The quest for an authentic banjo clock

Searching for a weight driven time-only banjo clock can be a challenge and acquiring an authentic example would go a long way to completing my collection. Securing an authentic Willard would certainly be the icing on the cake.

The style was widely copied by other members of the Willard family of clock makers and many others clock-makers

I was fortunate to have seen several Willard banjo clocks during my visit to the Willard Museum in Grafton Mass. in June 2019.

Banjo clock, circa early 1800s, Macdonald Museum, Middleton, Nova Scotia. Notice the location of the winding arbour

Few American clock-makers at the beginning of the 18th century were innovative. One of the most notable achievements was the small 8-day, weight-driven clock developed by Simon Willard. The Willard clock is a uniquely American wall clock with a banjo-shaped case designed and constructed by Simon Willard. Willard was originally of Grafton, Massachusetts, later of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and patented his unique clock in 1802.

The Willard banjo clock has no striking mechanism and indicates time only by its hands and dial. It is correctly defined as a timepiece.

Willard banjo clock, circa 1810, NAWCC museum, Columbia Penn.

The wooden case features a round opening for a painted dial, a long-waisted throat, and a rectangular box with hinged door. Both the throat and door are ornamented with reverse-painted glass panels and the case is usually flanked by curved and pierced brass frets. A finial mounted atop the case usually takes the form of a cast-brass eagle or pointed brass orb.

Time-only 8-day movement with solid brass plates
Pendulum bob of an unknown Willard style clock

Only 4,000 authentic Simon Willard banjo clocks were made. The style was widely copied by other members of the Willard family of clock makers and many others clock-makers, both craftsmen and industrial manufacturers.

E Howard #1 Regulator in the NAWCC museum in Columbia, Penn.

Variants of the banjo-style clock made by others include examples with square or diamond-shaped dials and heavily gilt cases. I would not consider the E Howard #1 Regulator as a banjo clock nor does the NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) museum in Columbia, Penn. classify it as such. Though made in 1880 it has similar elements to Willard’s original banjo clock.

Cummens banjo clock, circa 1825. Cummens apprenticed to Willard in Roxbury

In my collection I have two that are a salute to the banjo style.

Ingraham Nordic Banjo Clock
Ingraham Nordic Banjo Clock; everything below the dial is decorative

The Ingraham Nordic has a mechanical movement with a lever escapement, the sort of movement found in ships clocks and alarm clocks. It has a cast brass eagle on top, a round 5 inch dial face surrounded by a brass bezel, long throat, curved brass frets, a rectangular box that does not open and 2 painted decorative panels but is is less than half the size and one twentieth the value of an authentic Willard.

The second is the Sessions Lexington. It has a cast brass eagle on top, round 6 inch dial face surrounded by a brass bezel, long throat with faux wood diamond inlay, curved brass frets, rectangular box that opens to the right to reveal the swinging pendulum and card-stock sailboat insert for the tablet. It is 3/4 the size and one fifteenth the value of an authentic Willard.

Time-only Sessions Lexington banjo clock CA. 1927
Rectangular box reveals the brass clad pendulum

Spring driven banjos like the Ingraham and the Sessions can be had for very little money and are not considered desirable by collectors.

Authentic banjos are rare, sought after by serious collectors (not as much in Europe) and command high prices. Yes, it just might be a long search.

2 thoughts on “The quest for an authentic banjo clock

  1. Hello – I am a graduate student working on conserving a banjo style timepiece and as a clock novice, trying to understand the context of the clock. The one I am working on also has a winding arbor at 30′ – can you tell me what the significance is of that? I haven’t seen any other banjo clocks with this feature until the image on your blog.


    1. I can think of two reasons. One, the pendulum is located in front which gives room for repair and regulation; two, the oblong space in the pendulum allows the pendulum to clear the centre pinion and hour and minute wheel collars. The winding arbour is just outside the swing of the pendulum, perhaps its optimum placement. It also keeps the mainwheel as close to the centre arbour as possible.


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