass. Through this, one can view the painted dial. Just below the boldly formed cornice molding is a section that features a mirror. 

The painted iron dial is of Boston origin. Appropriately, the spandrel areas are decorated with musical harps. Much of the gilt work is raised on gesso. A golden band frames the time ring. Roman figures mark each of the twelve hours. This dial is signed by the Maker. It reads, “C. Kirk / BRISTOL, CT.” Nicely shaped brass hands indicate the time. 

Charles Kirk was born in 1800 and died in 1865. He worked with clocks for most of his life in was an innovative designer of clock movements. Many of his ideas advanced the design of movement technology. He is probably best known for his use of a cast-iron backplate in movement designs and his numerous marine movement patents. Over his career, he worked in several Connecticut locations. The first was in Bristol, 1826 to 1836. The next eight years were spent in Wolcott, Connecticut, and then four years in Hamden till about 1850. He finished his career in New Haven. 

TT-67

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