Craft Clock – Stairway
Jacob Craft was one of the thousands of German immigrants who came to the United States in the eighteenth century and established themselves as skilled artisans. Craft settled in Shepherdstown as early as 1787 and practiced his clock making business until sometime before his death in 1825.
Was Craft a clockmaker, cabinetmaker or both? In Prominent Men of Shepherdstown During Its First Two Hundred Years, A. D. Kenamond says “Jacob Craft made beautiful cases, mostly of walnut, but some of cherry, …” “He made both 8-day and 30-hour clocks.” “A 30-hour Craft clock, now in Indianapolis, has wooden works, doubtless made in the Craft shop.” So Kenamond apparently believed that Craft operated a shop that made both clock works and cases. In an article published in the Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc., August 1966, Volume XII, No. 5, Dr. William G. Crews, Jr., describing a clock he bought in Kennett Square, PA, says “It has a typical eight day English imported movement with time, strike, seconds hand, calendar and moon phase. The dial has never been restored although it needs work in a place or two. This dial is signed: JACOB CRAFT, SHEPHERDSTOWN.” Perhaps Dr. Crews thought Craft made clock cases but not the works.
Twenty or so years after the above cited publications, Philip Whitney published The Clocks of Shenandoah, in which he discussed the question of Craft the clock maker or cabinetmaker. Whitney refers to some owners of Craft clocks who believe the works are English. He reports that “Knowledgeable historians in the Shepherdstown area staunchly cling to the belief that Craft was a woodworker, buying his movements from others. These people will ‘prove’ the point by proudly exhibiting other furniture made by Craft.” Whitney included in his publication a photograph of a magnificent walnut secretary attributed to Craft. However, he offers the counter argument that Craft made clock movements but his cases were made by one or more local cabinetmakers, thus explaining why many of the cases have similar styles and construction techniques. This is a reasonable argument given that there are six known cabinetmakers who worked in the Shepherdstown area during the same period as Craft. Whitney further states that very rarely was a cabinetmaker also a clockmaker, given the seven-year apprenticeship required for each trade.
Finally, Catherine B. Hollan in Virginia Silversmiths, Jewelers, Watch- and Clockmakers, 1607 – 1860, Their Lives and Marks, regards Craft as strictly a clockmaker doing minimal silversmith work. She says “Craft operated a clockmaking shop, keeping a full set of tools, including a clock engine, patterns for clocks and turning lathes.” She mentions a known clock signed A. & W Johnston, Hagerstown on the dial with works signed Jacob Kraft in script on the arched-bottom pack plate. That clock is thought to have been made around 1835, leading Hollan suggest that either Craft made parts for other clockmakers or the back plate could have been purchased at his estate sale. Craft’s estate included silversmith tools which Hollan thought “may have been used more for engraving than shaping precious metals.” In the Craft profile, Hollan discusses three silver utensils marked “IC” (for Jacob Craft) and stamped with an encircled eagle that she attributes to Craft.
This walnut tall case clock has a broken arch top with rosettes carved in a leaf design. A center finial rests on a carved plinth while the corner finials are mounted on reeded plinths. A double row of cove molding on the cornice is separated by a single line of dentil molding. Corners of the front board are reeded and molding applied above the door opening continues along the sides to the back of the hood. The hood door and side windows are tombstone-shaped. Turned columns are attached at the front and rear corners. The unusually narrow waist is topped with cove molding over a reeded horizontal band flanked by thin, rounded strips extending across the front and around the sides of the case; reeded columns are applied to the corners. The shaped waist door, with hinges on the left, has line inlay and banding around the outer edge. The clock’s base, which is topped with double-stacked molding, has reeded corner columns and a shaped cutout fitted with figured walnut that has line inlay at its points. The clock rests on shaped ogee feet.
The eight-day time and strike movement has a moon display, seconds dial and date wheel. The iron dial is painted white with Roman numerals for the hours and Arabic numerals for the seconds, minutes, date and moon phase indicator. The false plate is signed WILSON, likely for James Wilson, a clock dial manufacturer who worked in Birmingham, England from the mid 1770’s until his death in 1809. The dial is signed below the date wheel:
Rosettes and moldings are flush nailed to the hood frame and the finials are secured with dowels. The top board is flush mounted to the lower side panels and secured with nails. The upper side boards and front board are half-blind dovetailed. The lower side boards are secured to the upper panels with nails driven from the inside and are through mortise and tenoned to the sides of the three-board bottom frame which is probably mortise and tenon joined. The four-piece hood door, with wood pull and flat hinges, is held together with mortise and tenon joints. The inner door frame consists of four pieces with the top section secured between the front facing and top board and side panels; the side and bottom boards of the frame are secured to the respective hood areas with miniature glue blocks.
Cove molding atop the waist is nailed in place and additionally secured with triangular glue blocks. The sides boards of the waist extend from the seat board into the base of the clock. Square blocks above the nailed corner columns extend into the hood area and are probably glued to the side boards and stiles. The top and bottom rails are likely mortise and tenon joined to the stiles. The stiles, which extend from within the case bottom and into the hood section, are secured to the side boards with six shaped glue blocks spaced along each corner. The shaped door is solid walnut and the edge is decorated with two runs of line inlay that flank one-half inch banding. The keyhole is a diamond cutout filled with light wood inlay.
The double stacked cove molding atop the base section is nailed to the waist stiles and side boards. A three part interior bracket serves to join the waist and base of the clock case. The front of the base is formed by shaped stiles and rails that are likely mortise and tenon joined. The opening formed by the frame is filled with a solid, figured walnut board probably secured with nails driven from within. Molding around the bottom of the base is nailed in place. The front feet are two-piece mitered and shaped walnut while the rear feet are single-piece shaped walnut. A support structure has been added to the underside of the case so the weight of the clock does not rest on the original feet. Because of this addition and the positioning of the clock, it is not possible to observe the how the feet are attached or how the bottom board is secured to the case.
The back of the clock consists of a single vertical pine board the width of the waist and set in rabbets in waist section and secured with shaped glue blocks. Thinner lengths of boards are butt-joined to the sides of the pine board in the base and hood areas to account for the addition width of these sections.
The eight-day weight driven works are made of brass and have two weights to drive the time and strike features. The weights are secured by stranded cable to non-grooved winding drums. Front and back plates are secured to four pillars with end turnings and extensions at the front to hold the false plate. The iron dial is attached to the false plate with pinned dial feet.
Sections of dentil molding on the hood are missing. The back board has a square cut-out behind the works that has been filled with newer material. Extension to the right side of the back board behind the hood is a later replacement. On the sides of the waist interior, small sections of the glue blocks and side boards in the area of the pendulum swing have be gouged out. Date of 1782 written just below the date wheel aperture is a later addition, the clock is not that early. Written inside the waist door is C. E. Graves, Charles Town WV Box 69.
Overall, the clock is 94 inches tall, 19 1/2 inches wide and 11 inches deep.