“Masterpiece… This superb example rivals, or surpasses, the best of the Willard creations.”
--Albert Sack, 1993
Ablaze with an array of inlaid ornament, vibrant mahogany veneer and elaborate brass mounts, this tall-case clock is a showcase of Federal-era craftsmanship. In addition to its visual appeal, the clock is an important document of the work of two otherwise little known cabinetmakers and sheds light on rural shop practices. The ink and pencilled inscription on the backboards indicates that the case was made by Ichabod Sanford (1768-1860) while working in the shop of master cabinetmaker Major Luther Metcalf (1756-1838). The son of Joseph and Hannah (Haven), Metcalf trained under Elisha Richardson (1743-1798) in North Franklin, returned to Medway in 1773 and married Mercy Whiting. In response to the Lexington Alarm, he joined Captain John Boyd’s company of Minute Men and marched on April 19, 1775. He served extensively during the following five years of the Revolutionary War, eventually rising to the rank of Major, a title he used for the remainder of his life. He is said to have established his cabinet shop in 1778, and if this is the case, it would have been during the first half of the year as he was actively engaged in the War during the second half. This clock stands as the only known example of the work of Ichabod Sanford, who was born in Medway and by 1799 had removed to Belchertown, Massachusetts (Mabel M. Swan, “Some Men from Medway,” The Magazine Antiques (May 1930), pp. 417-418; “Luther Metcalf” and “Ichabod Sanford,” in Biographies, The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery; Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, vol. 10 (Boston, 1896-1908), pp. 708-709).
As this clock illustrates, the cabinetmakers working in the Metcalf shop maintained close ties with Providence craftsmen. According to the inscription on the clock, the movement was made by Caleb Wheaton (1757-1857), an attribution supported by dial’s similarity to other moon-phase dials made by the clockmaker (see Israel Sack, Inc., American Antiques from Israel Sack, vol. 2, p. 454, no. 1129). The expertly cut inlaid ornament and stylish brass mounts were almost certainly acquired from specialist makers and suppliers in Providence and along with the movement, transported to Medway and assembled in the Metcalf shop. Metcalf’s association with Providence is further revealed in his advertisement published in 1801. At that time, he announced a partnership with Cyrus Cleaveland and outlined their business model whereby their products would be made cheaply in the country, presumably in the Metcalf shop in Medway, brought to Providence where they would be “finished” and subsequently sold at lower prices than their competitors (Nancy Goyne Evans, American Windsor Chairs (New York, 1996), p. 370).
Declared a “Masterpiece” by Albert Sack, this clock is the most elaborate product of the Metcalf shop, which is otherwise only known by its Windsor chairs, and was almost certainly made for the master cabinetmaker’s own use. In 1792, Luther Metcalf built the Metcalf Homestead, a house and adjoining shop, which still stands today as the Village Inn on Village Street in Medway (fig. 1). Dated just four years later, the clock was likely made in the shop and carried next door to the house where it probably stood until the homestead was sold out of the family in 1898. At the time of its publication in 1930, the clock was noted to have been mentioned in the cabinetmaker’s will; while this has not been verified, it appears that the clock passed either directly or indirectly to the cabinetmaker’s son and namesake, the Honorable Luther Metcalf, Jr. (1788-1879). After training in his father’s shop, the younger Luther Metcalf embarked on successful career as manufacturer of cotton machinery and goods, held prominent positions in the civic and political affairs of Medway and later served as a Justice of the Peace. The clock is presumed to have descended directly in the family and in 1930 it was owned by the master cabinetmaker’s great great great granddaughter, Miss Esther Newell. Further identified as Esther Metcalf Newell (b. 1907) of Newton, Massachusetts, Esther is last recorded as living with her widowed mother, Florence A. Newell, at 2 Willow Terrace in Newton, Massachusetts in 1938 (Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York, 1993), p. 139; E. O. Jameson, The Biographical Sketches of Prominent Persons and the Genealogical Records of Many Early and Other Families of Medway, Mass. 1713-1886 (Millis, Massachusetts, 1886), pp. 79-81, 170-171; Swan, p. 418; Newton City Directory, 1938, p. 472; https://sites.google.com/site/projectthevillageinn/).