Tall Case Clock

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2004 reproduction of the Tall Case Clock. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.Artist/Maker: Thomas Dring (active 1786-1799), West Chester, Pennsylvania; Benjamin C. Ferris (1780-1867), Philadelphia[1]

Created: c. 1803

Origin/Purchase: Pennsylvania

Materials: black walnut case; brass dial

Dimensions: 229.9 x 53.3 x 26.7 (90 1/2 x 21 x 10 1/2 in.)

Location: Kitchen

Owner: Reproduction made for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 2004

Historical Notes: Jefferson purchased this plain, eight-day case clock in 1803, and it was probably used in the Monticello Kitchen. Isaac Briggs, a surveyor then residing in Philadelphia, arranged for the purchase from the prominent clockmaker Benjamin Ferris. The clock case has little ornamentation other than the freestanding columns supporting its flat-topped hod. Curiously, the dial bears the name of Thomas Dring, a little-known West Chester, Pennsylvania clockmaker who returned to his native England just before 1800.[2]

Whether Dring or Ferris made the clock works in unclear. Although Dring's signature is on the clock dial, Ferris clearly completed the clock in 1803 to Jefferson's order:

"Pursuant to the directions of Isaac Brigg I have completed a Clock for thee. he informed me that it was not in any degree for ornamental purposes, and particularly requested that it might be made plain; the workmanship is god, and the regulation nearly perfected. I had the rod of the pendulum made of well seasoned wood, it being less affected by the changes of the weather than either Brass or Steel."[3]

Jefferson paid Ferris seventy dollars for the clock, its cae, and shipping costs.[4] It was certainly intended for use in a room outside of the main house at Monticello, as Jefferson thought the Great Clock in the Entrance Hall "renders all chamber clocks unnecessary."[5] the fact that the clock suffered considerable smoke damage in Jefferson's time suggests the kitchen as a likely site for its placement. Isaac, one of the Monticello's slaves, recalled that the only time Jefferson went into the kitchen was to wind the clock.[6] A kitchen clock is also listed in Jefferson's Memorandum Book as one of four clocks repaired in 1817.[7]

John Hartwell Cocke, a friend of Jefferson's who was instrumental in founding the University of Virginia, purchased the clock at the Dispersal Sale in 1827 for fifty-five dollars.[8] His construction superintendent, Robert Jones, picked it up from Monticello, and wrote to Cocke of its poor condition:

"I have gotten the clock from Monticello; and indeed it was the most smoke dried thing of the kind I ever saw. Ned gave the case a rubing [sic] over with hot water and soap which helped it but a little-I find the cap of the case to be mahogany the other parts walnut...The face and inside works of the clock were almost as badly smoked as the case and it is a task to get them in order, I have however gotten Cullen at work on the clock who says it is a most excellent piece of work and that there is no doubt of its being a regular good time piece when put in good order."[9]

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 379.
  2. Thomas J. Metzgar and James B. Whikser, comps. Pennsylvania Clockmakers and watchmakers, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths, A Checklist (Apollo PA: Closson Press, 1989), 33; Brooks Palmer, Book of American Clocks (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1928), 183; Margaret Berwind Schiffer, Furniture and its Makers of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966), 73; Arthur E. James, Chester County Clocks and their Makers (1947; reprint Chester PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1976), 103-107.
  3. Benjamin Ferris to Thomas Jefferson, Philadelphia, June 20, 1803. Thomas Jefferson Papers. Library of Congress. Recipient copy available online.
  4. Jefferson, June 8, 1803, in MB, 2:1102.
  5. Jefferson to Robert Leslie, December 12, 1783, Thomas Jefferson Papers, University of Virginia. The only other clock purchased after the Great Clock was an astronomical clock without a striking mechanism, which Jefferson kept near his cabinet for use in astronomical observations.
  6. Bear, Jefferson at Monticello, 12-13.
  7. Jefferson, February 15, 1817, in MB, 2:1331.
  8. July 28, 1827 entry, recorded under January 1828, Daybook of John Harwell Cocke, Cocke Family Papers, University of Virginia.
  9. Robert S. Jones to John H. Cocke, January 27, 1827, ibid.

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