Yard sale find – a 181-year-old weight driven banjo clock for less than you think

Seller’s photo

Yes, a weight-driven banjo clock for a surprisingly low price!

There are essentially three types of mechanical banjo clocks. Those with lever escapements are usually in the $75 to $100 range, spring driven ones are $100 to around $200 and up but weight-driven banjo clocks occupy the higher end of the range and normally cost between $300-$500 in fair condition to upwards of thousands for Simon Willard or E. Howard clocks.

My wife discovered this particular clock on Facebook Marketplace for $100. I suggested she offer the seller $75 and the seller immediately accepted. I think they just wanted to get rid of it. However, it is always a risk buying a clock sight unseen but this looked like an excellent prospect and for $75, why not take a chance!

From the photos provided it is a weight-driven federal style mahogany-cased banjo clock from the 1800s. The movement is intact because the seller sent a video showing the pendulum bob moving from side to side.

Looks like the original dial and original hands

It has a top acorn finial which appears to be original to the clock. I thought it was missing the carved reverse scrolled side arms and the bottom base piece but not all of these clocks had bottoms or side arms. 

The original banjo styled steel hands and the painted face appear to be in good condition. The broken glass bezel can be easily replaced. The case is dirty and requires a small amount of veneer work. I also see the winding crank in the bottom of the case.

Could be a diamond in the rough

I picked it up in late June 2021.

The day of the pickup

We arrived at the garage sale and met the sellers. My wife was curious as to the provenance of the clock and we were told that it had been in the family for more than 60 years having spent most of its life in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

The clock was heavy which meant the weight was inside the case. Had the weight been missing, sourcing one would have been a problem but it is best to have the original weight.

We had few errands to run in the city and did not return home till late in the evening. Minutes after coming through the door I had the clock on the kitchen table and a screwdriver in hand taking it apart.

A Boston made banjo clock

After studying it further and comparing the clock to others online and through my inquires with members of a clock forum site I learned that the clock was very likely made in 1840 in Boston by John Sawin who apprenticed under Simon Willard and was a journeyman under Aaron Willard, famous clockmakers of the day and inventors of the original patent timepiece.

Later, I will profile the clock with detailed images of the movement, dial face and aspects of the case and more information on clockmaker John Sawin.

Is this the find of the year? I certainly believe so!