Monthly Archives: February 2012

From the Intern Desk: Tall Case Clock

Intrepid intern Tara has kindly agreed to assist me in sharing more information about items in our collection on the blog. So, without any further ado, here is Tara’s take on our tall case clock:

One of the most prized items in our collection is the 1797 tall case clock. This clock tells more than just time, it is a monument to the history of Annapolis and its citizens.

The first story the clock reveals is that of its maker, the Annapolis cabinetmaker John Shaw (1745-1829). Evidence suggests Shaw arrived in Annapolis around 1763 and soon set up shop with fellow cabinetmaker Archibald Chisholm. The two crafted and sold furniture, and imported goods ranging from tools to Jamaican brown sugar. Shaw is largely responsible for furnishing the Maryland State House, a commission that served as an advertisement for his name and craftsmanship. The wealthy elite of Annapolis, families such as the Carrolls, Lloyds, Chases, and Pacas, hired Shaw to build them various pieces of furniture. Due to their quality construction, Shaw furniture pieces have survived the test of time. Desks, bookcases, sideboards, clocks, and other pieces can still be viewed in some of Annapolis’s historic houses.

John Shaw’s Shop in Annapolis, MD (From the Historic American Buildings Survey)

The second story is that of the clock itself. The tall case clock was built circa 1797 using clock works made by Joseph White in London. Mahogany and mahogany veneers with light and dark inlays make up the primary wood. The secondary woods used are tulip poplar and yellow pine. The clock is 97 ¼ inches in height and 17 ¾ inches wide with a depth of 7 ½ inches.The clock reappears in the historical record in 1925, on the list of items from the Hammond-Harwood House  sold at auction.  Since it was in the House at that point, it must have belonged to Hester Ann Harwood (the last private resident of the Hammond-Harwood House), and presumably originally belonged to one of her Chase, Callahan, or Harwood ancestors. The clock sold for $785.00 at the auction and remained in private hands until 2007, when a relative of the woman who had purchased it donated it to the House.

The Tall Case Clock, made circa 1797 by John Shaw

The clock also provides an outlet through which we can understand the culture and practice of timekeeping in the 18th century. Today, we have clocks in almost every room of our houses, and with the advent of cell phones we have the ability to track time wherever we go without the use of a watch. This reality is a result of industrialization and technological advancements which make it easy to build and sell clocks at an affordable rate, but this has not always been the case. In the 18th century, clocks were the property of society’s elite. Ordinary people living and working in the 18th century regulated their day by the passing of the sun across the sky, so clocks were not necessary household items. The sundial in the Hammond Harwood House’s backyard serves as a reminder of this practice. However, there were some elite individuals who did purchase clocks. The home of George Mason, Gunston Hall, conducted an analysis of estate inventories, and found that wealthy families that owned clocks placed them in public rooms, such as the hall, passage, or dining room, so all members of the family could have access to them. Thus, it appears that the clock did not dictate the daily activities of the average 18th century person as it does our present lives. When we wake up, arrive at work or school, eat, etc. are all defined by time. In fact, it is almost unimaginable to conceptualize life without the ticking of a clock, but that reality is one that was familiar to all but the wealthy in the 18th century.

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Friday Photo: Customer Service

Mary Alexander & Rod Cofield demonstrating questionable customer service

This week, I returned from the Small Museum Association conference energized and full of ideas about using technology in museums, collections management, and improving the visitor experience at historic sites. The picture above came from one of the best sessions I attended, which used improvisational techniques to demonstrate some of the more interesting scenarios attendees had been subjected to at museums. The session was led by Mary Alexander from the Maryland Historical Trust and Rod Cofield from Historic London Town and Gardens. Their organizations, along with the Maryland Association of History Museums, are offering a workshop series over the next three years that explores the theme of “the visitor-centered museum.” The next workshop, called Connecting Visitors to Collections, is on May 21, and sounds fantastic. More information about the workshops, including video from the last one, can be found on the “Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum” website.

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Friday Photo: High and Mighty Pug

High and Mighty Pug, 1782

I don’t know what I would do without the Lewis Walpole Library prints. Every time I find myself lacking inspiration for a Friday blog post I just start browsing and find something delightful. This week’s selection redresses an inequality on the blog; I am, in case it hasn’t been obvious, a cat-owner. I have posted several historical images of cats, but have been a bit neglectful of the canine community. I decided to make up for it this week, and to post not only a dog, but a pug. That happens to be the favorite breed of Hammond-Harwood House Director Carter Lively. This is a political pug too: in this print from 1782, entitled “The high and mighty pug answering Fox’s proposals of peace,” the pug represents the country of Holland and the fox is the English politician Charles Fox. I don’t think it looks like their negotiations are going very well, but I still find them both adorable.

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Drink Like Jefferson

The topic of Thomas Jefferson seems to pop up often, in relation to very diverse topics. In today’s Washington Post, there’s an article about Madeira, the Portuguese wine that was popular in the 18th century. The restaurant in the Jefferson Hotel in DC has bottles of Madeira from 1780, so if you want to drink like Jefferson, you can! For a price, of course…

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Friday Photo: From Facebook

Daffin House

I have Facebook on the brain because I am preparing to present a workshop on museums and Facebook at the Small Museum Association Conference on February 19th. I have to convince people who work and volunteer at small, often-understaffed museums that establishing a Facebook presence is worth their time and effort. I’m sure some will be more resistant than others, but I hope that the success that Hammond-Harwood House has had in using Facebook to reach out to our local community as well as people around the world will be a convincing example of what social media can do for a historic site. If you haven’t checked out our Facebook page, you can find it here. We post information, questions, and photographs often; this photo of Daffin House, the site for our Garden Party this year, was posted on Tuesday and has already gotten several “Likes.” Do me a favor and go add a few more!

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Friday Photo: Tax Time

From the Lewis Walpole Library

One of the blogs about historical costume that I like to look at, American Duchess, used the frustration that came from doing her taxes as inspiration for a post full of 18th century satirical prints about taxes. When I saw this one, I just had to post it. Many luxury items were taxed in England in the late 18th century, including hair powder. In this print from 1795, this family full of wig-wearers has decided that they must do without, and wear their wigs as is. The young lady peering in the mirror looks rather distressed about it…

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