Dial signed by James Wady (d. 1759), Newport; case, School of Job Townsend, Sr. (1699-1765), Newport, circa 1755
The arched pediment with central molding above a conforming frieze with cut-leather strapwork backed by fabric over an arched glazed door opening to reveal a silvered brass dial with Arabic and Roman chapter rings centering a seconds sweep and a calendar aperture enclosed by applied brass spandrels, the upper spandrels centering both a tide sweep and a silent/strike sweep, surmounted by a painted moon-face dial further surmounted by a silvered arch centering JAMES WADY NEWPORT, all flanked by colonettes, above a waisted case fitted with an arched thumbmolded door with concave blocking centering a carved and gilded shell all flanked by fluted quarter columns over a box base flanked by chamfered corners with floral-carved lamb's tongues, on ogee bracket feet (the current feet later with four of the original facings surviving)
93in. high, 20in. wide, 10in. deep

Lot Essay

This clock stands as one of colonial Newport's finest artistic achievements. With a masterfully engraved dial, accomplished block-and-shell cabinetwork and elaborate fret, the clock was conceived by its makers as a masterpiece and the preservation of these ambitious features makes it an extraordinary rarity today.

The concave carved shell on the clock's door indicates that the case was made in the shop of Job Townsend, Sr. (1699-1765) or one of his apprentices, notably his son Job Townsend, Jr. (1726-1778) and son-in-law John Goddard (1723-1785). Along with his brother, Christopher Townsend (1701-1787), Job, Sr. founded the celebrated Townsend-Goddard School of cabinetmaking in Newport. Noted for its block-and-shell ornament, finely executed dovetails and use of high-quality mahogany, the Townsend-Goddard School produced some of the most revered and uniquely American designs of colonial American furniture. Such quality of workmanship was made possible through the economic success enjoyed by Newport's merchants during the mid-eighteenth century. Strategically located on the coast and at the head of the Narragansett River, Newport provided an ideal site for a colonial American port to enter the triangular trade with Africa and the Caribbean. Newport-made goods were exchanged for molasses and slaves. As such, Newport shipping merchants amassed substantial fortunes and parlayed some of their earnings toward the patronage of the leading cabinetmakers of Newport, the Townsends and Goddards.

Crafted in the 1750s, this clock was made either by the master craftsman, Job Townsend, Sr., himself or by one of his apprentices who had established their own shops at this time--Job, Jr. and John Goddard. Born in Oyster Bay on Long Island, Job Townsend, Sr. moved with his family to Newport in 1707. It is not known where he trained, but he had presumably finished his apprenticeship by 1722, when he married Rebecca Casey. Documentary evidence indicates that during the 1720s he was primarily a carpenter, but by the 1730s had focused on the production of furniture. Early land deeds from 1723 and 1725 list him as both a house carpenter and a joiner and with his purchase of a house lot on Easton Point, he began building his own house. He was making furniture on an almost full-time basis by 1733, when his numerous purchases of hardware are found in the accounts of his brother, Solomon Townsend. In 1738, his other brother, Christopher, refers to an expensive desk-and-bookcase made by Job, Sr. in a letter to Abraham Redwood. Job, Sr. received commissions from the Eddy family and Samuel Ward in the 1740s and, made Viewer of Lumber in 1764, was active in his trade right up to his death in 1765. He undoubtedly trained his son, Job, Jr. who would have been old enough to work on his own by the late 1740s; the survival of his account book demonstrates that he was making furniture in the 1750s (see Willoughby, "The Accounts of Job Townsend, Jr.," American Furniture, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (The Chipstone Foundation, 1999), pp. 121-133). It is also thought that Job, Sr. trained John Goddard who married Job, Sr.'s daughter, Hannah, in 1746 and set up his own business in 1748 (see Carpenter, The Arts and Crafts of Newport, R.I. (Newport, 1954), pp. 10-12, 13 and Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, NJ, 1984), pp. 195, 247-248).

Confined within an arch and with its lowermost scrolls overlapping the interior C-scroll, the carved shell on the clock's door closely resembles the documented work of all three of these craftsmen. Shells very similar to that on the clock offered here adorn the desk-and-bookcase labeled by Job, Sr. (fig. 4), a slant-front desk at the Milwaukee Art Museum signed by Job, Jr. (see Willoughby, p. 114) and a slant-front desk inscribed by John Goddard (fig. 3). Supporting the attribution to the Job, Sr. School, the shell contrasts with the well-known practices of John Townsend (1732-1809), the son of and apprentice to Job, Sr.'s brother, Christopher. All of the nine known block-and-shell casepieces signed or labeled by John Townsend feature shells in which the interior C-scroll overlaps the lowermost scrolls (see Christie's New York, Important American Furniture, Silver, Folk Art and Decorative Arts, 18 June 1998, p. 93).

The survival of the cut-leather strapwork frieze distinguishes this clock from others with similar ornament. This use of leather in American furniture appears to be unique, although it is interesting to note that the Mannerist strapwork executed in wood and plaster on seventeenth-century European furniture and architecture was intended to imitate cut leather. Perhaps further strengthening the attribution to the Job Townsend, Sr. School, Michael Moses notes that both his grandfather, John, and his father, Solomon were tanners by trade (Moses, p. 247). The scroll-decorated friezes of other Newport clocks from the same era are made of wood, heavy paper or brass and backed by gilded or painted paper, or fabric, as seen on the clock offered here. Although not identical, the designs of the scrollwork on a James Wady clock at Winterthur, a William Claggett clock at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a William Claggett clock at Colonial Williamsburg include petalled motifs within the scrolls very similar to those on the clock offered here (see fig. 1; Heckscher, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1985), cat. 190, p. 362: Greenlaw, New England Furniture at Williamsburg (Williamsburg, 1974), cat. 83, pp. 96-98). Not merely a decorative treatment, the fretwork and thin backing masked holes cut into the frame to allow the sound of the clock's chime to resonate. For other clocks with related fretwork, see fig. 2 and Conger et al., Treasures of State (New York, 1991), cat. 89.

Further material and documentary evidence suggests a working relationship between members of the Job Townsend, Sr. cabinetmaking shop and the clockmaker, James Wady. On the basis of the shell carving, two other clock cases housing dials signed by James Wady have been attributed to members of the Job Townsend, Sr. School. A clock in a private collection is "associated" to John Goddard by Michael Moses in Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards, p. 235, fig. 5.23 and a clock in the collection of Winterthur Museum is attributed to Job Townsend, Sr. (see figs. 1 and 2). Both these clocks feature an elaborate hood with a double arch-and-broken swan's neck pediment and two fret-carved friezes related to the design of the frieze on the clock offered here. As the leading cabinetmakers in Newport during the 1730s and 1740s, brothers Christopher and Job, Sr. undoubtedly supplied the city's premier clockmaker and master to James Wady, William Claggett (1696-1749). Both cabinetmakers and Claggett lived near each other on Bridge Street on Easton Point and all three were frequent patrons of the merchant Solomon Townsend. In particular, Job, Sr.'s purchases of "clock case hinges" in 1734 from Solomon and in 1737 from Henry Aryault shows he made clock cases in the Queen Anne era (see Richard Champlin, "William Claggett and his Clockmaking Family," Newport History, vol. 47, part 3, no. 155 (Summer 1974), pp. 169-171; Moses, pp. 349-353). The artisanal relationship between the Townsends and Claggetts begun in the 1730s continued through the end of the century. In 1797, Job E. Townsend, the grandson of Job, Sr., made the coffin for William Claggett's son, Thomas (Richard Champlin, "Thomas Claggett: Silversmith, Swordsman, Clockmaker," Newport History, vol. 49, part 3, no. 163 (Summer 1976), p. 68).

The clock offered here is one of only six known to bear the engraved dial of James Wady (d. 1759). Beyond the survival of his work, little is known of Wady's life and career. As noted above, he trained under William Claggett, a relationship presumably strengthened by Wady's marriage to Claggett's daughter, Mary, in 1736. With William Claggett's eldest son, William, Jr., Wady rented a shop, possibly a venue for a clockmaking partnership in 1751. By 1755 his first wife had died and in that year, he married Elizabeth Brink (or Bink). Four years later, James Wady died in Newport (Champlin, 1974, p. 182).

Including the dial on the clock offered here, five of the six known dials signed by James Wady are virtually identical and bear a close relationship to those made during the later years of his mentor, William Claggett (figs. 5-8; the sixth Wady clock dial, published in Champlin, 1976, p. 181 varies from the other five). Described by Morrison H. Heckscher as made during his "mature period," a dial signed by Claggett in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is similar to that on the clock offered here and exhibits similar engraved motifs, the same overall format with the maker's name in an arch over a moon-face dial and two secondary dials in the upper spandrels indicating the time for high tide and a lever for silencing the chime mechanism (Heckscher, cat. 190, pp. 294-295). The variations among these five of the Wady dials are limited to the use of capital or cursive lettering, the addition or omission of eagles atop the scrollwork flanking the moonface dial and the depiction of eagles or baskets in the demilune tabs within the moonface dial. The particular combination of capital letters and four engraved eagles seen on the clock offered here are seen only on the dial in a private collection (fig. 7). The five other James Wady clocks are in the following collections: Winterthur Museum (figs. 1 and 5; Moses, fig. 1.1, a, b), a Private Collection (figs. 2 and 7; Moses, fig. 5.23, a); Newport Preservation Society (fig. 8); a Private Collection (fig. 6; sold in these Rooms, 21 January 2000, lot 126); a Private Collection (illustrated in Champlin, 1976, p. 181).


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