Delaware Clocks

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Book Review: Delaware Clocks – by Philip D. Zimmerman
by: horology on: Wednesday 14th of February 2007 01:52:20 PM

Delaware Clocks; by Philip D. Zimmerman. Published 2006 by The Briggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware; 62 pages, Softcover, 305x230 mm; ISBN 1-893287-06-8; with an introduction by Ryan D. Grover. Approx.90 illustrations mostly in color, index, bibliography. Available through the online giftshop at the National Watch and Clock Museum, for $25 plus shippinghttp://www.nawcc.org/giftshop/americart/bk_clk.htm.

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Over the last few decades horological scholars with an interest in early American clockmaking have been blessed by a number of monographs celebrating the achievements of local clockmaking pioneers in many of the original colonies, but until now no specific modern publication covered the state of Delaware. (The classic 1898 “Old Delaware Clockmakers” by Henry C. Conrad is long on folklore and stories and short on research) The book under review fills this glaring gap.

The Briggs Museum of American Art in Dover, Delaware has long been a focal point in exhibiting, preserving and documenting the material culture of the colony and later the State of Delaware. Their collection includes nine fine specimens of Delaware made timekeepers, including some acquired by Sewell C. Biggs, the museum’s founder. They are usually spread throughout their timeline galleries. In 2006 the museum staged a major exhibit of Delaware clocks, supplementing 5 pieces from its own collection with 14 major pieces temporarily borrowed from other institutions or individuals. (The bulk of this special exhibit will also be on display at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania for part of 2007).

Fortunately this special exhibit spawned an accompanying publication: “Delaware Clocks” by Philip Zimmerman. In the view of this reviewer the wise decision was made to not constrain the book by making it strictly a catalog of the exhibit. Exhibits of this nature always involve a number of additional pieces that “could have or should have” been in the exhibit as well, but for a variety of reasons were not available. The book includes that group as well, and therefore tells the history of Delaware clockmaking based on 31 examples (the 19 in the exhibit and 12 others). They were made between 1741 and around 1815; all but two of them are tallcase clocks. The three chapters deal with: 1. Colonial tall clocks, 2. The Odessa Clocks, and 3. Wilmington Clocks of the post-revolution era.

The author chose a format that is conducive to both fluent reading and detailed scholarship: The main body of all three chapters is a free flowing narrative, basically following a timeline. Over 100 footnotes referring to additional bibliographic sources are conveniently located in the margins. The blocks of “catalog data” documenting the particulars of the 31 clocks used to illustrate the history of Delaware clockmaking are on the appropriate page, but visually separated from the narrative. Each of these 31 clocks is illustrated with2 to 5 photographs (mostly in color). In most cases there are separate images of the overall clock, an enlargement of the dial and a sideways look into the movement. It seems that most of the images were created specifically for this publication by Carson Zullinger, and their quality is superb. The format chosen makes it possible, but not necessary to interrupt ones reading of the narrative to study the examples offered.

This reviewer is no expert of the specific subject matter of this book, but knows an easy to read, yet scholarly profound horological book when he sees one: Delaware Clocks fills a void, and is a mandatory read for anyone seriously interested in the history of the American tallcase clock. It is to be hoped that this example inspires other museums to augment their exhibits –both permanent and temporary- of e with publications of this kind and quality.

And do go and visit the temporary exhibit either in Delaware now or later in 2007 in Columbia.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki (Sussex, New Jersey)
February 12, 2007

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