Sperry and Shaw New York Style shelf clock – refreshing the case

The four free-standing turned columns of the New York style Sperry and Shaw clock immediately drew my attention. The style reflects the decorative period of the Empire style popular in the mid 1850s. In a previous blog post I discussed servicing the movement. I thought long and hard about what to do with the case and decided that a refresh was what it needed.

Sperry & Shaw 4 column clock
Sperry & Shaw 4 column clock, as found


While researching the NAWCC site I discovered that this clock was probably made between 1846 and 1847. The label, 98% of which is intact, and affixed to the backboard says 10 Courtlandt Street, the company headquarters during the aforementioned period. Sperry and Shaw were not clock-makers but business partners and were regarded as distributors and assemblers.

Label in excellent condition

They sourced cases and movements, affixed their own stamp on the movement and placed their labels (sometimes over other makers labels) inside the case, a common practice at the time as clocks for the home and workplace both locally and abroad were in great demand.

Sperry and Shaw 30-hour movement
Sperry and Shaw 30-hour movement after cleaning

The movement is Jerome-like and stamped Sperry and Shaw, New Jersey. The plates are thinner than a Jerome evidently a cost cutting measure no doubt.

Clock face which may not be original, 1907 on back indicates a date it was serviced

The narrow brick-shaped weights (4 3/4 inches X 1 inch) fit neatly into channels on the left and right with little to spare. When I first contacted the seller, he was unsure if the weights were in the clock. He later contacted me to say that the clock indeed had its weights. Had it not come with the weights I would have passed on it because the narrow weights are the only type that will fit into the channels and they would be difficult to source.

What to do with the case

The case was cleaned top to bottom with Murphy’s Soap. I considered stripping the case but stripping is an extreme measure and should only be considered if it is the last option.

Sperry & Shaw chose to use grain-like textures on the softwood sections. Stripping the case would have meant those textures would be permanently lost. Otherwise, there is not much veneer on the case; the flat strips on the base, the crown, and top column capitals. Sperry & Shaw evidently chose an inexpensive approach to clock case construction however, the clock manages to look attractive.

A less invasive approach was employed. After cleaning I applied a thin coat of stain. The stain was left on for two minutes, just enough to darken the softwood sections slightly but not enough to alter the overall appearance. The stain dried for 24 hours following which 3 coats of shellac were applied using a traditional 1 lb cut. The thin coats dried quickly and the case was sanded between coats. The shellac enhanced the veneered sections and gave a soft luster to the softwood sections.

Refreshed case

I left the broken corner as-is and filled in the break with filler and stain. Some would have chosen to repair it but the corner repair is an important part of the history of the clock.

The refresh may be subtle but the effect is in keeping with the spirit of the original clock. The movement was returned to the case, the glass was cleaned and the clock was put in beat. A satisfying project overall.

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