While my wife and I were staying at an historic Inn in downtown Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) this spring (2016) we discovered a long-case clock in the front room. It looked to be in fully restored condition. The inscription “Canterbury” on the dial face appeared to indicate an English clock or could it possibly be a Canadian clock made by Montreal clock-maker Martin Cheney almost 200 years ago?
When I returned home I decided to do some research. I first attempted to solicit information on a clock forum site and the only response was “who is Martin Cheney?” which is fair because even in clock collecting circles the name is not exactly commonplace. Further research revealed that not a lot is written about this man despite many of his clocks surviving to this day. Here is what I found.
In 1778, Martin Cheney was born into a well-known and established American clock-making family. He was one of four clock-makers born to Benjamin Cheney 1725-1815 and Elizabeth Long Cheney in East Hartford, Connecticut. Benjamin most likely trained all four of his boys in the art of clock-making. Asahel was the oldest and was born in 1759. He then moved to Vermont. Elisha was born in 1770 and died in 1847. He settled in Berlin, Connecticut. Russell was younger. It appears he moved north to Putney, Vermont. Martin also had an uncle, Timothy 1731-1795. He becomes a well-known clock-maker in East Hartford and worked closely with Benjamin. By 1803, Martin moved up the Connecticut River to Windsor, Vermont. In 1804 he advertises that he has fine English Watches, watch keys, chains and seals for sale.
Political events in the United States sent a group of families to the British territory (as Canada was known prior to 1867) in the early 1800s. Martin moved to Montreal in 1809. He remained in Montreal for some twenty years. In 1817 he formed a partnership with J. A. Dwight and advertised this business as Cheney & Dwight at 104 St Paul Street, Montreal (sadly there is a show-bar at this location today). He made both movements and cases, wall and tall case clocks and banjo clocks. This partnership lasted until 1830. In 1827, Martin placed an advertisement in Burlington, Vermont newspaper for a journeyman clock-maker to work with him in Montreal. Although Cheney continued to make clocks into the 1830s I could find no information of Cheney beyond 1830, however, it appears that he spent the remainder of his life in Montreal.
So, what is intriguing about a Martin Cheney clock? His clocks featured outstanding inlaid mahogany reflecting both high style and workmanship. The cases were well proportioned; this long-case clock has a long and narrow waist and a large rectangular waist door that is fitted with an applied molding. The center of this door also features a selection of mahogany veneer. Open this door and one can access the inside of the case (I made no attempt). The sides of the waist are fitted with quarter round columns. These terminate in brass quarter capitals. The bonnet features a New England style raised centre brass inlay top piece. It is surmounted by three brass balls and spiked finials. The molded arch is supported by fully turned and fluted bonnet columns. They are mounted in brass capitals. These columns flank the sides of the arched bonnet door. This door is line inlaid and it opens to access the dial of the clock. Had I a chance to look at the movement it would have confirmed the fine craftmanship of this 19th century timepiece. This clock certainly reflects the style and detail of a Martin Cheney clock; if so, it would have been made between 1817 and 1829.
Sadly, I could not confirm that this clock is a Martin Cheney tall-case clock but my research continues. My next recourse is to contact the owner of the inn who would certainly know something about the clock’s provenance. It would be intriguing if this was a Martin Cheney and if it is, this historic inn is the most appropriate home for this fine 19th century clock.