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Tall-Case Clock

On view

Tall-Case Clock

Clock Maker: Shubael Storrs (active Utica, New York, 1803-1828)

Clock Dial by: Osborne's Manufactory (active Birmingham, England)

Date: c. 1805
Medium: Case: Mahogany, cherry, eastern white pine, satinwood; inlay of various woods; works: brass, silvered brass, iron, steel
Overall: 97 x 21 1/8 x 10 3/4in. (246.4 x 53.7 x 27.3cm)
Signed: Clock face: "SHUBAEL STORRS."
Markings: Impressed mark on metal dial behind clock face "Osborne's / MANUFACTORY / BIRMINGHAM"
Inscribed: Pencil inscription inside case door: "C. [France?] (Clock C [?] 5) S[?]. Iw. / Washington Mills / Oneida Co., N.Y." / "H.G. Sandford Watchmaker" / "Mrs. W.S. Taylor 62 Genesee Street--May 26, 1897"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 50.37
Label Text
Very little early nineteenth-century Utica furniture is documented. The Museum's tall-case clock is testimony to the quality of life in the city at that time. Its maker, Shubael Storrs, assembled the works from imported English parts. A specialist who sought to imitate expensive and refined classical furniture manufactured in larger urban settings was most likely to have been the maker of the case. The combination of the patterned and pictorial inlays on the exterior of the case bespeaks a craftsman whose command of design was not as sophisticated as many of his more cosmopolitan colleagues.

Tall-case clocks, also termed long-neck clocks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, today are commonly referred to as Grandfather clocks. This nomenclature is probably derived from the popular song written by American Henry Clay Work (1832-84) in 1876 and entitled "Grandfather's Clock."

Text Entries

During the 1790s, market towns including Utica quickly grew along the turnpikes and rivers of upstate New York. As citizens accrued wealth to build fine homes, they encouraged specialists to create elegant furnishings for their new residences. Silversmiths, clockmakers, and instrument makers occupied the top of the hierarchy of craftsmen. Their social standing was defined by the intrinsic worth of the raw materials they used, relative to the value of their own labor. In smaller towns during the early nineteenth century, individuals often combined the crafts of silver-smithing—working with gold, silver, copper, and copper alloys such as brass—and clockmaking. Because of the small number of patrons who could afford these emblems of status, craft specialization was limited.

Shubael Storrs (1778-1847) of Utica is an example of the kind of craftsmen who worked in the main street shops of early federal America. Born in Mansfield, Connecticut, on December 13, 1778, he was the son of Ebenezer and Lois Southworth Storrs.(1) He served his apprenticeship in Springfield, Massachusetts, probably with Jacob Sergeant (1761-1843), a one-time neighbor who in 1784 advertised a “shop in Mansfield [where he] makes clocks and watches, gold and silversmith work.”(2) Sergeant moved to Springfield about I789 and probably took Shubael as an apprentice in 1792, when the boy was about fourteen. Shubael may have replaced his older first cousin, Nathan Storrs (1768-1889), who left Sergeant to settle in Northampton, Massachusetts, about 1790.(3) In any case, Shubael moved to Utica in 1803 and opened his own shop in 1808.(4)

Storrs made his living by offering an evolving range of products based on demand. Some items he made; others he purchased for retail sale. In Utica’s first City Directory (1817), Storrs presented himself as a gold- and silversmith at 30 Genesee Street. Four years later, he advertised that he had “commenced the manufacture” of mathematical and surveying instruments.(5) In 1828 Storrs called himself a watchmaker and silversmith. After 1837 he changed the entire scope of his livelihood when he began making trusses, probably for bridge construction. Storrs died on July 10, 1847.

The MWPI tall clock is testimony to the quality of life in Utica during the first years of the nineteenth century and to Storrs’s skills as a businessman and clockmaker. The clock is imposing in several ways. Physically it is large—eight feet tall—and has an oversized, thirteen-inch, English “Osborne” dial. Storrs assembled the clock, a sophisticated mechanical almanac, from primarily imported English parts. The case was most likely made by a specialist who was able to combine dramatic veneers and inlays to visually unite classicism with nationalism and opulence.(6) Despite its showy exterior, the structure of the case is relatively simple. The maker rabbeted the sides of the base to receive the veneered facade and constructed the stubby feet as extensions of the base.(7)

Although the cabinetmaker is unidentified, the earliest inscription on the back of the door places the clock’s owner in nearby “Washington Mills/ Oneida Co., N.Y.”(8) The clock was probably made during Storrs’s first years in Utica, before Jefferson’s Embargo Act and the War of 1812 temporarily halted the importation of English goods. Furthermore, the sixteen stars flanking the prominent eagle inlay (above) suggest that the inlay was manufactured between 1796, when Tennessee became the sixteenth state, and 1803, when Ohio joined the Union as the seventeenth state.“(9)The maker of the case may be one of the cabinetmakers recorded in Utica’s 1817 street directory—Joseph B. Prescott, Rudolph Snyder, William Tillman, or John Todd.

Storrs and his cabinetmaker placed an expensive mechanism in a complex case that features costly imported veneers and pictorial inlays in combination with native lumber and homemade inlays at the base of the columns. The clock, which reflects a provincial enthusiasm for New York City and Albany prototypes, is punctuated with the confidence that Utica craftsmen could perform just as well.(10)

 Essay by Philip Zea

1. Charles Storrs, comp., The Storrs Family (New York: privately printed, 1886).

2. The Connecticut Gazette and the Universal Intelligencer (Hartford), Jan. 11, 1784.

3. Henry N. Flynt and Martha Gandy Fales, The Heritage Foundation Collection of Silver (Deerfield, Mass.: The Heritage Foundation, 1968), pp. 319- 20, 332. It is unknown whether Shubael Storrs went with Jacob Sergeant to Hartford, Conn., in 1795 or remained in the Springfield shop under the eye of his relative Thomas Sergeant (1773-1834). The clocks inscribed “Storrs/Utica” have led some authors to believe that Nathan Storrs also worked in Utica. This, however, was not the case; Nathan Storrs retired in 1833 and died in Northampton, Mass., on July 31, 1839.

4. Moses Mears Bagg, The Pioneers of Utica (Utica, N.Y.: Curtiss and Childs, 1877), pp. 268-69; George B. Cutten and Minnie W. Cutten, The Silversmiths of Utica (Hamilton, N.Y.: George B. Cutten, 1936), pp. 59-81. Storrs married Chloe B. Makepeace at Utica in 1820 and trained his nephews Charles Storrs (1800-1839) and Eli A. Storrs (b. 1808) who came to Utica from Mansfield, Conn., about 1820. He also trained his son, Henry Southworth Storrs (1826-62).

5. Utica Sentinel, Mar. 27, 1821.

6. The clock mechanism is an eight-day movement with anchor recoil escapement and rack-and-snail strike. It has a thirteen-inch enamel dial fitted with a pictorial lunar dial at the top, a seconds dial above the pierced hands, and a calendar dial below. The case is ornamented with matched mahogany veneers, complex composite stringing, and pictorial inlays. The clock is surmounted by a scrolled pediment and supported by bracket feet. The scrolls of the pediment are restored, and two of the three original finials are missing.

7. A similar clock by Storrs is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was owned in Herkimer, N.Y. (just east of Utica), as early as 1828. A third clock with a pagoda hood, signed “Storrs/Utica,” is also known. See Antiques 109, no. 5 (May 1976): 880.

8. The clock later descended in the Sherman family of Utica.

9. The expensive eagle inlay cannot predate 1796, but may have been applied at any time after that year.

10. The pictorial eagle inlay is probably the work of a Boston specialist. Similar eagles with eighteen stars are found on two Boston and two Providence, R.I., card tables, ca. 1800, in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Related inlays appear on tables in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the United States Department of State and in the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Mich.; another was formerly in the private collection of Eddy G. Nicholson. See David L. Barquist, American Tables and Looking Glasses in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), pp. 197-201; Benjamin A. Hewitt, Patricia E. Kane, and Gerald W. R. Ward, The Work of Many Hands: Card Tables in Federal America, 1790-1820 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), pp. 84, 139-41; American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection (Washington, D.C.: Highland House Publishers, 1976-92), 6: 1446, 8: 2268; Clement E. Conger and Alexandra W. Rollins, eds., Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the US. Department of State (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991), pp. 212-13, 216-17; and Christie’s, Collection of Eddy G. Nicholson, sale cat. (Ian. 27, 1995), lot 1148. For examples of Albany area neo- classical tall clocks, see Norman S. Rice, New York Furniture before 1840 in the Collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art (Albany, N.Y.: Albany Institute of History and Art, 1962), p. 52.