William Pratt Banjo Surprise

David D'Apice

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Mar 22, 2012
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After being lucky bidder on a banjo clock at the last auction, my 83-year-old Dad and I opened it to clean and overhaul the movement. To our delight, inside, scratched on the back plate, was "Made by Wm. Pratt, 1835" -- I can only assume it is original --- the movement holes all seem to line up in the case. I'm pretty sure the glasses are repaints, but it's a lovely clock, and I thought it would be interesting to share the engraving. The cross-banded case is nice. I know there are a few banjos that are dated and signed, but we've never had one with the date, other than repairs. I got one search online for William Pratt, who appears to have been in Boston at that time -- Hanover Street, which is in the North End. What a delightful tidbit. Had we not removed the movement, we never would have seen his name on the back plate. Perhaps there are others out there he did the same to. If so, I'd be delighted to hear it. Thanks for being such a great community. Dave

IMG_9894.jpg
 

brian fisher

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Jan 20, 2017
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I would personally love to see more pictures of the rest of the clock. it is very possible this engraving is original, but it is obviously done by hand and is a bit rudimentary. it might be a bit difficult to document, perhaps?
 

David D'Apice

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Mar 22, 2012
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Brian -- thanks -- the clock is all apart on the bench -- as soon as it's remotely together again, I'll grab some shots of it --- we were too excited to photograph it before we took everything apart --- nobody was thinking at the moment -- it was too much fun.
 

rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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Nov 26, 2009
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I would personally love to see more pictures of the rest of the clock. it is very possible this engraving is original, but it is obviously done by hand and is a bit rudimentary. it might be a bit difficult to document, perhaps?
There were lotsa Pratts in Boston and environs including the most well know, Daniel Pratt, Jr. (not a Jr. in the modern sense; this has been discussed on the MB before and there's a wonderful Bulletin Supplement about him).

I see absolutely no reason to question the authenticity of the inscription. The style of script is correct for the period. It would have been "scratched" into the movement's back plate with a tool and I believe the intent wasn't a careful engraving nor to proclaim its authorship.

Now I'm going to speculate a bit. I have read about examples of almost clandestine signatures like this on furniture placed by an apprentice or journeyman in a shop. It would have been sold under the master's or retailers name. The "underling" if you will, placed their signature in a relatively inaccessible spot to assure that the boss didn't see it, but someone like David would when they dug deeper. Another consideration is that sometimes specialist craftsmen contributed their piece of a whole. For example, there were specialist shops producing carving for a number of cabinet makers in an area. Sometimes these might be signed in a place not generally seen only to be revealed years later during a restoration. Maybe this was a movement sold to someone else for use in their clock? I wish I could remember my source for this stuff! It's driving me nuts. If I have that "eureka" moment, I will post it.

See Foley's book, page 62. The Boston maker, William Grant, sold his shop to his APPRENTICE William Pratt in 1835. An example of a William Pratt banjo including the movement is shown on page 68, figures 153 through 155.

I wonder if your clock was made just prior to that transfer of ownership and before he had the right to place his own name on his clocks??

Also see page 300 of Foley's book for more about Willam Pratt's history and his partnership with his brother.

And yes, please share with us the rest of the movement and the whole clock?

RM
 
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