Form & Function:
The Decorative Art of Telling Time
An Exhibit of Cumberland County Tall Case Clocks
June 18 - October 22, 2005
Cumberland County Historical Society
The tall case clock is a wonderful synthesis of form and function. The clocks in this exhibit are much more than devices that tell the time. While the movements function as timepieces, often counting the phase of the moon and the day of the month, the dials and the cases in which the mechanisms are housed are remarkable works of decorative art. Incorporating the latest time-keeping technology into a skillfully crafted aesthetic object, the tall case clock was a major investment, perhaps the owner's most valuable household possession. Each tall clock was unique and was often embellished to make a grand statement. They were objects of what we might today call 'conspicuous consumption', and testified to one's social and economic status.
This essay offers a brief history of the tall clock, beginning with its origins in Europe in the latter part of the 17th century, and setting forth some aspects of its production here in America. I have also compiled a concise summary of what we know about the tall case clockmakers of Cumberland County.
David W. Bowers, Guest Curator
The Pendulum and Accurate Timekeeping
When the tall clocks of Cumberland County were produced, the ability to tell time accurately was a relatively new phenomenon. John Greer made the movement for the earliest known signed and dated tall clock made in Cumberland County in the year 1772. The invention that made it possible, the pendulum, had been invented by the Dutch astronomer, mathematician and horologist, Christiaan Huygens, in 1657. Or rather, he was the first to successfully use the pendulum to control the escapement of a clock. The first person to suggest the use of the pendulum as a timekeeper was Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo Galilei later discovered that, regardless of the width of the arc, the pendulum always has the same swing time, but neither ever made a clock.
Huygens related his plan for a pendulum clock to Saloman Coster, a clockmaker at The Hague, who was awarded a patent for twenty-one years. The first clocks produced by Coster had pendulums about ten inches long and beat twice per second, but it soon became clear that a longer pendulum beating once per second was superior.
The first English pendulum clocks were made by the firm of Fromanteel. This Dutch family had been established in England for many years and John Fromanteel was sent to work under Coster to learn how to construct the new clocks. They were advertised for sale in England by the end of 1658.
The other advancement that made accurate timekeeping possible was the English invention of the anchor escapement around 1671. It was a great improvement over the verge and foliot mechanism and allowed the use of a long pendulum with a small arc, a small arc having been found to be more accurate. Robert Hooke, who was also responsible for several other important developments including the spring suspension of the pendulum and the wheelcutting machine, is often cited as the inventor of the anchor escapement, but there is no direct evidence for this. William Clement made a clock for King's College, Cambridge in 1671 that has an anchor escapement but that escapement may be a later modification. Joseph Knibb supplied anchor escapements for two clocks at Oxford in the year 1670 and may actually have the firmest claim to be the inventor of this crucial connection between the pendulum and the movement itself.
Before the use of the pendulum, a clock could gain or loose as much as five minutes a day. The new clocks reduced this to a matter of seconds a day. This newfound accuracy of course had a dramatic impact on society, allowing human activity to be regulated as never before.
The new timepieces used a 39-inch pendulum beating once per second and required rather large weights in order to keep the clock running for eight days. The exact effective length of the pendulum – and thus the speed of the clock – was adjusted by a nut that raised or lowered the bob, the weight at the end of the pendulum. The earliest pendulum clocks were designed to sit on a bracket attached to the wall. The tall case clock came about as a means to enclose and protect the long pendulum and the weights, and allowed the clock to be freestanding. The earliest tall clocks are all English; they seem to have been an English invention.
By 1680 England had become preeminent in clock making. This was due to the accomplishments of many highly skilled artisans, but Thomas Tompion is considered to be the most distinguished maker of this early period. In addition to 650 clocks he also made about 5,500 watches.
As movements became larger and wood replaced metal as a housing, a cabinetmaker was called upon to produce the case. It is ironic that most people tend to consider the case the 'clock' since the name on the dial is the maker of the movement. The identity of the casemaker is rarely known. The cabinetmaker Jacob Wain of Harrisburg did however sign the case that houses the elaborate Jacob Hendel movement that shows the time of sunrise and sunset throughout the year, and John E. Rose of New Bloomfield signed a case that houses a late R. D. Guthrie movement.
The Tall Clock in America
Clockmaking in America didn't begin until after 1700. The oldest known clock is dated 1709 and was made in Philadelphia by Abel Cottey, who was trained as a clockmaker in Devonshire, England and worked there before moving his family to the colonies. Most of the first clockmakers in America were immigrants from England and their clocks were made according to English principles. Samuel Hill, one of the most prolific clockmakers in nearby Harrisburg, learned his trade in London and came to Dauphin County in 1785.
Many of the early immigrants were Quakers, as was Cottey, and the first clockmaking 'schools' were family based. Peter Stretch, another early English Quaker clockmaker, had worked for several years at Leek in Staffordshire before immigrating with his wife to Philadelphia in 1701.
While the spring-driven 'bracket' clock – so-called because it usually sat on a shelf or mantle – had become very popular in England after 1725, especially in London, the first clocks made in this country were almost exclusively tall clocks. There are only a handful of makers in this country that are known before 1730, and it wasn't until the middle of the 18th century that clocks were produced in significant numbers. Philadelphia and Boston, and later Connecticut, were the early centers of production.
The earliest makers often used parts produced in England. Components of the movement like dials, pulleys, weights and keys, and decorative items like spandrels, case hardware, metal column capitals and finials, could be purchased from American merchants who imported them.
Still, the early maker had to be proficient at many things, such as forging, casting, turning and engraving. These are all processes that could only be learned under the direction and supervision of a master. Under the apprenticeship system a youth of fourteen or so was bound by a contract to a tradesman, usually for seven years. After fulfilling his obligation and learning the necessary skills he was free to set up a business on his own. Since similar skills are involved, the clockmaker might also pursue such allied trades as silversmithing or jewelry making. The early clockmaker may also have made surveying instruments and small tools, and repairing of all sorts of metal items was often an important part of his business.
By 1750 Philadelphia was known for the fine craftsmanship of repairing clocks and watches, constructing clock movements and building fine cases for them. The Philadelphia makers trained apprentices who moved into lesser-populated areas. One of the most successful of these was Benjamin Chandlee, also a Quaker, and the only known apprentice of Abel Cottey. Chandlee emigrated from Ireland in 1702, and after his apprenticeship, he married Cottey's daughter, Sarah, and moved to Nottingham, Maryland (originally part of Chester County). His son and subsequent progeny continued the business for many years and had a major influence on Maryland clockmaking. Baltimore and Annapolis later became major centers for production of elaborately inlaid Federal period tall case clocks, and these areas clearly had a significant influence on the later Cumberland County clock cases.
The German Influence
While English ideas in clockmaking predominated in colonial America, there was a significant German influence, especially in central Pennsylvania. George Hoff came to America in 1765 and settled in Lancaster where he worked until his death in 1816. He and his son John employed and trained many others. An apprentice of Hoff, Frederick Heisely, moved to Frederick, Maryland in 1784 where he also made surveyors' instruments, and he eventually relocated his business to Harrisburg around 1811. Jacob Hendel, one of Carlisle's finest makers, learned the trade in Lancaster, possibly as an apprentice to the Hoffs.
Two other German emigrants who worked in York were also very important. Peter Schütz came from Switzerland by way of Germany in 1755, and John Fisher arrived about the same time. They each produced over two hundred clocks. Fisher was quite young when he came to America and he probably received early training from Schütz. Bernard Hendel, Jacob's younger brother, received his training in Lancaster from George Fisher, youngest son of John Fisher. Schütz is thought to have transmitted an unusual striking system – known as the 'J-Hook'– that was incorporated into the movements of Jacob Herwick, one of Carlisle's early clockmakers.
There is an interesting article in the Maryland Gazette of September 1790 about a timepiece that John Fisher made that 'exhibits the time of the Sun's rising and setting'. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Jacob Hendel's clock with this feature.
The Clock Case
As we noted before, case making was usually a separate trade. The buyer of a clock movement might order the case himself from a cabinetmaker or have the clockmaker arrange to have it made. The earliest clocks made in Cumberland County had cases in the Chippendale style with bold scroll pediments, flame finials and ogee bracket feet. They featured brass dials that are often beautifully engraved. Painted dials appeared around 1780 and gradually replaced the brass dial altogether. Most of these so-called 'white' dials were manufactured in England. The move from the brass to the painted dial was accompanied by a transition to the Federal style case. Inspired by the furniture designers George Hepplewhite and, somewhat later, Thomas Sheraton, the Federal style has a lighter spirit. Scrolls are much more delicate, carving gives way to inlay and the 'French' foot replaces the ogee foot. Each geographical area developed its own regional variations, however, and individual cabinetmakers often introduced novel and creative elements.
Diminishing Production of the Tall Clock
Tall case clocks continued to be produced well into the 19th century, but they began to face competition from much cheaper, mass-produced wall and mantle clocks. Eli Terry, the so-called 'father' of the clock manufacturing industry, began to harness waterpower in Connecticut soon after 1800. In 1814 he applied for a patent and it was granted two years later. By standardizing movement components he was able to produce clocks in quantity and much more efficiently.
The new clock factories produced both the movements and the cases. Using machinery, wheel blanks and other components could be made in great numbers at low cost. Whereas a tall clock maker might be able to turn out twenty or so clocks a year, by the middle of the 19th century a large manufacturer could produce a hundred and fifty thousand shelf clocks.
Cumberland County Clockmakers
As noted above, Greer made the earliest known signed and dated Cumberland County tall clock. Tax lists show that he lived in Carlisle from 1767 until his death in 1774, not long after he make this clock in 1772. Not much else is known about him. He rented the lot where he lived and worked in Carlisle. An inventory from his estate conducted in Philadelphia shows a large book debt there, which probably means that he had moved to Carlisle from Philadelphia and still had clients there.
Jacob Herwick and Cousins
A Jacob and an Anthony Herwick are listed as bakers in the early tax records. It is believed that Jacob Herwick the clockmaker was born about 1751, the son of Jacob. Anthony's two sons, William, born in 1769, and Joseph, born in 1778, also became clockmakers. All three boys seem to have apprenticed in York but under different masters since the movements that they are known to have produced are distinctly different. (No clocks have been identified as having been made by Joseph Herwick however.) It is thought that Jacob got his training from Peter Schütz and William from Peter Schwartz. Jacob may have worked for Schütz as a journeyman for a year or so after he finished his apprenticeship. He married a woman by the name of Barbara Holtzbaum, whose brother was a silversmith, in York in 1775.
A Jacob Herwick is listed in the Cumberland County tax records as early as 1774 but he is not identified as a clockmaker until 1779. In 1786 he advertised that he had moved his shop to Pomfret Street, near Pitt Street. The last time he shows up in the tax lists is 1789, but the 1790 census says that his household consisted of four women, two boys under sixteen, one boy over sixteen, and himself. In 1791 he sold the Pomfret Street property, but he appears in the 1793 Septennial Census as a clockmaker. There is no further record of him in Carlisle except for a letter dated 1798 that he wrote from jail to his friend James Hamilton asking for help in getting released. He had been arrested for assault and battery. He also seems to have experienced some marital discord. In 1788 he placed a notice in Kline's Gazette stating:
As I have sufficient reason to believe that my wife Barbara intends to act contrary to my interest in a family capacity I take this method to forewarn all persons from giving her credit on my account, as I am determined not to pay any debts of her contracting from this date.
He appears in the York 1800 census as living with a male under sixteen years of age. It is not known where he went after that.
Jacob Herwick's work is of exceptional quality and inventiveness. There are seven known numbered and signed movements, Nos. 9, 22, 28, 39, 45, 49 and 67. There are however at least three others known that are signed but not numbered. We can attribute others to Herwick by the presence of the unusual 'J-Hook' striking mechanism and other characteristics.
William Herwick is listed in the 1800 Census in Carlisle as a silversmith. No other Herwicks appear in that Census and none appear in any of the Carlisle tax lists in 1795 through 1799. But both Joseph and Jacob Herwick appear in the 1793 Septennial Census as clockmakers.
We know that both William and his younger brother Joseph ended up in Greensburg, Westmoreland County. William never married and died there in 1833. Joseph is listed as a chairmaker in Greensburg and died in 1832. He had a son named William who became a clockmaker and who perhaps received his training from his Uncle William. It is certainly possible that Jacob Herwick followed his cousins out to Westmoreland County, but no evidence of this has been discovered so far.
The Hendel Brothers
Jacob Hendel (1771-1836) came to Carlisle from Lancaster in 1796 and was to become perhaps Cumberland County's most prolific clockmaker. It is possible that he learned the trade from one of the Hoff family. His brother George (1776-1842) arrived six years later in 1802 and carried on the trade of silversmith. The CCHS is fortunate to have many examples of his fine work. In 1810 Bernard (1787-1849), sixteen years younger than Jacob, also came to live and work in Carlisle. Bernard received his training from George Fisher. Jacob brought Bernard into the clockmaking business in Carlisle and several dials are signed 'J. and B. Hendel'.
Jacob Hendel was very involved in community affairs. He was active in the German Reformed Church, a Justice of the Peace, an Associate Judge and a member of the Town Council, serving as president in 1819. He was elected a trustee of Dickinson College in 1808; his Father, William Hendel, had been appointed one of the founding trustees in 1783. From 1823-28 Jacob was Register and Recorder of Deeds of Cumberland County. Bernard seems to have lived a much more quiet life, his active participation outside of work limited to the church and the fire company.
Robert D. Guthrie and Family
Robert Darlington Guthrie (1765-1840) was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of carpenter and cabinetmaker James Guthrie (born 1739). James Guthrie followed his Father, Robert Guthrie, Sr. and his brother, Robert Guthrie, Jr. to the Carlisle area around 1772. Both Robert Guthries were also cabinetmakers and carpenters.
Robert D. Guthrie was a clockmaker, watchmaker and silversmith who advertised in the local newspaper between 1787 and 1834. Tax records from 1795 to 1817 list him as a silversmith. James R. (from 1828 to1841), Robert D. and William (1793) are listed as clockmakers and watchmakers. Robert R. and James D. (Robert D. Guthrie's sons) are listed as clockmakers/watchmakers in partnership from 1824 to 1839. The 1832 tax record lists Robert D. Guthrie as a cabinetmaker.
It is quite possible that one or more of the Guthrie family were the case makers of many of our local clocks. Unfortunately no clock case has as yet been discovered with a Guthrie signature.
Thomas Brooks moved to Carlisle from Lancaster around 1802 and then relocated to Harrisburg in 1807. He placed an advertisement in Kline's Gazette in 1802 but he does not appear in the 1802 tax records.
An advertisement in the Carlisle Gazette in 1790 states that Steel “has commenced business” as a “Clock and Watch Maker.” Another ad in the same paper in 1797 notes that he is continuing the business and that he has hired “some of the first workmen from Europe.” He appears as a 'married freeman' in the 1789 tax lists and as a 'clockmaker' in the 1793 Septennial Census.
An unusual curved rack hook in the striking system of one of his movements suggests that Steel may have been trained in Appoquinimink (now Odessa), Delaware by the Scottish immigrant clockmaker Duncan Beard who was working there from the late 1760's until the 1790's. The name Steel is also an old Delaware family name.
The Carlisle Herald of July 19, 1805 states that his death was “occasioned by rashly drinking cold water when overheated.”
Sturgeon worked in Shippensburg and appears in the tax lists 1811-1835.
Other Clockmakers in Cumberland County
There are many other makers who appear in either the county tax lists as clock or watchmakers or who placed advertisements in the local newspapers stating they were in the business of clockmaking; but no examples of their work have been identified to date.
Clark, Amos, c. 1835
Dudley, John, c. 1818-19
Ebaugh, Henry, c. 1822
Evy, Jacob, c. 1799
Gemmill, John, c. 1765
Guthrie, James R., c. 1828-41
Guthrie, William, c. 1793
Hays, Samuel, c. 1793-1805
Herwick, Joseph, c. 1793
Leinhart, Christopher, c. 1782-83
Mochler, George, c. 1799
Officer, John Jr., c. 1826-37
Quigley, John, c. 1823-37
Shields, Joseph, c. 1817-28
Smith, George, c. 1780-83
Smith, ? (an early partner of Robert D. Guthrie), c. 1787
Steel, Ephriam, c. 1822-44
Thompson, William, c. 1786-1802
Vickery, William, c. 1793
Weaver, Jacob, c. 1779-1802
Bradley, Jacob, c. 1810
Frazer, Joseph A., c. 1824
Gorgas, William, c. 1810
Guthrie, Robert R. (son of Robert D. Guthrie) and James D. Guthrie (in partnership), c. 1824-39
Brockins, William, c. 1793-1829
I would like to thank Linda Witmer, Nicole McMullen, Richard Tritt and the other members of the staff of the Cumberland County Historical Society who gave me their advice and assistance in organizing this exhibit.
Edward F. LaFond, Jr. shared his encyclopedic knowledge of clocks and clockmakers and provided the movements that are on display. He and his son William A. LaFond have given freely of their time and expertise to make this exhibit possible.
Merri Lou Schaumann afforded me the benefit of her extensive research by looking over the Cumberland County clockmakers material and adding new information. She contributed much of the Herwick story.
Thanks to Peter Seibert and Wendell Zercher of the Heritage Center of Lancaster County for the loan of the early wheelcutting machine and scribe.
Stacy Souder of Rowe's Print Shop worked with me to produce the brochure.
I would also like to thank my wife Brooke Wiley for her patience with my frequent requests for her opinion on sundry details.
And I wholeheartedly thank the people who so graciously loaned their tall clocks for this exhibit.