Concord Museum

Concord, MA



Keeping Time: Clockmaking in Concord, 1790-1835


The Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts announces a ground-breaking exhibition, "
Keeping Time.· Clockmaking in Concord, 1790-1835," open to the public September 8, 2000 through January 21, 2001. "Keeping Time" is the first major exhibition to reflect on a new and significant reinterpretation of New England clockmaking by focusing on one Federal-era craft community. The exhibition--a fascinating mix of craftsmanship, social history, entrepreneurship, economics, and art--features over thirty of the finest examples of documented Concord clocks from the Concord Museum's collection and other collections.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Concord was a thriving community, already famous throughout the young nation for its critical early role in the events leading up to the American Revolution. It was the half shire town for Middlesex County, attracting over 500 visitors to the courts twice a year, among them customers for Concord's hats, shoes, carriages and clocks. Among Concord's approximately 400 heads of households in this
period, about 65% were in agriculture, 4% in commerce, and 35% in manufacturing. Of those in manufacturing, seven men headed clockmaking shops and another thirty or so were engaged in the shops or in businesses that supplied the clockmaking trade - the brass foundry, iron forge, wire-drawing mill, and a number of cabinetmaking shops. In short, the center of Concord -- the Milldam -- was a machine for the production of clocks, second only in importance to Boston's industrial Roxbury Neck, where the influential Willard family had been producing clocks since about 1785.

The exhibition presents three important aspects of Concord's clockmaking industry:

With working clocks, clock parts, tools, paintings, maps, diary and inventory entries, labels and advertisements, hands-on models, and photographic enlargements, "Keeping Time" conveys not only an appreciation and understanding of the beauty and complexity of Concord clocks, but also an insight into the time period that produced them and the people who bought and sold them.

Central to the exhibition are the seven clockmakers--Joseph Mulliken, Daniel Munroe, Jr., Nathaniel Munroe, Samuel Whiting, Lemuel Curtis, Joseph Dunning, Joseph Dyar--and the work they produced. While their handsome and well-crafted clocks, featuring inlaid mahogany cases, enameled dials and reverse painted glasses, are generally perceived as products of a traditional clockmaker--one person at a bench fashioning an eight-day clock from scratch--they are actually products of a network of shops employing journeyman labor that extended from Concord to Boston and overseas to the highly developed tool trade of Lancashire, England.

Highlights of the exhibition from the collection of the Concord Museum include:

Eight-day clock inscribed by Joseph Mulliken (1765-1802), Concord, Massachusetts, 1790-1802. Inscribed "J. Mulliken/CONCORD" on the dial. Hickory, white pine, cherry, painted iron, brass and steel; height 86, width 19 1/2 inches. Concord Museum, Concord, Massachusetts; Gift of the Concord Museum Ladies Association and an anonymous friend. (left: Photograph by David Bohl)

Joseph Mulliken was a third generation clockmaker who made tall clocks for his Concord neighbors to compete with the elegant clocks of Simon and Aaron Willard manufactured on the Boston-Roxbury town line and the Munroe brothers in Concord. Mulliken's hickory case is an exceptionally rare use of this wood in neoclassical case furniture. In addition to fashionable Willard features such as the pierced fretwork, columns with brass fixtures, and white enamel dial, the case is distinctive for its ornamental inlay, which adds the perception of custom work usually not seen on the Willard's standardized products.

Miniature eight-day clock inscribed by Joseph Mulliken (1765-1802), in a case attributed to Ammi White (b. 1754), Concord, Massachusetts 1790-1802. Engraved "Joseph Mulliken/CONCORD" on the dial. Cherry, white pine, brass and steel; height 41, width 10 inches. Concord Museum, Concord, Massachusetts; Anonymous gift, Gift of Joseph and Anne Pellegrino, Gift of the Cummings Davis Society. (left: Photograph by David Bohl)

This unusual clock is an early example of a wall clock in the form of a miniaturized tall clock. Mulliken may have been experimenting with new clock forms to compete with shelf clocks from Roxbury or Concord, or it may have been a custom order.




Timepiece inscribed by Daniel Munroe Jr. (1775-1859), Concord or Boston, 1805-1810. Inscribed "DANIEL/MUNROE" on the lower glass. Mahogany, mahogany and other veneers, pine, painted iron, brass, steel, and painted glass; height 40 1/2 , width 12 inches. Concord Museum, Concord, Massachusetts; Anonymous gift. (left: Photograph by David Bohl)

Daniel Munroe learned clockmaking as an apprentice in Simon Willard's Roxbury, Massachusetts shop. There he learned the techniques for making tall clocks in batches - a method pioneered by Willard and his brother Aaron in the 1780s and 90s. The Willards also made less expensive wall clocks, including "banjo clocks" patented by Simon Willard in 1802. The distinctive diamond-shaped design and inverted movement of this wall clock may reflect an attempt to circumvent Willard's patent.


Timepiece, inscribed by Joseph Dyar (1795-1850), Concord, Massachusetts, c. 1821. Inscribed "Warranted by J. Dyar./Concord." on the dial. Mahogany, gilt pine, painted glass; brass, steel, painted iron; height 33, width 10, depth 4 inches. Concord Museum, Concord, Massachusetts; Gift of Joseph and Anne Pellegrino. (left: Photograph by David Bohl)

Joseph Dyar was one of three clockmakers who produced patent timepieces ("banjo clocks") in Concord between 1800 and 1840. The reverse painting on the lower glass of this clock depicts Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia estate. The glass was painted in Boston and the scene was derived from an English print of 1800.



"Keeping Time," the exhibition and related programs, are supported in part by Skinner, Inc., the New Boston Fund, Inc., and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities/Bay State Historical League. The exhibition is complemented by an interdisciplinary academic symposium in collaboration with the Massachusetts Historical Society, gallery talks, a connoisseurship seminar, walking tours of the clockmaking town and hands-on family programs in collaboration with the Discovery Museums in Acton.

Read more about the Concord Museum in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/28/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.