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The E-Sylum (12/8/2013)

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Al Adams writes:

I am seeking information on and a proper appraiser for an Important 1771 Chippendale Carved Mahogany Tall-Case Clock, by David Rittenhouse. Once appraised, I will be offering the clock for sale. Any help appreciated.

David Rittenhouse, the first Director of the U.S. Mint, was a prominent scientist, instrument maker and astronomer, one of the leading scholars of the day. I'd never seen a Rittenhouse clock and don't know any appraisers, but figured our E-Sylum crew might have some suggestions. So I reached out to some of the usual suspects, but couldn't resist trying a web search first. Below are a few references I found, which I forwarded to Al. -Editor

The Smithsonian's David Rittenhouse Tall Case Clock
Smithsonian Rittenhouse Clock David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was eighteenth-century Pennsylvania's most accomplished clock- and instrument-maker. An avid astronomer, he built complicated astronomical clocks and orreries, or planetary models, that not only kept time but predicted celestial events. These major works, coupled with his notable and widely publicized observations of Venus passing between Earth and the Sun in 1769, established him as a scientific leader and secured him an eminent place in the history of American science.

This eight-day clock in a plain walnut case, made about 1770, reminds us, though, that Rittenhouse spent more than twenty years—from about 1750 until the Revolution—making clocks for a living. Largely self-taught, he incorporated standard English features in this timekeeper: the movement has cast brass plates and steel pinions; a seconds pendulum; an anchor escapement; a rack-and-snail striking mechanism; a second hand on the escape wheel arbor; and a calendar. The dial is engraved "David Rittenhouse/Philadelphia."

The lead weights, according to oral tradition, survived the Revolution while most others did not. Probably because they sympathized with the British, the family that owned the clock hid the weights in a well to avoid having them melted down for shot. Ironically, Rittenhouse was one of those responsible for the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety's drive to procure ammunition during the war. His duties included collecting the lead clock weights commonly in use and replacing them with iron ones.

To read the complete article, see: David Rittenhouse Tall Case Clock (

Drexel University's Astronomical Musical Clock
David Rittenhouse (1732-1796), the maker of Drexel University's Astronomical Musical Clock, was Philadelphia's most noted astronomer, mathematician, scientific instrument maker and surveyor during the 18 th century. His clock dates to c. 1773 and has been regarded as the most important clock in America.

The uppermost dial is an orrery that gives the positions of the then-known planets: Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury.

The lunarium in the center dial shows the phase of the moon at the particular time that appears on the clock.

To read the complete article, see: Drexel University's Astronomical Musical Clock, (

Chippendale Thirty-Hour Walnut Tall Case Clock David Rittenhouse
Chippendale thirty-hour walnut tall case clock DAVID RITTENHOUSE (1732-1796), EAST NORRITON TOWNSHIP OR PHILADELPHIA, circa 1765 The hood with stepped cornice and turned corner columnettes enclosing a square glazed door opening to a brass face with applied cast ornaments at spandrels, roman and Arabic numerals, and inscribed, “David Rittenhouse,” above a thumb molded arched door, plain plinth, and molded base.

To read the complete article, see: Chippendale Thirty-Hour Walnut Tall Case Clock David Rittenhouse (Lot 47) (

Al adds:

Rittenhouse Clock 1 My client's clock is similar to the Smithsonian ~ Behring Center clock. The case of the Drexel clock is far more elaborate.

Subject clock has been owned by my client for more than 50 years. He passed away earlier this year and is now part of his estate. I am working with the executor. I want to have it appraised and then find it a good home, through a private sale or auction. I feel there are numismatist who would appreciate and enjoy owning this important clock. It would be nice to keep it in our numismatic realm.

The clock is in North Ga and hasn't been on public view since he loaned it briefly to Atlanta's High Museum in 1977. I need to find a qualified appraiser and thought you or some of your readers may know of an appraiser.

Rittenhouse Clock 2

Dave Bowers writes:

Some years ago--perhaps 20--one came up for sale, and I tried via Ed Rochette to get a groundswell movement to have the ANA buy it. I think the price was in the tens of thousands, but not huge. I volunteered to contribute, but it met with no interest.

It think E-Sylumites get the significance of such a clock and would be wowed to see one in a numismatic museum. But I can understand most numismatists greeting it with a yawn. It ain't a coin, token or medal and you can't slab it. It would make a lovely complement to a numismatic library and I'd love to have one, but I would have to make an O. Henry bargain and sell my library to afford it. -Editor

Anne Bentley of the Massachusetts Historical Society writes:

I'll check in with our horologist, Michael Poisson, who keeps our 9 tall case clocks and assorted mantel clocks in running order. He'll know who is best to appraise this sort of thing.

Joel Orosz writes:

Being a happily married man, I've always steered clear of horology! But seriously, we do own a tall case clock that was made by one of my wife's ancestors, William Upjohn of Exeter. I have never gotten involved in that collecting area, though, so I don't know any clock dealers or people with expertise/competence as appraisers in that field.

It would be cool indeed to have a Rittenhouse clock marking time in anyone's numismatic library--hopefully a subscriber to The E-Sylum will provide it a good home!

Len Augsburger forwarded the query to Bill Bugert, who is a clock maker/repairer. Bill writes:

From my clockmaking days, I do know a number of clockmakers and watchmakers from the Virginia area. The only one I think that would be qualified to appraise the clock would be Donnie Sobel. He owns the Clock Shop of Vienna (VA), is the best clockmaker I know, and the most qualified person I personally know to appraise it.

Also, I am a life member of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute and I can query them. There are a few nationally known clockmakers that I don’t personally know but their reputation is well-known.

Anne Bentley adds:

Gary Sullivan is a specialist in appraising clocks of all kinds. He just curated the most wonderful musical tall clocks exhibit at the Willard Clock Museum in Grafton as part of the 400 Years of Massachusetts Furniture exhibitions statewide in 2013-4. His website and contact information is at

Dan Hamelberg writes:

I have done business with Delaney Clocks in West Townsend, Mass., and they are very good with special clocks. They are appraisers for the Antiques Roadshow, and probably have the best selection of Tall Case clocks of anyone

(or call 800-546-2995).
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