Its case emblazoned with carved winged cherubs and its complex works illustrating the remarkable talents of colonial Rhode Island’s premier clockmaking family, this tall-case clock is a masterful combination of Boston and Newport craftsmanship. The winged cherubs, while a popular decorative device in other forms, such as gravestones, are a rare example of the motif rendered in wood from this time period. Similar motifs are seen in cast-brass clock spandrels and their presence on a clock case may reference these dial embellishments (for winged cherub spandrels on a Thomas Claggett clock, see Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture: The Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles (New York, 1985), pp. 292-293, cat. 189). Interestingly, related carved ornament is seen in the interior architecture of the Hunter House in Newport. While the case was made in Boston, it is possible that its design was influenced by the clockmaker, Thomas Claggett (c.1730-1797), or the client, either of whom may have been familiar with the décor of the Hunter House. The inspiration for these elements may also have come from japanned forms, which Brock Jobe postulates as a possible source for the presence of inlaid cherubs on a Boston dressing table dated to 1735-1745 (Brock Jobe, catalogue entry, Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts 1710-1850 (Hanover, New Hampshire, 2009), pp. 224, 420, fn. 1 for entry 77).
Based on construction details, the case has been attributed to an unidentified but highly significant cabinet shop active in Boston around mid-century. One of the most important survivals from this shop is a clock case made for Colonel Henry Bromfield with a blocked base, winged feet and carving attributed to master carver John Welch. While the case of the Bromfield clock bears a 1750 label of George Glinn, Alan Miller notes that Glinn does not appear to have been prominent enough to be the master designer responsible for the output from this shop. As discussed by Leigh Keno, Joan Barzilay Freund and Alan Miller, the frieze of the hood on the clock in the present lot is wider than the base of the hood, which creates a slight overhang, a precept that is at odds with classical design. While this configuration may reflect experimentation on the maker’s part, it is also possible that the frieze was deliberately enlarged to accommodate the carved cherubs (Leigh Keno, Joan Barzilay Freund and Alan Miller, "'The Very Pink of the Mode': Boston Georgian Chairs, Their Export, and Their Influence," American Furniture 1996, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1996), pp. 294, 305 (fn. 53), figs. 27, 43; these authors refer to an unpublished clock with related case bearing the stamp of Albany merchant Philip Van Rensselaer (1747–1798), indicating that Boston cases were also shipped to New York during this time period; Alan Miller, “Roman Gusto in New England: An Eighteenth-Century Boston Furniture Designer and His Shop,” American Furniture 1993, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, 1993), pp. 179-180, fig. 27).
The clockmaker, Thomas Claggett, was undoubtedly trained by his father, William Claggett (1694-1749), one of colonial America’s most important clockmakers. Thomas first appears in the documentary record in 1752, suggesting that he was born in about 1730. Surviving clocks with works signed by Thomas Claggett are comparatively rare and including the present lot, only twelve clocks examples are listed in the Rhode Island Furniture Archive. For more on Claggett, see Martha H. Willoughby, biographies, Timeless: American Masterpiece Brass Dial Clocks, Frank Hohmann III, ed. (New York, 2009), p. 326.
Christie’s would like to thank Alan Miller for his assistance with the preparation of this essay.