Review: Morris: American Wooden Movement Tall Clocks 1712-1835

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
The Definitive Documentation on the History of American Wooden Movement Tallcase Clocks

American Wooden Movement Tall Clocks 1712-1835. By Philip E. Morris Jr. With a foreword by Chris H. Bailey. Published 2011 by Heritage Park Publishing, Hoover, Alabama (USA). ISBN 978-0-615-44568-7. 512 pages, 28 x 23 cm, hardbound, cloth cover, dust jacket; over 500 illustrations (color photographs), Glossary, Bibliography Index. Available from the publisher for $90, plus shipping at .

The basic story of the American wooden movement tallcase clock can be told in a few sentences: In colonial America, metal was too scarce and too expensive for clock making to flourish, so many of the first American clockmakers replicated the clock movement they knew - the British tall case clock – from local woods. At the beginning of the 19th century Eli Terry invented mass manufacturing of mechanical goods using interchangeable parts, by making 3000 identical clock movements out of wood for the Porters. By 1835, tall case clocks had been replaced by ever cheaper (first from wood, later from brass), mass produced, Connecticut made shelf clocks as the typical American clock.

As in most cases however, behind the surface of a simple story is a more complex narrative of many ups and downs, countless detours and dead ends, with numerous protagonists, involved in a myriad of plots and subplots. This segment of horological history has been explored over the last 50 years in great detail in numerous publications, some as chapters of broader themed books, but mostly in countless articles in the Bulletin of the NAWCC, and publications by the American Clock Museum. Over time, a circle of researchers around the late Ward H. Francillon (1928 to 2004), known as the “Cog Counters”, became the focal point of aficionados of such clocks, and their informal newsletter a treasure trove of nuggets of information. What was lacking was one comprehensive publication on the subject.

Philip Morris has finally filled this void with the book under review. Inspired by Ward’s credo of “let the documented facts speak for themselves” the book is more a ‘documentation’ than a ‘story’. The author has undertaken to build upon the Cog Counters’ (and others’) earlier publications, and personally reexamine all the known surviving examples of American wooden tall case clocks prior to 1835. That meant re-photographing all the clocks, measuring them, and describing them in detail. In addition, he spent years examining and reexamining all documentary evidence relating to these artifacts and their makers, including account books, diaries, genealogical records, local histories, probate records and period newspapers.

The collected material is presented in two major sections: The first is a 330 page documentation describing about 170 different clocks (in some cases only clock movements). There are 22 chapters in this part, 9 for the handcrafted era (1712-1807) and 13 for factory production (1809-1835), organized basically along geographic lines. The two blocks of chapters are separated by an extra-length chapter devoted to the role of Eli Terry and the Porter contract in 1807-1809. Each of the clocks is pictured at least three times (movement, overall in case and dial views), but often there are additional images, such as additional movement angles, labels or noteworthy construction details. Over 400 images and their captions in this 330 page section take more than two-thirds of the available page space.

The second section of 130 pages is the ‘Biographical Directory’ of ‘Wooden Tall Clock Makers and Those involved in their Trade 1712-1835’. With over 625 short biographies of individuals, this unquestionably is the most complete list ever assembled on the subject. Entries vary in length from three lines (e.g. quoting a newspaper advertisement of a otherwise undocumented mentioned craftsman, to a full page of text devoted to some of the best known icons of the field. Illustrations (black & white photographs) of name plates, dial signatures or labels accompany the entry if relevant.

The resulting book, even the first section, is more a reference work than a book that anyone will read cover to cover. But this reviewer found it the kind of reference book that is most pleasant to ‘browse’ in aimlessly and digest random little facts, even when not searching for a specific piece of information. The focus is on ‘facts’ rather than on anecdotal evidence or cute stories. The book is well produced, with clear text, great pictures, good organization, thoroughly indexed and cross referenced.

The late Ward Francillon would most certainly be proud of his successor: The book firmly establishes Philip Morris as the leading wooden tall case clock expert, and current intellectual leader of the human sub-species ‘homo cog-counterensis’.

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ July 2011
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John Teeter

NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Member
Golden Circle
Jan 31, 2001
This book,"American Wooden Movement Tall Clocks 1712-1835" by Dr Philip Morris, will be available at the Midwest Regional on Friday, August 5.
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