Horace Tiff timepiece adornments

Discussion in 'General Clock Discussions' started by the 3rd dwarve, May 23, 2018.

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  1. the 3rd dwarve

    the 3rd dwarve Registered User

    Nov 3, 2000
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    I am in the process of turning a finial for a Horace Tiff circa 1840 banjo timepiece.

    I have a bit of a conundrum in that in all the pictures I find on the web the adornments for these clocks, finials, chimneys, and side arms appear to be fabricated from mahogany.

    Being from New England this doesn’t make sense to me. In 1840 mahogany would have been an exotic wood that had to be imported. I would have thought that the frugal Yankees of the day would have used readily available cherry or maple.

    I welcome any insights on what part of this picture I am missing.

    Thanks,

    D~
     
  2. bruce linde

    bruce linde Technical Admin
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    here's some random info on mahogany culled from multiple sources (wikipedia, etc.)... sounds like they were logging mahogany in mexico and cuba during that time, along with honduran mahogany.... maybe not so exotic or hard to find?




    The Mahogany tree discovered in the Americas was given the genus Swietenia. Only this genus are classified officially as ‘genuine mahogany, while other related mahogany species have taken to be classified as ‘true mahogany.’ (Mell, 1917)

    Mahogany from Central America, scientifically known as Swietenia macrophylla, become generally known as Honduran or big-leaf mahogany, despite having a range from Mexico to the southern tributaries of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Mahogany ranging from the Caribbean to the southern tip of the Floridian peninsula, scientifically known as Swietenia mahagoni, became known as West Indian, or Cuban, mahogany. This species was initially dominant in the trade of mahogany lumber. As harvesting intensified will European transportation routes passing through the Americas more frequently, Mahogany trees were constantly being sought out by botanists, commercial exporters, and industrialists.

    In 1857, at the height of the Atlantic mahogany trade, William Wells noted that small amounts of mahogany were cut in the Goascaran and Choluteca watersheds of southern Honduras and then floated a short distance to the port of Amapala, where the timber was milled and shipped. Wells took care to note that " . . . the mahogany trade on the Pacific . . . will yet require many years to become remunerative and permanent, there being no sure market for the wood . . . " (Wells 1857: 347).

    When Samuel Record called mahogany "the most valuable timber tree in tropical America", his frame of reference was the early twentieth century, but mahogany had been used and valued in the Americas for hundreds of years (Record and Mell 1924).

    Many of the most famous names in furniture, including Chippendale, Sheraton, Phyfe, and Hepplewhite plied their trade during what many consider the 'golden age of mahogany', from the 1720s to the 1820s (Lamb 1935, Lamb 1966). By the early twentieth century, mahogany had been used in a myriad of additional ways, including railway cars, interior decoration for businesses and private vessels, musical instruments, and plywood veneer (Lamb 1935).

    Commercial mahogany exploitation began only in the 1700s, when commercial houses from British Honduras turned their focus from logwood to mahogany. And the growing mahogany trade in the Bay of Honduras was also a key factor in the return of British interests to Honduras in the 1820s and 1830s, when English-speaking mahogany cutters were a common sight along the coast throughout the nineteenth century (Camille 1996, Naylor 1967, Naylor 1989).

    From the 1820s mahogany from all these areas was imported into Europe and North America, with the lion's share going to Britain. In Central America British loggers moved northwest towards Mexico and south into Guatemala. Other areas of Central America as far south as Panama also began to be exploited. The most important new development was the beginning of large scale logging in Mexico from the 1860s. Most mahogany was cut in the province of Tabasco and exported from a number of ports on the Gulf of Campeche, from Vera Cruz eastwards to Campeche and Sisal.[34] By the end of the 19th century there was scarcely any part of Central America within reach of the coast untouched by logging, and activity also extended into Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil.[33]

    Trade in American mahogany probably reached a peak in the last quarter of the 19th century. Figures are not available for all countries, but Britain alone imported more than 80,000 tons in 1875.[35] This figure was not matched again. From the 1880s, African mahogany (Khaya spp.), a related genus, began to be exported in increasing quantities from West Africa, and by the early 20th century it dominated the market.
     
  3. rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

    rmarkowitz1_cee4a1 Registered User
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    Not sure what is the conundrum.

    Mahogany was used extensively for NE furniture.

    Access to it and other materials from the "tropics" as well as Europe, the Far East, and so on came into the major ports all along the Eastern Seaboard including the thriving busy ports of New England.

    The finials, side arms, etc., were mahogany.

    RM
     
  4. the 3rd dwarve

    the 3rd dwarve Registered User

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    #4 the 3rd dwarve, May 23, 2018
    Last edited: May 23, 2018
    When I used the term exotic I didn’t mean scarce, just not as readily available as local woods and more expensive.

    For example:

    Here’s an inventory list from the estate of Samuel Fisk. He was one of Boston’s wealthiest cabinet makers at the end of the 18th century.

    235ft Jamaica mahogany total value $42.30 price per board foot $.18

    720ft mahogany total value $104 47 price per board foot $.15

    51ft black walnut total value $4 price per board foot $.08

    292ft chestnut total value $4.38 price per board foot $.02

    192ft cherry total value $4.85 price per board foot $.03

    573ft clear pine total value $6.87 price per board foot $.01

    1023 maple total value $15.34 price per board foot $.02

    The right hand column I added. It’s the price per board foot.

    You can see that the mahogany was five to six time the cost of cherry.

    I realize that Boston companies like A. H. Davenport & Co. and Irving & Casson were using imported mahogany to make high end furniture in the mid 1880s but I didn’t think smaller firms were using it.

    So maybe conundrum is too strong a term here but how does one explain why Tiff would use mahogany for turnings when local hardwoods were readily available, less expensive, and make better turnings.

    Thanks,

    D~
     
  5. bruce linde

    bruce linde Technical Admin
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    did mahogany perhaps denote quality? more desirable?
     
  6. Jim DuBois

    Jim DuBois Registered User
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    Old growth mahogany is generally a far more "pretty" wood than walnut or cherry or a number of other woods available in America in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The grain patterns in furniture grade mahogany as well as the colors and the depth of the patterns and the like all come into play with mahogany. While beauty can be in the eye of the beholder, mahogany was the choice of furniture makers for a very long time, and the beauty of their creations can certainly be still appreciated today. IMO, and we all know what opinions are worth, mahogany is easier to work than many other woods, it carves smoothly, its tight grain patterns hold up well to being molded/carved/machined and otherwise worked. Old growth mahogany rises to a level above other woods.

    The new stuff often sold as mahogany today lacks most if not all the good properties of old growth (17th, 18th, 19th century) wood. Mahogany also ages better than say cherry. The sidearms on a Tiff like timepiece are good examples of fairly delicate carved wood. I suspect if they were cherry they would have dried out and cracked and failed far more often than what we see in the subject clocks today. The use of mahogany in the chimneys and finials would have matched the bezels and wood fronts and door frames and the cost differential would have been minimal between mahogany and other cheaper wood and not worth having a miss match color wise or appearance wise.

    And thanks to 3rd, RM, and Bruce for the additional information above. Great stuff!

    315.jpg 1075648.jpg Untitled-Scanned-20x.jpg 067.jpg 053x.jpg
     
  7. Bruce Barnes

    Bruce Barnes Registered User

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    Patent timepiece ca. 1830 +, maker unknown and it is crotch mahogany.........................

    banjo2.jpg
     
  8. the 3rd dwarve

    the 3rd dwarve Registered User

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    You make some good points. I am starting to think I’m just looking at this too deeply.

    Old growth wood of any species is better looking that the new growth wood and especially the farm raised stuff of today. Tighter growth rings in the old wood reflect the light differently and are pleasing to the eye. I agree that mahogany is beautiful wood especially when veneered; slip matched, book matched, box matched, diamond matched, book and butt matched, book and center matched are all great techniques that result in some spectacular panels.

    I contend that none of its beauty shows in a finial that’s 4 inches tall and 1-1/2 inches at its largest diameter. While it is softer than cherry it is less stable and much more fragile. My number one preference for turnings is cherry, today’s steels make working it a breeze and it will take and keep detail very well. For carvings it comes in second to apple.

    You have shown us some beautiful examples of mahogany cases, my favorite clock case is also mahogany.

    So I guess I have just way over thought this little project. That is definitely one of my many faults; I can make a mountain range out of a mole hill.

    Thanks to all for your insights, I do appreciate them. Have fun in your shop.

    D~

    I & T bank front s.jpg
     

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