John Sawin banjo clock CA 1840

John Sawin was a prolific 1840s Boston clockmaker and many of his clocks have survived to this day.

The Key features of the Sawin timepiece share many of the attributes of the original Simon Willard Patented Timepiece. They are:

  • No striking parts reducing the number of wheels to a minimum for simplicity,
  • Making the distance between the plates wider allowing sufficient cord on the barrel allowing it run 8 days,
  • The push-pin catches on the bezel and lower access doors,
  • Placing the pendulum in front of the weight to ease repair and regulation,
  • The weight is reduced and made longer and wider,
  • The pendulum and guide are placed in front of the movement,
  • An oblong space in the pendulum so that it swings clear of the centre pinions and hour and minute collars,
  • The method of mounting the movement to the case. Works are fastened by two “ears”, the top right and bottom left backplate,
  • The calculation of the train in consequence of shortening the pendulum,
  • No method of securing the pendulum when transporting the clock,
  • Acorn top finial and wood dial bezel
  • The shape of the case,

The earliest timepieces from Roxbury had long screws from the front plate into the case in the upper right and lower left. Beginning about 1820 in Boston a single bolt from the back of the case into the movement was used as per Howard & Davis and E. Howard. North Attleboro movements had holes in the backplate in the upper right and lower left for screws into the case.

Upper right mounting “ear”

A John Sawin movement is distinguished by brass ears attached to the movement back plate in the upper right and lower left. Other Boston area clockmakers might have used the same casemakers so their cases probably would look similar to his.

As found

Cases came from one of several casemakers in the Boston area. Case construction is helpful in identifying where the clock was probably made and movement for the maker, however by the 1830’s movement construction had become so generic that was really difficult to identify the maker. It is probable that were many small workshops run by former apprentices and/or journeyman clockmakers that supplied movements to the trade as needed by the existing makers in the various cities so it makes things even more complicated.

The real differences were how the movement was attached to the case and that gives us information on where it was manufactured.

The John Sawin Banjo headpiece is carved out. With the dial off, the headpiece of the case looks like two crescent moons facing each other, thin at the top and bottom and thick in the middle. There is a piece of cloth glued to the inside top of the case to hold the 2 crescent moons together.

Two crescent moons make up the headpiece

Unfortunately this clock has no identifying markings which means that it is quite possible that while it may not have been made by John Sawin himself but one of his associates or one of his apprentices. Still in all, it is a nice-looking clock and looks great on any wall.


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