Displaying the expertise of colonial New England’s most talented and prolific clockmaker, this tall-case clock is also a notable survival of early Newport cabinetmaking. Born in Southwark, just outside London, William Claggett (1694-1748) was in Boston by 1714 and by the end of 1716, had moved to Newport. Over the next thirty two years, he produced over fifty clocks ranging from square-dial examples in William and Mary style sarcophagus cases to arched-dial clocks housed in elaborate bonnet-top forms. Here, the stylistically early case bears an arched dial in one of Claggett’s favored formats with a strike/silent dial in the arch and a seconds dial, calendar aperture and rectangular nameplate in the center of the chapter rings. The nameplate showcases Claggett’s exceptional engraving skills. With gothic-style letters within a multitude of scrolls, the W Claggett passage illustrates a style known as “German Text” as revealed by Donald L. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III. These authors go on to note that Claggett’s “…supreme expression for artistic lettering is embodied in German Text…Here, he manipulates his graver to create crisply defined and visually stunning letters that are further embellished with a halo of sinuous flourishes and calligraphic knots.” In contrast, Newport below is in a style known as “Roman Print” (Donald L. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III, Claggett: Newport's Illustrious Clockmakers (Winterthur, 2018), pp. 71, 73, figs. 156, 157).
Made in Newport in the 1730s or 1740s, the clock’s case survives in an exceptional state of preservation. The juncture of the saddleboard to the case is undisturbed and lacks any alterations and the hood and base survive largely with their original components. Claggett’s known clocks indicate that he patronised a number of different cabinetmakers in both Newport and Boston to house his works. Of these, two in the collections of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) and Rhode Island School of Design relate closely to the example offered here and may illustrate the work of a single cabinet shop. All three display the same configuration of moldings in the hood, with the straight, projecting cornice above the arched dial composed of three relatively narrow strips of ogee, fascia and cove moldings. In contrast, a group of Claggett clocks in Newport-made veneered cases have their projecting cornice moldings constructed with a greater number of molding strips. The SPLIA clock case features a concave blocked and shell-carved case door with similarities to the work of brothers Job and Christopher Townsend and like the clock offered here, rests on a foot molding with scrolling profile (see Fennimore and Hohmann, pp. 180-181, cat. 9; The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at Yale University Art Gallery, RIF1176 and RIF6201 (SPLIA and RISD clocks), RIF956, RIF5021, RIF2321, RIF2496, RIF3139 (Claggett clocks with veneered cases); for another clock with similar plain arched door and related frieze carving, but with greater number of cornice molding strips, see RIF203).