Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

Works either by Thomas Harland (American, 1735-1807) or Benjamin Hanks (American, 1755-1824)
United States: Connecticut: Norwich
North American
wood; cherry; eastern white pine; chestnut
Overall: 91 3/4 in x 20 1/2 in x 10 3/4 in; 233.045 cm x 52.07 cm x 27.305 cm
According to tradition, made by Thomas Harland's apprentice, Benjamin Hanks, for his father, Uriah Hanks (1736-1809) of Mansfield, Connecticut; to Uriah's youngest son, Rodney Hanks (1782-1846), also of Mansfield; to his first son, Frederick Freeman Hanks (b. 1805); to his son, Edward Page Hanks of Jersey City, New Jersey; to his grandson, the donor
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. Frederick L. Hanks
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

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Object Essay

Thomas Harland trained in England, emigrated in 1773 from London to Boston, and settled in Norwich, Connecticut. He was one of the most versatile, prolific, and influential clockmakers working in this country prior to the American Revolution.1Published in Montgomery 1975, 7; Guidebook to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, 57; Distin and Bishop, fig. 74; Gibbs 524–25; Keller, 261. Soon after his arrival, he announced in the Norwich Packet that he sold horizontal, repeating, and plain watches, in addition to spring, musical, and tower clocks and regulators.2Hoopes 1930, 83; Bailey, 65–67. His earliest known clock is said to have been made in 1774 for his first landlord, Samuel Leffingwell, a member of one of the oldest and most prominent Norwich families, to which Harland’s future bride also belonged. This clock, a clock in the Metropolitan Museum of Art containing newspapers dated 1775, and the Collection’s clock dated 1776, constitute an unusually well-documented group of Harland’s early work. With its eight-day brass movement and count-wheel-controlled strike and “chime,” the Collection’s musical clock is the most ambitious of the three.3The Leffingwell clock (Wadsworth Atheneum) is illustrated in Hoopes 1930, fig. 44; the 1775 clock (Metropolitan Museum of Art) in Heckscher 1985, ca. no. 194. For other related cases see Nutting 1928, nos. 3273, 3304; Sack Collection, 1:106 and 8:2357. It would also have been among the most expensive items in Harland’s repertory, based on the cost of labor and materials recorded by his apprentice, Daniel Burnap.4Great River, no. 237. Burnap’s accounts are transcribed in Hoopes 1958.

Like many clockmakers, Harland sought additional outlets for his mechanical genius by working as a watchmaker, watch repairer, goldsmith, jeweler, and engraver, and by making steam-powered roasting jacks, and even fabricating the valves and pistons for the town fire engine. The wide range of his interests and activities is confirmed by the 1807 inventory of his estate, which included books on history and philosophy, some of them in French. The tools in the inventory of his shop included gear- and fusee-cutting machinery for clocks and watches, four large and six small vises, and two large lathes and one foot lathe.5Harland’s estate is discussed in Bailey, 67.

According to family tradition, this clock and its case were made by one of Harland’s several apprentices, Benjamin Hanks, of Mansfield and Litchfield, Connecticut. Like his master, Hanks evidently possessed unusual mechanical abilities, which led him to pursue the manufacture of stocking looms, compasses, cannons, church bells, and the invention of a “windmill” or “pneumatick” clock that wound itself by air currents.6For Hanks, see Hoopes 1930, 79–83; Bailey, 63; and Susan Cotton Tufts, “Benjamin Hanks of Pembroke and Easton, Massachusetts, and Some of His Descendants,” The New England Historic Genealogical Register, 86 (1932), 6–32. Hanks may have also constructed the case for this clock, but its scalloped crest and pedestal are consistent with the cases on other Norwich-area clocks. It was probably made by a professional cabinetmaker who would have owned the necessary tools. Among those known to have provided cases for Harland’s clocks are Abishai Woodward of Preston and Felix Huntington of Norwich, who also supplied cases and clock-related hardware to Joseph Carpenter, among others.7Chase, 84; and Chase and Bulkeley, 700–701. The curious handmade latch on the waist door of this clock reflects the close attention of a tinkering mechanic and was probably devised by Hanks. All three finials have been restored.8Thanks go to the following contributors in the conservation of this clock: Joseph Twichell of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities Conservation Lab based the restoration on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Harland Clock (acc. no. 18.110.29); Morrison H. Heckscher, Curator of American Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, provided photographs and permission to copy their finials; Chris Bailey, Bristol, Connecticut, kindly provided a pattern for the missing scrolls on the bonnet crest; William Hosely, Curator, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, discussed their related example; and Bert Denker, Librarian-in-Charge, Winterthur, provided research materials.

Engraved across the top of the brass dial of this clock are the names of six popular English tunes. They play at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock and are selected by setting the pointer in the dial arch, and can be silenced, like the striking mechanism, by adjusting the smaller dials above the chapter ring. The tunes play on ten bells struck by hammers, which are tripped by four pins at irregular intervals on the face of the strike-train great wheel, which has seventy-eight teeth. The mechanism resembles that of a music box, in which the hammers are activated by pins protruding from a rotating barrel.

In spite of the clock’s manufacture in 1776, its chiming tunes were more popular than patriotic. Five of the six tunes are well-known English country dances, the alternatives to more formal French ballroom music, and were widely sold in broadside form by itinerant ballad hawkers.9Van Cleef and Keller, 2, 11; and Keller, 276. For Shipman as an engraver, see Chase, 84; Battison and Kane, no. 3.

The four seasons engraved in the four spandrels of the dial were popular decorative motifs for clock dials. These are probably based on an English source and engraved by Harland himself. His first advertisement announced, “clock faces engraved and finished for the trade,” and the distinctive figures recur with only minor variations on at least one other Harland clock. However, they also appear on the dial of a clock by Nathaniel Shipman, whose account books document numerous clock dials made for Thomas Harland between 1785 and Harland’s death in 1807.

Thomas S. Michie

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.