James Wilson of Belfast, Ireland. An Irish Chippendale tall clock.

James Wilson is listed in Brian Loomes, Clockmakers and Watchmakers of the World. He was born in 1720 and died in 1789. He was at work as early as 1749. It appears he numbered many of his movements. Numbers range from 4 – 549. Bill Seaby wrote an article in the Antiquarian Horology in June of 1983 about him. Wilson claimed to be the first to import white dials in Belfast in 1782.

This tall elegant and well proportioned case is constructed in San Domingo mahogany. This would have been one of the first furniture forms to use this newly imported wood to the island from regions of the Spanish Islands and then latter Cuba. Mahogany and other goods from his Majesty’s plantations were illegal to import on to that island until sometime around 1730. This case form took well advantage of that new wood which was a departure from the marquetry style cases that were previously in fashion.

This case form is traditional found in Ireland. The bonnet is built on a larger scale than that of the base and the waist sections. A larger bonnet is necessary to accommodate the lager dial size of 13 inches. This case sits flat to the floor on an applied bracket base. The base is veneered with a wonderfully figured panel. The front corners of this base are canted. The angled surface is decorated with a blind fretwork pattern. The long narrow waist section is fitted with a large door that is shaped ta the top and trimmed with a molded edge. The mahogany selected for this application is nicely figured and quite dense. The front corners of the waist section are fitted with inset quarter columns that are fluted. These terminate in turned wooden capitals. This quarter column detail is successful in softening lines of the waist section and accentuating the narrowness of the form.

The bonnet or hood features a swan’s neck pediment. The molded arches terminate in carved wooden rosettes. These center a carved wooden cartouche. A panel of blind fretwork is positioned just below the arches. This frieze is skillfully carved. Below this molding is the bonnet door which is fitted with glass. Positioned at the forward corners of the hood are slightly tapered and fluted pillars. These terminate in ring turned capitals.

The square brass dial measures approximately 13 inches across. It is interesting to note that the London standard was 12 inches at this time. The applied cast brass spandrels feature a large cherub head and incorporate floral motifs in their design. The chapter ring and subsidiary seconds dial are also applied. The applied rings and the center section of the dial have been treated with a silver wash. This silver wash treatment provides and attractive contrast with the yellow color of the brass. The hours are indicated by Roman style numerals. Arabic numerals are used in each of the five minute locations. The center of this dial is skillfully engraved. The hour and minute hands are easy to view against this textured backdrop. Please note the ring turned winding and calendar day apertures. This dial is signed on the chapter ring by the Maker, “James Wilson” giving his working location as “Belfast.”

The movement is constructed in brass. The cast brass plates are supported by four ring turned brass posts. The gearing is also brass and the pinions are hardened steel. The movement is weight driven and designed to run eight days on a full wind. This mechanism will strike each hour on a bell that is mounted above the plates. The strike train is a rack and snail design. The winding barrels are grooved. The movement is supported by a seaboard. The pendulum features a metal rod and a brass faced lead bob. This movement is not numbered.

This clock was made circa 1780 and stands just a touch over 97 inches or 8 feet 1.5 inches tall.

Irish tall case clocks are enjoying a surge in popularity today. As a result, they have become difficult for us to find and inventory. Looking at this example, one can see the influence that the Irish immigrants had on the best forms of American furniture.


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