Who the heck is Martin Cheney?

A Martin Cheney clock is on my wish list though I doubt I will ever see one let alone buy one, they are that rare. So who is this clock-maker from Montreal, Quebec?

RS weekend at the Haliburton (17)
Could this be a Martin Cheney tall-case clock?

My wife and I were staying at an historic Inn in downtown Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) in the spring of 2016.  We discovered a fully restored long-case clock in the front room of the inn. The inscription “Canterbury” on the dial face suggested that is was an English clock or would it be a Canadian clock made by Montreal clock-maker Martin Cheney almost 200 years ago? I should have asked.

Upon returning home I did some research. I posed the question on a clock forum site and the response was “who is Martin Cheney?” In clock collecting circles the name is not exactly commonplace. Not a lot is written about this man despite many of his clocks surviving to this day.

Barely readable numerals
Barely readable numerals

Martin Cheney – an American born clock-maker

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 the youngest. It appears he moved north to Putney, Vermont. Martin also had an uncle, Timothy 1731-1795. He became a well-known clock-maker in East Hartford and worked closely with Benjamin. By 1803, Martin Cheney moved up the Connecticut River to Windsor, Vermont. While in Vermont he advertised 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 (now a show-bar!). He made both movements and cases, wall and tall case clocks and banjo clocks. The partnership with Dwight 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 there is no information on Cheney beyond 1830, however, it appears that he spent the remainder of his days in Montreal.

What is a Cheney clock?

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. 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  looked at the movement it would have confirmed the fine craftsmanship of this 19th century timepiece.

This clock at the historic inn I described above certainly fits the style and detail of a Martin Cheney clock, so is it a Cheney clock? Some day I will have to find that out!

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