Keeping Time: Clocks at the Athenaeum
Clock making flourished in the Philadelphia area from the mid-1700s to the 1840s. During this time, there were over 100 clockmakers in the Philadelphia area many of which manufactured tall-case clocks inspired by the clocks made in England during the 1600's. The tall-case clocks at The Athenaeum are examples of the superior craftsmanship of Philadelphian clockmakers. Scroll pediments and carved rosettes were hallmarks of Philadelphia clock cases. Other hallmarks that can be found in this collection include broken arch pediments with decorative carving and ogee-bracket feet. Three of the most important clockmakers in Philadelphia are represented in the Athenaeum collections. The tall-case clock made by James Lane is one of the first pieces ever to be acquired by the Athenaeum and still keps time today in the Reading Room. Two clocks demonstrating the skills of the father and son team of Seneca and Isaiah Lukens are also present to illustrate the way that many clockmakers passed their skills onto their sons. The Athenaeum owns examples of the work of both father and son, with Seneca's work on the first floor and Isaiah's on the second.
In addition to the tall-case clocks, the Athenaeum has a collection of shelf clocks. Shelf clocks came into fashion following the America War of Independence (1775-1783). This was in part because their mechanism was driven by a spring as opposed to the long swinging pendulum of the tall-case clocks. The mantel clocks at the Athenaeum are highly ornate, decorative works from makers such as Black Starr and Frost (New York) and Chopin (Paris).
The clocks highlighted in this online exhibition are distributed throughout the Athenaeum and are available to view upon request.
Exhibit created by Ani Geragosian