Field Segment: Virginia Tall Case Clock
HOST: The tall case clock, a well-known form today, was a 17th century time-keeping advancement. The addition of a long pendulum and heavy weights made it more reliable and accurate and created the need for a long cabinet. Colonial Williamsburg's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum has an incredible collection of Southern tall case clocks. Appraiser Gary Sullivan was happy to point out the highlights of a tall case clock he calls, "one of the finest pieces of American federal cabinetmaking in existence." HOST: Gary, this case clock is absolutely beautiful. And only one of an amazing collection here at the museum, but what made you choose this one to feature?
Well, this is the most exuberant early American clock I've ever seen. The workmanship and the use of inlay is just extraordinary. It was made in Montgomery County, now Pulaski County, Virginia. And it was made about 1810. We don't know exactly who made it, but we believe that it was made by clockmaker David Whipple and cabinetmaker Peter Rife. The face was imported from England. It has this extraordinary spread-wing eagle on the pediment. It's a patriotic symbol, and that is very desirable to collectors today. In the center section we have this remarkable chain link inlay. And I've never seen one like that before. We see that the case actually flares out just below that inlay. And in the center of the door, we have this stylized conch shell inlay, and the base panel is truly remarkable. It is sculpted so the central inlay is raised from the background. And the sides and the top flare out. I have never seen a sculpted base panel like that before on a clock. It's primarily mahogany with several different types of woods being used in the inlay to provide those contrasting colors. We have some bone inlay here. There are actually some details made in silver and in brass as well. HOST: Let's talk about on the inside, the brass works. That process was an arduous process as well.
Right, a founder would have cast the brass pieces and the blanks for the wheels. And then the clockmaker would have had to have sawn and filed those pieces out by hand. He didn't have the use of any power machinery, so it was quite a process. In the early 19th century, they were just beginning commercial clock production. But this is not one of those. This was all made by hand, and was a very special piece when it was made. HOST: And so the owner of this clock in 1810 would have paid about how much money?
Well, a standard grandfather clock at that time was about $65 to $75. So this was at least $75, if not $100. Clocks like this were available only to the ultra-wealthy. Perhaps 10%-15% of the population had a clock of any kind at the turn of the 19th century. HOST: What would a buyer today expect to pay?
Well, there are four related clocks-- including this one-- that we believe were made by the same cabinetmaker. One sold in 2012 for $271,400. So collectors really like them. It's just a beautiful, beautiful piece of art. HOST: Thanks for sharing it.
Thanks for having me.
Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.
Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."
Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.
Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.
Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.
Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.
Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.