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Tall-Case Clock

Lee, William __Clockworks by
Place Made:
Great Britain
Date Made:
mahogany –oak –larch –red pine
HOA: 98 1/4
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Tall case clock: Brass face, with blue enameled moon dial flanked by engraved arabesque designs, Roman hour numerals, and Arabic minute numerals, a second dial is above the pierced hands; works enclosed in a mahogany case with pagoda shaped pediment with its front cut out and filled with cloth; frieze has an arch at center-front and free-standing brass stop-fluted columns at the corners; hood has side lights and a glazed door with an arched top; waist has cove molding at the top and an arched door; three-part base has cove molding at the top, a rectangle of applied molding at the front, and a three-part molded baseboard which sits upon another three-part molded baseboard, the front of which has a central scallop and serpentine curves.

FORM: According to one study, on the eve of the American Revolution, roughly one in five Charleston households owned a tall-case clock. Clocks like this one were expensive luxury goods that often rivaled all but domestic slaves and livestock in value. Unlike consumers in other American cities, Charlestonians appear to have almost exclusively imported their clocks (works and cases) from London ready-made, as this clock was. To date not a single Charleston-made tall-case clock has been located.

To suit Charleston consumers these imported clocks often included the city’s name on the dial and tidal charts for her harbor. The spelling of the city “Charles Town” suggests that this clock was imported before 1783 when the name was formally changed to “Charleston”.

CLOCKMAKER: William Lee, whose name is engraved on the clock’s dial, was typical of the merchants who imported, sold, and serviced, clocks. William Lee completed his apprenticeship in Charleston to Joshua Lockwood and began advertising in the Charleston newspapers in 1768. In the early 1770s his former master recommended him to the vestry at St. Michael’s Church as “a journeyman very capable of taking care of the clock” while he (Lockwood) was abroad in England. The vestry was apparently very satisfied with Lee, giving him the position permanently, as well as £20 more per year than they had been paying Lockwood.

In 1769 “William Lee, Clock and Watch-maker” married “Miss Anne Theus, Daughter of Mr. Jeremiah Theus.” Anne’s portrait, by her father, is in the MESDA collection (acc. 1179). William Lee died in 1804 leaving a sizeable estate worth more than $2,000.

Descended in the Waring family of Charleston, South Carolina.
Credit Line:
Purchase Fund