American Classical Ormolu and Mahogany Eddystone Lighthouse Clock
Simon Willard was an inventive clockmaker, well known for his patented designs featuring a variety of technological innovations. Perhaps the best known of these is his banjo clock, patented in 1802.1Willard, 46ff. Considerably less popular was his lighthouse clock, patented in 1819 as an alarm clock. The first examples of these were equipped with an alarm mechanism, but the later ones were made without alarms.2While some sources give 1822 as the patent date for the lighthouse clock, John Ware Willard cites and reproduces the patent for “an alarm clock” that Simon Willard received in 1819 (Willard, 17). No known examples of these alarm clocks exist, but the lighthouse clocks, which were of the same general form, were probably made from about 1822.
“Eddystone Lighthouse” clocks, intended to resemble the famous Eddystone light in the English Channel off Plymouth, England, are all of essentially the same shape, although many variations exist. The clock in the Department of State, inscribed on the dial “SIMON WILLARD,” is cylindrical with an octagonal base, while others were made with a rectangular body on a cubic base, either plain or paneled, a cylinder on a square, or a cylinder on a cylinder.3Examples of lighthouse clocks can be seen in the White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winterthur, Old Sturbridge Village, and Deerfield Village. It descended in the Bellows family.4Letter, Charles E. Buckley to Page Talbott, June 11, 1975, and letter, Mrs. Clifford Bellows to Page Talbott, April 13, 1989. The clock is one of many examples of high-style Boston classical furniture that belonged to this family.
Another variable element of these clocks is the feet, which were made in ball form (gilt or plain) and paw-foot form. The Collection’s clock has gilt ball feet, as well as a swirl-and-dot chased ormolu surround at the base of the cylinder where the two parts of the case meet. This is a particularly dressy feature: other clocks have a plain wood collar or a less elaborate ormolu one. Made in the style of classical revival furniture in Boston, the case (by an unknown maker) of the Collection’s clock features broad expanses of handsomely figured mahogany, enhanced by contrasting ormolu and brass ornaments.
Under the clear glass dome—a modern replacement—is a white porcelain dial with Roman numerals and the maker’s name.5The Collection is indebted to the following individuals for their parts in researching the clock and producing the dome: Joseph Twichell, Robert Cheney, Chris Bailey, Edward LaFond, David Colglazier, John Curtis, Eddy G. Nicholson, Philip Zea, and glass artist Josh Simpson and his team of glassblowers. The dial has an ormolu surround, and on the octagonal base is an ormolu mount with an urn and foliate design.
Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.