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An Antique Clock Story: Once Upon A "Time"

One thing that makes antiques come alive is when they reveal the past or make the past come alive with a story relating to either an important place, or maker, or owner.

And when there’s intrigue, blood, gore or violence involved, that’s even better.

I once had a friend who told me he had a clock made from the wood of the actual apple tree in Vermont from which they hung Benedict Arnold in 1801.


I think unlikely.

But many of these legendary tales end up being true around the edges. i.e., Maybe not THE tree that he hung from, but more possibly a tree that was in the same area? Or the same town? Or maybe just the same kind of tree, such as an apple tree.

Besides giving the proud owner ammunition to brag, these tales add to the perceived value and interest of the antique, giving character, credence, and romance to what would otherwise be an ordinary object.

The antique clock above is not only good looking, original, and tells time well, there are real, true facts known about the maker and how he spent his time, how he lived, worked and even related to his community.

Luther Smith (1767- 1839), the maker of this clock, signed his name in the arch top of the dial together with the town where he worked: “Luther Smith, Keene” (New Hampshire). He was a well-respected citizen having moved there about 1797 and establishing himself as a craftsman of multiple trades.

The Keene town history considered him clock maker, but he was also a craftsman with multiple talents and a prosperous land owner, owning several properties including a mill on West Street. He apparently built a building on a property he owned on Federal Row, in Keene as well as a brick tavern house.

His shop was located on Federal Row, which is now Main Street. Here he made and sold tall case clocks, banjo clocks, mirror clocks, even tower clocks. He built and installed the first tower clock located at the first meeting house located on Main Street, for which he charged 39 pounds in 1794. Records show it came with a 10-year warranty.

During his career he shared studio space with an ornamental painter named Thomas Shapley. There is little doubt that the hand painted dial of this clock- as well as other dials with the same distinct style- are of local origin and possibly by Mr. Shapley.

Like many late 18th Century clockmakers, Smith probably did not make his own cases. The use of the very unusual, yet original, “lenticle” or “bullseye” glazed circle in the door on an American clock gives rise to the theory that his cases came from the New Haven area where waist doors often are found with these “bullseyes”. This Bullseye and fretwork crest patterns and ogee feet are traits seen on other Smith clocks.


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