Tall Case Clock
CLOCKMAKER: Although McKee’s label is attached to the door and his name is painted on the dial, the works bear the stamp of James Hawthorne, an English clockmaker. It was not at all uncommon for American clockmakers to affix their name on English works or to place their labels over original labels of clocks they had repaired.
SELLER: John McKee (1788-1871) was born in Rathfriland, County Down, Northern Ireland. He came to America sometime before 1799–when he would have been twelve or thirteen years old–and settled in the Rocky Creek area of Chester County, South Carolina. He probably learned some elements of the clock and watchmaking trade from his brother, Andrew McKee Jr. (1771-1808), who was also living in Chester County. When Andrew died in 1808, John purchased his brother’s house and clock and watchmaking tools. In the following decade, McKee seems to have made and repaired watches and silver flatware, which he marked with his “I.McKEE” or later “J.McKEE” punch. In 1819 he acquired title to the property in Chester upon which he ran his general store, selling plantation supplies, sundries, dry goods, furnishings for the home, books, and, most significantly, tall-case clocks. Several tall case clocks with McKee’s name on their faces are known to exist. He made neither their movements nor their cases, instead McKee imported the clocks’ works from England, commissioned their cases from local cabinetmakers, and marketed them with his name on their faces. John McKee died in 1871 at the age of eighty-four and is buried in Chester’s Evergreen Cemetery. See www.findagrave.com entry for John McKee Sr. (1788-1871), online: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=137179802&ref=acom (accessed 9 June 2017).
CABINETMAKER: Stylistically and structurally this case relates to at least five other clock cases and a corner cupboard made in Piedmont North and South Carolina. This cabinetmaker’s work can be identifed in the profiles of the cornice, cove, and bed moldings of his cases and the use of rope-like inlay on the pediments. The corner cupboard and one of the clock cases have histories in Lincoln County, North Carolina, while other cases have histories tied to York, Fairfield, and Union counties in South Carolina. Four of the clock cases bear John McKee’s name, label, or are attributed to his shiop. Apparently this tradesman worked near McKee’s shop for the label on the case is glued to the case door.