An outstanding survival of both American cabinetmaking and clockmaking, this tall-case clock demonstrates the vitality and talent of craftsmanship in post-Revolutionary Providence. Its dial is signed by Seril Dodge (1759-1802), a meticulous clockmaker and successful silversmith. Born in Pomfret, Connecticut, Dodge trained in the Norwich shop of Thomas Harland (1735-1807), one of early America’s most prolific and influential clockmakers and evidence of his training can be seen in the engraving on the dial, which resembles that of Harland and another of Harland’s apprentices, Daniel Burnap. Furthermore, Harland’s movements are joined by pillars that are distinctive for their “cigar” shaping; similarly shaped pillars are seen on Dodge’s movements, including that on the clock offered here. An unusual detail seen on this clock, as well as at least one other by Dodge, is a moonphase dial with exceptionally small teeth around its circumference. Rotating more frequently but at smaller increments, Dodge’s moonphase dials would have displayed the changes in the moon at a smoother pace, a subtle and sophisticated improvement on standard versions of moonphase dials. The reverse of the moonphase dial features evenly spaced engraved arcs extending from each tooth toward the center, indicating how Dodge laid out his design before cutting the teeth. This movement is also distinguished by its incoporation of a seconds sweep hand, a feature seen with some frequency on eighteenth-century Pennsylvania clocks but rarely in New England. See Frank L. Hohmann III et al., Timeless: Masterpiece American Brass Dial Clocks (New York, 2009), pp. 291, 330-331; for the other Dodge clock with similar moonphase dial, see Christie’s, New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph K. Ott, 20 January 2012, lot 142.
Despite Dodge’s evident expertise, few clocks signed by Dodge are known today and the clock offered here is an extremely rare survival of his work. In addition to the example offered here, only four are included in the Rhode Island Furniture Archive and comprise two tall-case clocks with block-and-shell cases, a tall-case clock with plain case and, in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, a shelf clock (see RIF2304 (formerly in the Ott Collection, cited above), RIF393, RIF3313 and RIF2325; another clock in what appears to be a Massachusetts case was advertised by R. Jorgensen Antiques in www.antiquesandfineart.com; finally, in addition to RIF2304 and RIF2325, three tall case clocks with Seril Dodge dials are discussed but not illustrated in George Leland Miner, Angell’s Lane: The History of a Little Street in Providence (Providence, 1948), pp. 81-82 and may represent three additional clocks or duplicate references to those already cited). The dials on this clock and the three other tall-case clocks cited in RIFA exhibit closely related engraving with freestanding colonettes in the lower corners and, on this clock and RIF2301, birds’ or serpents’ heads in the upper corners. This clock differs from the others in three ways: it lacks a seconds dial (as it has a seconds sweep hand), bears a small, upturned (rather than arched) date aperture and is signed S. Dodge (rather than Seril Dodge). Such differences may indicate that it was made earlier than the others, before the clockmaker established a working template.
Exhibiting an ambitious design, accomplished carving and refined details, the case on the clock offered here was almost certainly made in one of the leading cabinet shops in late eighteenth-century Providence. As argued by Wendy Cooper and Tara Gleason, it was made in the same shop as another tall-case clock with a movement by London clockmaker George Sommersall. Based on external photographs, a third clock, also with a London-made movement, signed by Samuel Toulmin, also appears to be a product of the same shop. All three clocks have the boxed pediments associated with Providence, seemingly identically carved rosettes, block-and-shell carved waist doors, and bases with canted corners embellished with floral-carved lambs-tongues. Cooper and Gleason further note that the hoods of the Sommersall clock and that offered here are constructed in the same distinctive manner with similarly placed through-tenons and, standing at around 85 in. high, are approximately 10 in. shorter than most clocks of this period (see Wendy A. Cooper and Tara L. Gleason, "A Different Rhode Island Block-and-Shell Story: Providence Provenances and Pitch-Pediments," American Furniture 1999, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, WI, 1999), pp. 175, 191-192, figs. 10, 11, 34, 35, 37, 38; for the Toulmin clock, now at Brown University, see RIF6172). With additional door moldings, variant shell-carving, shell-carved bases and "spandrel" carving above the door and in the base, the Sommersall and Toulmin clocks feature elements not seen on the clock offered here that may reflect the preferences of the client and/or the work of different carvers within the same shop. Based on these elements, Cooper and Gleason link the Sommersall clock to a larger body of work including furniture associated with the cabinetmaker Grindal Rawson (1719-1803). This same body of work is expanded and further discussed by Patricia E. Kane and Gary Sullivan in catalogue entries, Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 (New Haven, 2016), pp. 314-320, cats. 61, 62.
While the early history of this clock is unknown, its design, workmanship and materials indicate it was a costly item undoubtedly owned by an individual of substantial means. The boxed pediment design, coupled with the family histories of the Sommersall and Toulmin clocks and with Seril Dodge’s known associations, raise the possibility that the production and ownership of these three clocks were intrinsically linked to Providence’s ruling elite, the Brown family. Joseph Brown (1733-1785), the second oldest of the four merchant brothers, built a brick house at 50 Main Street in 1773-1774 with a pediment with raised ends that closely resembles the boxed pediments of Providence furniture made in the following two decades. Furthermore, he owned two monumental nine-shell examples of boxed-pediment furniture, while his brother John Brown (1736-1803) owned a chest-on-chest with this feature (Cooper and Gleason, figs. 1-3; RIF578, RIF1432 and RIF137). The Sommersall clock was made for Jabez Bowen (1739-1815), who in 1762 married Sarah Brown (1742-1800), a cousin of the four Brown brothers who was raised in the same household. The Toulmin clock has been traced back to Rev. David Benedict (1779-1874), but was probably made for a previous generation. Joseph Brown stands as a possibility as David Benedict’s wife, Margaret Hubbell Gano (1785-1868), was the step-daughter of Joseph’s daughter, Mary (Brown) Gano (1760-1800). Finally, Seril Dodge purchased a house lot in 1786 from fellow Quaker Moses Brown (1738-1836), the youngest of the brothers, on Angell’s Lane (now Thomas Street) opposite the Baptist Meeting House, which had been built according to Joseph’s adapted designs by the Brown brothers just over a decade earlier. On this lot and the adjacent lot, Seril Dodge built two houses, a two-story wood-frame house in 1786 (fig. 1), which later became the home of the widow of Nicholas Brown (1729-1791), the eldest of the brothers, and a three-story brick house in 1790, both of which he eventually sold back to Moses Brown and still stand today (Miner, pp. 70-78; Robert P. Emlen, “A House for Widow Brown: Architectural Statement and Social Position in Providence, 1791,” Old-Time New England (Fall/Winter 1999), pp. 5-32). Dodge’s close ties to the Brown family and the histories of the two clocks probably made in the same shop, raise the possibility that the clock offered here was also commissioned by a member or extended member of the Brown family.
At the time of its sale in 1998, the clock was noted to have previously been owned by a “Mrs. Barker” of Bristol, Rhode Island. She has not been further identified, but one of the three other Seril Dodge tall-case clocks, the example previously in the Ott Collection cited above, was owned by Mrs. Huldah Swenson Barker of nearby Tiverton in the mid-20th century. Such a similarity of name may illustrate a coincidence, an inaccurate recollection or perhaps a shared history.