From the Intern Desk: Tall Case Clock

Browse by Category

Intrepid intern Tara has kindly agreed to assist me in sharing more information about items in our collection on the blog. So, without any further ado, here is Tara’s take on our tall case clock:

One of the most prized items in our collection is the 1797 tall case clock. This clock tells more than just time, it is a monument to the history of Annapolis and its citizens.

The first story the clock reveals is that of its maker, the Annapolis cabinetmaker John Shaw (1745-1829). Evidence suggests Shaw arrived in Annapolis around 1763 and soon set up shop with fellow cabinetmaker Archibald Chisholm. The two crafted and sold furniture, and imported goods ranging from tools to Jamaican brown sugar. Shaw is largely responsible for furnishing the Maryland State House, a commission that served as an advertisement for his name and craftsmanship. The wealthy elite of Annapolis, families such as the Carrolls, Lloyds, Chases, and Pacas, hired Shaw to build them various pieces of furniture. Due to their quality construction, Shaw furniture pieces have survived the test of time. Desks, bookcases, sideboards, clocks, and other pieces can still be viewed in some of Annapolis’s historic houses.

John Shaw’s Shop in Annapolis, MD (From the Historic American Buildings Survey)

The second story is that of the clock itself. The tall case clock was built circa 1797 using clock works made by Joseph White in London. Mahogany and mahogany veneers with light and dark inlays make up the primary wood. The secondary woods used are tulip poplar and yellow pine. The clock is 97 ¼ inches in height and 17 ¾ inches wide with a depth of 7 ½ inches.The clock reappears in the historical record in 1925, on the list of items from the Hammond-Harwood House  sold at auction.  Since it was in the House at that point, it must have belonged to Hester Ann Harwood (the last private resident of the Hammond-Harwood House), and presumably originally belonged to one of her Chase, Callahan, or Harwood ancestors. The clock sold for $785.00 at the auction and remained in private hands until 2007, when a relative of the woman who had purchased it donated it to the House.

The Tall Case Clock, made circa 1797 by John Shaw

The clock also provides an outlet through which we can understand the culture and practice of timekeeping in the 18th century. Today, we have clocks in almost every room of our houses, and with the advent of cell phones we have the ability to track time wherever we go without the use of a watch. This reality is a result of industrialization and technological advancements which make it easy to build and sell clocks at an affordable rate, but this has not always been the case. In the 18th century, clocks were the property of society’s elite. Ordinary people living and working in the 18th century regulated their day by the passing of the sun across the sky, so clocks were not necessary household items. The sundial in the Hammond Harwood House’s backyard serves as a reminder of this practice. However, there were some elite individuals who did purchase clocks. The home of George Mason, Gunston Hall, conducted an analysis of estate inventories, and found that wealthy families that owned clocks placed them in public rooms, such as the hall, passage, or dining room, so all members of the family could have access to them. Thus, it appears that the clock did not dictate the daily activities of the average 18th century person as it does our present lives. When we wake up, arrive at work or school, eat, etc. are all defined by time. In fact, it is almost unimaginable to conceptualize life without the ticking of a clock, but that reality is one that was familiar to all but the wealthy in the 18th century.

Posted on Feb 28, 2012 in , , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
Scroll to Top