Birge and Fuller Double Steeple Cases

David D'Apice

NAWCC Member
Mar 22, 2012
239
10
18
Country
I have a few of these wonderful clocks --- some wagon spring, some fusee -- and notice on most of them an incredibly close tolerance on the hand shaft against the glass in the door --- for a few of them, it's nearly impossible to close the door tightly at risk of driving the hand shaft through the glass. I'm wondering if anyone else has had this experience -- I see this on clocks that appear complete and original -- and I'm positing the theory that perhaps the case had shrunken with the grain and the sides of the case are now less deep than they were originally - -which would push the movement and seatboard and backboard closer to the front. Anyone else notice this? Hopefully this is in the right forum topic -- it's sort of an oddball question. Best wishes.
 

Andy Dervan

Gibbs Literary Award
NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Member
Oct 23, 2002
2,835
109
63
Country
Region
Hello Dave,

Interesting observation and great question.... What wood was used to construct the cases?

I would have expected that most period cases were made from Mahogany, Cherry, or another hard wood that were dimensionally more stable than pine.

Andy
 

harold bain

NAWCC Member
Deceased
Nov 4, 2002
40,853
175
63
72
Whitby, Ontario, Canada
Country
Region
I think most are veneered with mahogany or rosewood. The base wood under the veneer would be pine or poplar, I would think.
 

rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

NAWCC Member
Nov 26, 2009
5,766
1,145
113
Country
I have a few of these wonderful clocks --- some wagon spring, some fusee -- and notice on most of them an incredibly close tolerance on the hand shaft against the glass in the door --- for a few of them, it's nearly impossible to close the door tightly at risk of driving the hand shaft through the glass. I'm wondering if anyone else has had this experience -- I see this on clocks that appear complete and original -- and I'm positing the theory that perhaps the case had shrunken with the grain and the sides of the case are now less deep than they were originally - -which would push the movement and seatboard and backboard closer to the front. Anyone else notice this? Hopefully this is in the right forum topic -- it's sort of an oddball question. Best wishes.
I have observed that phenomenon on not just that style of clock, but with other ones as well.

On some of my clocks, the hand shaft has even left a witness mark on the glass!

Provided all components started life together, it probably represents shrinkage, shifting etc.

RE: case construction.

A solid wood case for a mass produced clock coming out of CT during the period of your Birge and Fuller and the like would in fact be quite unusual.

Most had a secondary wood carcass, typically pine though other woods were sometimes used, which was then veneered in a more expensive (and I dare say in that period, fashionable) imported tropical wood. Typically mahogany and rosewood were used for that purpose. Sometimes a decorative domestic wood, like a figured maple (tiger or bird's eye) might be used, especially as an accent. Sometimes cases were grain painted.

Yes, parts of those cases may be solid wood, eg, the finials, the carved columns, feet, crests, and what have you.

Backboards were typically pine, though I have had a couple of clocks where chestnut was used.

Ironically, solid wood cases again came into common usage for mass produced clocks later in the 19th into the early 20th century. Walnut, oak and ash were popular choices.

RM
 
Last edited:

David D'Apice

NAWCC Member
Mar 22, 2012
239
10
18
Country
Great information -- I've seen 200 year old pine shrink incredibly -- even our old round bowls end up oval for that reason. The dilemma becomes whether it's something to do anything about, or just never shut the door again. The purist in me says there is no cure for this without tampering with originality that shouldn't be messed with (turning the center shaft pinions, shimming the backboard or the like. On clocks that are all original that wouldn't seem to be a nice thing to do. Perhaps a safety "pin" in the lower left to keep the door from closing and smashing the glass, which would be a shame.
 

rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

NAWCC Member
Nov 26, 2009
5,766
1,145
113
Country
Great information -- I've seen 200 year old pine shrink incredibly -- even our old round bowls end up oval for that reason. The dilemma becomes whether it's something to do anything about, or just never shut the door again. The purist in me says there is no cure for this without tampering with originality that shouldn't be messed with (turning the center shaft pinions, shimming the backboard or the like. On clocks that are all original that wouldn't seem to be a nice thing to do. Perhaps a safety "pin" in the lower left to keep the door from closing and smashing the glass, which would be a shame.
Live with it.

As far as shrinkage goes. Wood shrinks across the grain.

It's a handy thing to remember when you're out antiquing.

One reason why when doing so one should always bring their tape measure.

For example, that round top on that tea table that measures the same across and with the grain is probably NOT old.

You can feel that difference with your hand when you feel the turned posts and legs of a chair or other furniture. If not present, that Windsor may not be as old as claimed by the seller.

Shrinkage is your friend.

RM
 

David D'Apice

NAWCC Member
Mar 22, 2012
239
10
18
Country
Well said Richard --- it's all a part of the charm -- we both like the old grunge original finish -- the older I get, the more I appreciate that.
 

Jim DuBois

Gibbs Literary Award
NAWCC Member
Sponsor
Jun 14, 2008
3,315
899
113
Magnolia, TX
Country
Region
A pine board, 3-3.5" wide, veneered or not, can and will shrink as much as 1/4" across the grain. 1/8th" to 3/16" shrinkage is more likely from when it was made until today, but it can go more. Central heat is one of the biggest enemy's of old wood. Even with a humidifier on central heat, the humidity will often be too low, and many of us don't have humidifiers. The too long minute shaft is a problem I have seen as recently as this week. I had a clock laying on its back on my table at a recent regional, marked sold, that some person opened the door, and then dropped it on the now too long minute shaft, breaking the glass. Of course they immediately left and didn't even bother to say sorry.... but most of our clocks have shrunk to about the minimum by now and will not be expanding much, if at all in the future. I have had one clock that had the entire backboard removed and a 1/4" shim was fitted all around and the back board was re applied. I don't know that I liked it much but it solved the problem, it was 100% reversible, it was only apparent if you took a side view of the clock and even then it was not very apparent.....
 

novicetimekeeper

Registered User
Jul 26, 2015
10,927
873
113
Dorset
Country
Region
I have an English dial clock, around 1850/60. It has a flat dial and glass.

The glass has a little circle in the middle I think caused by the pin holding the hands. Not the current one, but probably a few decades of wear.

attachment.jpg
 

bruce linde

ADMIN / MODERATOR
NAWCC Member
Donor
Nov 13, 2011
8,443
1,203
113
oakland, ca.
clockhappy.com
Country
Region
my seth Thomas pillar and scroll clock is fine. I have a george marsh where the minute hand arbor is right up against the glass. I also just worked on a fusee clock where the dial bezel was split… I very carefully glued and clamped it and then the dial wouldn't fit. I had to re-split it and I'm living with the crack... hope I look that good when I'm that old
 
Last edited:

Forum statistics

Threads
165,349
Messages
1,439,160
Members
86,162
Latest member
Evocatas
Encyclopedia Pages
1,101
Total wiki contributions
2,873
Last edit
Weekly News 7/7/19 by Tom McIntyre