Are Eli Terry Pillar & Scroll Clocks All Mahogany?

Duane Deppen

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While viewing a YouTube video about early Eli Terry pillar & scroll clocks I saw a comment that the clocks are all mahogany. He said that the pediment is from crotch mahogany.
I have tinkered with wood projects for most of my life and that comment floored me. I don't claim to be an expert in anything, but I find it hard to believe that the pediment is mahogany. That wood looks like walnut to me.
Can anyone help me with this issue? I want to find out because I try to describe clocks accurately, and since I don't know everything I am always open to correction. Attached is the picture I was viewing. Thank you.

Eli Terry Clock.jpg
 

Jim DuBois

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The vast majority of these clocks are mahogany. Some will have maple enhancements and on occasion, there are some done up in a lot of curly maples. But, usually mahogany veneers and some solid mahogany.
 

Duane Deppen

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The vast majority of these clocks are mahogany. Some will have maple enhancements and on occasion, there are some done up in a lot of curly maples. But, usually mahogany veneers and some solid mahogany.
Thank you for the information. Boy, did I learn something. Can you recommend any resources that would describe the types of wood and methods used in clock case building through history?
 

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Thank you for the information. Boy, did I learn something. Can you recommend any resources that would describe the types of wood and methods used in clock case building through history?
Well, I don't know of any single source to assist you. I have a few hundred books, waste hours on the internet, read everything I can get my hands on relating to the period of clocks I am interested in, have bought and sold a few hundred clocks, have restored quite a few, and have built more than 100 clocks. My recommendation is to focus in on a specific period of clocks. Then you will know if you are interested in cabinet shop built cases, or those made in huge lots at later dates, etc. My area of interest has generally been American clocks, usually weight driven, made before the Civil war. I do wander into spring-driven clocks of that period, most specifically those by Ives/Atkins/Birge and Fuller, etc. of the same period.

There are some good publications that cover a lot of details, one such publication is "Extreme Restoration" by Thomas Temple. I bought the online PDF version as I find it easier to find what I am looking for there. ( No vested interest) You will find a lot of good information there as to how things are made, what to use for doing this or that, etc. I don't take everything said there as gospel but on the whole, it is a big step in the right direction.
 
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rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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While viewing a YouTube video about early Eli Terry pillar & scroll clocks I saw a comment that the clocks are all mahogany. He said that the pediment is from crotch mahogany.
I have tinkered with wood projects for most of my life and that comment floored me. I don't claim to be an expert in anything, but I find it hard to believe that the pediment is mahogany. That wood looks like walnut to me.
Can anyone help me with this issue? I want to find out because I try to describe clocks accurately, and since I don't know everything I am always open to correction. Attached is the picture I was viewing. Thank you.

View attachment 633352
I guess I am unclear about what was mean by "all mahogany". Entirely constructed from? All the clocks are mahogany? Not sure what's actually meant.

Most "factory" ww shelf clocks of this period, including the P&S, are mahogany and mahogany veneer on a soft wood carcass, typically pine with pine secondary. I have had an Atkins transition clock where chestnut was one of the secondary's, specifically the backboard. Sure other local woods were used, too. I guess that's basically a repetition of what Jim has said.

Yes, there are the definitely the exceptions, especially for cases made outside of main centers of production. The cases of some ww were never veneered and are softwood grained or stained, or at least they once were until some yahoo skinned it. I have a MA country pillar and scroll by Simeon Chittenden that is now bare pine but was undoubtedly once painted.

As Jim sez, some of these pillar and scrolls may be embellished with contrasting light woods like tiger or birds eye.

RM
 

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I was probably the one who left the comment on the video. I really hope I did not offend you. Crotch-cut mahogany vs crotch-cut walnut look quite similar to each other, and can be difficult to tell apart. A lot of people regularly mis-label items made from either wood species. There is just as much confusion between mahogany vs rosewood. When it comes to walnut and mahogany, the two woods would definitely end up with quite a different tone/colour if used on the same piece (furniture/clock) unless the individual sections were treated with special colour matches to make one wood look like the other, which requires a lot of extra effort. If you add a stain (any stain, really) to walnut, it almost instantly turns a rich brownish tone, even when using a reddish stain on top. To match the mahogany to the walnut, the stain would need to be a deeper colour with a greenish cast to cancel out some of the red.

As a side note, walnut had some popular periods. It was in high style in the early 1700s in Europe (often with crotch or burl veneers being used), then it went out of style in favour of mahogany. In the Victorian era (1860-1900) it came back into fashion with a lot of the revival styles, and it became popular again around the 1920s where you see thousands of Deco era dining room sets, Victrolas and other furniture all in walnut. In the period when Pillar and Scroll clocks were being made, walnut was not used very frequently. I never say never, as there are always exceptions.

I've attached some decent images for reference that are as close to average cuts or average grain patterns of both plain walnut vs mahogany, and crotch walnut vs mahogany. It's extremely had to find "good" general photos since lighting and finishes will affect how they appear, and there are a lot of subtleties and nuances that are really only apparent when you've handled some actual lumber or worked with many cuts of veneers in both species.

Walnut Veneer.jpg WALNUT-CROTCH--CURL-VENEER--2.jpg MH-02-Q13-Mahogany.jpg mahogany-crotch-veneer.jpg
 
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Duane Deppen

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I guess I am unclear about what was mean by "all mahogany". Entirely constructed from? All the clocks are mahogany? Not sure what's actually meant.

Most "factory" ww shelf clocks of this period, including the P&S, are mahogany and mahogany veneer on a soft wood carcass, typically pine with pine secondary. I have had an Atkins transition clock where chestnut was one of the secondary's, specifically the backboard. Sure other local woods were used, too. I guess that's basically a repetition of what Jim has said.

Yes, there are the definitely the exceptions, especially for cases made outside of main centers of production. The cases of some ww were never veneered and are softwood grained or stained, or at least they once were until some yahoo skinned it. I have a MA country pillar and scroll by Simeon Chittenden that is now bare pine but was undoubtedly once painted.

As Jim sez, some of these pillar and scrolls may be embellished with contrasting light woods like tiger or birds eye.

RM
Thanks for the comments. I meant to say what is visible on the outside to the common viewer. "Are the visible parts all mahogany?" Veneer or solid is not my concern. Nor is the soft wooden carcass that the veneer is attached to. I come across a lot of clocks, and I have a YouTube channel that I showcase some of the interesting clocks. I just don't want to give incorrect information when I am describing them. I feel I need to correct a couple of my videos now.
I was probably the one who left the comment on the video. I really hope I did not offend you. Crotch-cut mahogany vs crotch-cut walnut look quite similar to each other, and can be difficult to tell apart. A lot of people regularly mis-label items made from either wood species. There is just as much confusion between mahogany vs rosewood. When it comes to walnut and mahogany, the two woods would definitely end up with quite a different tone/colour if used on the same piece (furniture/clock) unless the individual sections were treated with special colour matches to make one wood look like the other, which requires a lot of extra effort. If you add a stain (any stain, really) to walnut, it almost instantly turns a rich brownish tone, even when using a reddish stain on top. To match the mahogany to the walnut, the stain would need to be a deeper colour with a greenish cast to cancel out some of the red.

As a side note, walnut had some popular periods. It was in high style in the early 1700s in Europe (often with crotch or burl veneers being used), then it went out of style in favour of mahogany. In the Victorian era (1860-1900) it came back into fashion with a lot of the revival styles, and it became popular again around the 1920s where you see thousands of Deco era dining room sets, Victrolas and other furniture all in walnut. In the period when Pillar and Scroll clocks were being made, walnut was not used very frequently. I never say never, as there are always exceptions.

I've attached some decent images for reference that are as close to average cuts or average grain patterns of both plain walnut vs mahogany, and crotch walnut vs mahogany. It's extremely had to find "good" general photos since lighting and finishes will affect how they appear, and there are a lot of subtleties and nuances that are really only apparent when you've handled some actual lumber or worked with many cuts of veneers in both species.

View attachment 633684 View attachment 633685 View attachment 633686 View attachment 633687
Thank you. I love the pictures. The comment was not made by you. It was a person that has often amazed me with his knowledge, (as you have just done). No one ever has to worry about offending me. I always strive for more knowledge and truth.

You put the issue into perspective when it comes to crotch-cut pieces. "It is difficult to tell the difference," makes me feel better about my error.

"When stained, the two woods would definitely end up with quite a different tone/colour if used on the same piece (furniture/clock) unless the individual sections were treated with special colour matches to make one wood look like the other, which requires a lot of extra effort."
This comment made me realize that I should consider that all of the same color wood is most likely the same wood. (with exceptions)
 

Sooth

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Yes definitely "with exceptions".

To my knowledge I have not seen any American clocks that mixed walnut and mahogany together, but many clocks mixed rosewood and mahogany together, as well as other wood species used primarily for purposeful contrast: bird's eye maple, ash, birch, etc. I had put together this article specifically relating to ogee clocks, but it does apply to many other early 1800s American made clocks:

Ogee Clocks - Veneer Combinations and Variations
 

Jim DuBois

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Just a couple of passing thoughts. And most of my comments are directed to tall case clockmaking here. Early on walnut use in cases is likely to come out of the Penn area more than elsewhere. Often very early American clocks, even some very formal "Philadelphia" and other civilized city clocks, were of walnut. Some walnut tall cases are found in lesser amounts in NJ, NY, etc. Further removed from areas of commerce we find walnut tall cases more prevalent and later as walnut was readily available, locally grown and processed, and certainly cheaper than importing mahogany. Later we find walnut, pine, and poplar tall cases in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, as well as more rural Penn etc. Almost no mahogany used in cases from central Ohio and westward. Strangely, clockmaking (woodworks in particular) for the greater part was rampant in Ohio, just a few made in Indiana, and no makers in Illinois.

IME walnut tends often to be a bit more gray-green in its finished condition than mahogany, and the grain is often just a bit more porous. But, I have been fooled more than once, particularly in photos of cases.

In shelf clocks, ogees, and other Conn/Mass/NY area cases of walnut are unusual. Some pillar and scroll clocks made in Penn are in walnut cases, but they tend to be exceptional in several other ways too, and are markedly different from the clock that started this thread.
 
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rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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Just a couple of passing thoughts. And most of my comments are directed to tall case clockmaking here. Early on walnut use in cases is likely to come out of the Penn area more than elsewhere. Often very early American clocks, even some very formal "Philadelphia" and other civilized city clocks, were of walnut. Some walnut tall cases are found in lesser amounts in NJ, NY, etc. Further removed from areas of commerce we find walnut tall cases more prevalent and later as walnut was readily available, locally grown and processed, and certainly cheaper than importing mahogany. Later we find walnut, pine, and poplar tall cases in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, as well as more rural Penn etc. Almost no mahogany used in cases from central Ohio and westward. Strangely, clockmaking (woodworks in particular) for the greater part was rampant in Ohio, just a few made in Indiana, and no makers in Illinois.

IME walnut tends often to be a bit more gray-green in its finished condition than mahogany, and the grain is often just a bit more porous. But, I have been fooled more than once, particularly in photos of cases.

In shelf clocks, ogees, and other Conn/Mass/NY area cases of walnut are unusual. Some pillar and scroll clocks made in Penn are in walnut cases, but they tend to be exceptional in several other ways too, and are markedly different from the clock that started this thread.
To throw a few other species onto the wood pile. Pine (often painted or covered with a tinted stain, though many pieces now skinned), cherry (also some originally painted/stained), and the maples (eg., tiger which also may have originally been stained/painted but now stripped to show the figure of the wood), and birch (now often stripped to reveal its figure). Sometimes clock cases and other case piece using these "lesser" woods would even be given a "mahoganized" finish to resemble that wood (e.g., I have 2 Chippendale ribbon backs made from maple and birch like that) or grained to resemble mahogany. Bass wood was popular in ME...not sure they made clock cases out of that, but it was used for a lot of other case pieces from that area.

RM
 

Duane Deppen

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Yes definitely "with exceptions".

To my knowledge I have not seen any American clocks that mixed walnut and mahogany together, but many clocks mixed rosewood and mahogany together, as well as other wood species used primarily for purposeful contrast: bird's eye maple, ash, birch, etc. I had put together this article specifically relating to ogee clocks, but it does apply to many other early 1800s American made clocks:

Ogee Clocks - Veneer Combinations and Variations
Hey....I just looked closely at your initials....It was you...JC. (And it was also you who constantly amaze me with your knowledge.) That is funny. I actually look forward to your comments. Thanks for not embarrassing me with well deserved things like, "you dummy, or don't you know anything," at the end of your comments.
As for these clock cases, I understand the use of different woods for contrast. I struggle with the woods that are similar. Your comments have taught me to look at the subject with the eyes of a nineteenth century clockmaker. Thanks again.
 

Duane Deppen

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Yes definitely "with exceptions".

To my knowledge I have not seen any American clocks that mixed walnut and mahogany together, but many clocks mixed rosewood and mahogany together, as well as other wood species used primarily for purposeful contrast: bird's eye maple, ash, birch, etc. I had put together this article specifically relating to ogee clocks, but it does apply to many other early 1800s American made clocks:

Ogee Clocks - Veneer Combinations and Variations
For anyone interested, you need to search for these Canadian links on: google.ca/search
 

Jim DuBois

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To throw a few other species onto the wood pile. Pine (often painted or covered with a tinted stain, though many pieces now skinned), cherry (also some originally painted/stained), and the maples (eg., tiger which also may have originally been stained/painted but now stripped to show the figure of the wood), and birch (now often stripped to reveal its figure). Sometimes clock cases and other case piece using these "lesser" woods would even be given a "mahoganized" finish to resemble that wood (e.g., I have 2 Chippendale ribbon backs made from maple and birch like that) or grained to resemble mahogany. Bass wood was popular in ME...not sure they made clock cases out of that, but it was used for a lot of other case pieces from that area.

RM
Yes, cherry was quite popular, maple used to a lesser degree, as was birch. And as you point out many of these cases were originally grain painted. Sometimes with really outrageous paint jobs, other time with grain painting so good it is hard to determine it is paint rather than a more expensive original wood. I had one formal brass dial tall clock, circa 1750, that was entirely built of chestnut, including the backboard.
 

rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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Yes, cherry was quite popular, maple used to a lesser degree, as was birch. And as you point out many of these cases were originally grain painted. Sometimes with really outrageous paint jobs, other time with grain painting so good it is hard to determine it is paint rather than a more expensive original wood. I had one formal brass dial tall clock, circa 1750, that was entirely built of chestnut, including the backboard.
I like when they went really wild with the paint. Check this clock that recently sold in NE:

Vermont Paint Decorated Tall Case Clock (thecobbs.com)

Gotta show a teaser pic:

grain painted tall case.jpg

Believe it or not, I think the price was cheap. If the paint was real, there was a time when it would have sold for much more.

RM
 
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rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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Thanks for the comments. I meant to say what is visible on the outside to the common viewer. "Are the visible parts all mahogany?" Veneer or solid is not my concern. Nor is the soft wooden carcass that the veneer is attached to. I come across a lot of clocks, and I have a YouTube channel that I showcase some of the interesting clocks. I just don't want to give incorrect information when I am describing them. I feel I need to correct a couple of my videos now.


Thank you. I love the pictures. The comment was not made by you. It was a person that has often amazed me with his knowledge, (as you have just done). No one ever has to worry about offending me. I always strive for more knowledge and truth.

You put the issue into perspective when it comes to crotch-cut pieces. "It is difficult to tell the difference," makes me feel better about my error.

"When stained, the two woods would definitely end up with quite a different tone/colour if used on the same piece (furniture/clock) unless the individual sections were treated with special colour matches to make one wood look like the other, which requires a lot of extra effort."
This comment made me realize that I should consider that all of the same color wood is most likely the same wood. (with exceptions)
A comment about antique furniture & clocks.

In fact, I feel it is very important to know more than superficial appearances when evaluating antiques. Construction methods used in a given period, secondary woods, etc. are essential things to know.

For example, I have seen pieces of American furniture billed as early 19th century. Superficially all looked real good. Whoops, circular saw marks! What’s wrong with that picture.

If all one does is educate about superficial aspects, then it may serve to give someone just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

I know, I’ve been there too many times.

Just my opinion.

RM
 

Jim DuBois

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RM, circular saws were in use in the 18th century. Perhaps not widely in use but still in use.

It’s commonly told that Samuel Miller was awarded British Patent #1152 in 1777 for what is considered the first circular saw machine. Some assert that the wording in his patent indicates the circular blade itself was in common use by that time — it was the sawing machine itself that Miller had invented.


A patent drawing for an early table (circular) saw. Being a Shaker, Tabitha Babbitt did not patent (1810) her original version.
As with many inventions, accounts of the circular saw’s early history are conflicting. Some evidence shows that Gervinus of Germany built something similar in 1780, while others claim it was the Dutch who invented the device some hundred or so years earlier.

All that said, I have had a clock or two from 1820-1830 that had the circular saw cut marks in case parts. Not common. And yes, I proceed with great caution anytime I see such marks in "period" pieces as they generally do suggest something is likely wrong!

I have been doing a bit of research on clock making machines used in the USA 1750-1850. The very few clock-related "machines" from those periods support a lot of one-off sorts of clocks and even limited production runs, I.E. Terry and the famous Porter contract clocks as well as the tools from Seth Thomas, etc. The surviving machinery tends to lead us into perhaps incorrect assumptions on early production clockmaking. There is a dearth of information on early machinery before about 1840. Yet, by 1840 cast iron massive machines were being made for just about every purpose. They didn't just remarkably fall off a turnip truck starting in 1840. Their predecessors are the machines that built tens of thousands of clocks in America, machines of which we have no surviving examples. For purposes of understanding the machine sophistication of the period please review this device. Here is an example of a pin making machine circa1838. I suspect equally sophisticated clockmaking machines had been developed and used early in the 19th century. By the introduction of Jeromes' 1839 patent clock, a clock very quickly made in the thousands if not 10's of thousands, machines had to be pretty well developed. Just sayin'

Image (36).jpg
 
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rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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RM, circular saws were in use in the 18th century. Perhaps not widely in use but still in use.

It’s commonly told that Samuel Miller was awarded British Patent #1152 in 1777 for what is considered the first circular saw machine. Some assert that the wording in his patent indicates the circular blade itself was in common use by that time — it was the sawing machine itself that Miller had invented.


A patent drawing for an early table (circular) saw. Being a Shaker, Tabitha Babbitt did not patent (1810) her original version.
As with many inventions, accounts of the circular saw’s early history are conflicting. Some evidence shows that Gervinus of Germany built something similar in 1780, while others claim it was the Dutch who invented the device some hundred or so years earlier.

All that said, I have had a clock or two from 1820-1830 that had the circular saw cut marks in case parts. Not common. And yes, I proceed with great caution anytime I see such marks in "period" pieces as they generally do suggest something is likely wrong!

I have been doing a bit of research on clock making machines used in the USA 1750-1850. The very few clock-related "machines" from those periods support a lot of one-off sorts of clocks and even limited production runs, I.E. Terry and the famous Porter contract clocks as well as the tools from Seth Thomas, etc. The surviving machinery tends to lead us into perhaps incorrect assumptions on early production clockmaking. There is a dearth of information on early machinery before about 1840. Yet, by 1840 cast iron massive machines were being made for just about every purpose. They didn't just remarkably fall off a turnip truck starting in 1840. Their predecessors are the machines that built tens of thousands of clocks in America, machines of which we have no surviving examples. For purposes of understanding the machine sophistication of the period please review this device. Here is an example of a pin making machine circa1838. I suspect equally sophisticated clockmaking machines had been developed and used early in the 19th century. By the introduction of Jeromes' 1839 patent clock, a clock very quickly made in the thousands if not 10's of thousands, machines had to be pretty well developed. Just sayin'

View attachment 634705
Very interesting research!!

However, circular saws and the marks they left weren't in wide use in the US much before late 1830's to early 1840's. That's especially the instance for much American furniture where there wasn't as much "industrialization" as there was in the UK before then, in general and even later for furniture made outside of major centers.

So, if you're told that a piece of American furniture was made in1800 and has circular saw marks, I still say, "beware".

RM
 

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