Tick Talk Tuesday #43 – Is this a Simon Willard banjo clock?

Tick-Talk Tuesday is about the letters and comments I have received from readers concerning clock issues, challenges faced, a clock you would profiled or advice on your particular clock concern. For those comments and questions that stump even me, I consult within my clock circles for the best possible answer

TM writes, “We have had a banjo clock in our family for multiple generations, and knowing my family’s history it would not surprise me if it was a Simon Willard original. I understand that is a long shot but it is so hard to find information about banjo clocks or reputable people to deal with. It is in relatively good condition, not knowing when my family acquired it exactly, but it is original to us. I am attaching a picture and would greatly appreciate your opinion.”

The family banjo clock

I am not an expert on Willard banjo clocks but have seen and read enough to inform me that Simon Willard clocks have distinctive features that separate his clocks from others.

My reply was, “Hi, and thanks for your email.

It may or may not be a Willard patent banjo. It would have to go through a process of authentication. An expert would identify the classic hallmarks of a Willard clock which would include movement design and construction, distinctive case features, door catch characteristics, construction of the dial, how the movement is mounted, design of the throat and lower tablets, and so on.

However, two things immediately strike me as odd. First, I have never seen a Willard patented timepiece (banjo clock) with an Arabic dial. Secondly, Willard banjo clocks have simple barbed spear hands, none as ornate as the ones on your banjo clock. Your clock could be a variant or the dial and hands could be replacements or the clock could have been crafted by another maker altogether.

Again, an expert in Willard clocks would provide the answer you are looking for.”

Simon Willard Patented Timepiece, C.1810; photo taken at the Simon Willard Clock museum in 2019

Simon Willard did little to protect his patent and as a result, many copies were made during the Federal period in Boston and in New England. Associates of Willard and apprentices to Simon and his brother Aaron produced clocks by the hundreds. Some of the copies were of high quality though they did not have the desired cache of a Simon Willard clock. And of course, many are fakes.

Willard clock; photo was taken at the American Watch and Clock Museum 2019

According to Robert C. Cheney, executive director and curator of the Willard House and Clock Museum proclaimed that the timepiece is “probably the most faked American clock found today.” Is TM’s clock an original, another maker, or a fake? An expert would immediately determine if it is real.

The photo at the beginning of the article is the only one sent to me and one photo is really not enough to make any kind of definitive judgment but I don’t believe TM has a Simon Willard Patented Timepiece.


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